My husband, Felix, is Swedish and I am Australian. We have been on various stints of parental leave, fitting life and work into the picture when it makes sense, since my daughter, Elsie, was born almost three and a half years ago. When I fell pregnant in early 2018, there was no question of where we would be living for the next few years, as a comparison of Australia’s and Sweden’s policies leave a lot to be desired down under.
Sweden offers parents 480 days of paid leave from work, to be divided up between parents, almost as freely as they like. 90 days are reserved per parent, which we had to use before Elsie’s fourth birthday. Felix also had two extra weeks exclusively available to the non-birthing parent.
These 480 days of paid leave are able to be accessed in smaller chunks, and do not need to be used right away. We were both at home with Elsie until she was just over two years old. It was a wonderful experience, and I honestly don’t think I would have coped if Felix had returned to work earlier. The Swedish system enabled me to start my own business as a sole trader, doing translation work and photography. I had lots of time to work as Felix was home and helped with a lot of the cooking and cleaning.
Ultimately, Felix took most of the paid parental leave and I worked from home in a really flexible way allowing us both to have an income. As an immigrant in Sweden, I have an added layer of isolation. I think it has kept us really close as a family to be able to do it this way.
As Felix took the absolute bulk of the paid leave with Elsie, I gave him some of my allotted days. Equal distribution of parental leave days is encouraged, so in order to share my leave, I needed to sign my days over officially, using my ID.
Our second child, Otto, was born in August 2020. I went back to a new office job last February but that was mostly for a change of scenery and I took parental leave from November until March to visit Australia. I’ve actually now decided to go back to freelancing this year because I didn’t like being away from the family so much. Felix is about to start working at half time on Tuesday after being on parental leave, both paid and unpaid, for over three years.
Both children are now in preschool. We’re actually part of a parental cooperative which Felix’s parents started when he was a kid. The teachers are the ones he had back then - so they’ve been working there for over 20 years! It was really easy to get a spot because they sent us a message asking if and when Elsie wanted to start there. Preschool costs are low; at the highest rate, fees are $230 a month for the first child, and $150 for the second. This is means tested and therefore costs significantly less or nothing for those with lower incomes.
Honestly, Felix’s career has probably taken a hit, however, a big part of that is due to our outlook on work - we want to be able to support a comfortable lifestyle doing things we enjoy, with a HUGE emphasis on flexibility both in relation to time and location. As a result, a career in itself is not a huge focus for either of us. My professional life has probably improved significantly due to the paid parental leave we were both afforded, because it gave me the security to develop my business and skill set within translation and photography without having to take a leap of faith or financial hit.
In a society where parents are given so much flexibility and where both parents spend time at home looking after their young children, a greater understanding of what’s involved in raising a family is shared by all. The issue of gender roles in the workplace is less dramatic, and a constant point of discussion. The likelihood that your manager or CEO has taken time off to look after their child is very high, resulting in more generous policies and attitudes.
There are all kinds of benefits to be seen, both obvious and subtle, and despite the challenges that a pandemic-parenthood-far-from-home has thrown at me, I don’t regret for a second having and raising children in Sweden. It is my sincere wish that Australia reflects on its attitudes to parenthood and adjusts its policies to improve gender equality and family relationships.
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