Tabula Rasa


It began with a copious amount of paperwork. Work visa, resident visa, Swedish ID cards. There were visits to government offices located in the far reaches of Stockholm city.  And we had it easy with assistance from an employer. After 3 months our national identities were amended. Beyond was a system no less than miraculous in the way it accommodated rather than subverted family and work balance.

Work life was intentionally kept separate from family life. Parents were given generous leave for each child followed by free dagis, daycare, up until the age of 6 with parental leave allowable up to age 11. Both parents were encourage to spend time with their children yet both were expected to work after family leave is spent. Though the results of this Swedish run institution remain mixed in my mind it is a revelation to be able to return without the loss of one’s job and or savings to pay for day care while being allowed over a year of leave with each child.

To our surprise we found we were not only entitled to the Swedish parental leave because of our 4 year old daughter after obtaining a resident visa but we were also entitled to the monthly windfall of a barnbidrag, a government child allowance check. In total Swedish parents are given 480 days of leave per child, and 420 of these days are paid at a rate of 80% of your salary up to a capped limited of 910 SEK a day. In stark contrast parents in the USA receive between 14 and 90 days. Beyond measure I delight in seeing so many Swedish fathers out with their tiny children, pushing the strollers, tending playground injuries and socializing with other fathers. There was no doubt in my mind the Swedish system of child care was superior to the crippled system back home which depended upon parents sacrificing career goals, leaning on aging grandparents, hiring immigrant nannies and/or emptying bank accounts to pay for child care.

The lagom culture here ~ “enough is as good as a
feast” in rough translation places a very high value on individual contribution to benefit the group but allows the individual a separate life with the family with up to 5 weeks mandatory annual of vacation. When we left the US mandatory vacation days were being abolished and permission was required take time off work. Here there seems to be an innate understanding of and respect for individual rights and a reciprocal respect for the system that keeps the individual. It is a culture of restraint and trust that somehow fosters the sustainable as well as the innovative.

BUT. Your choices are limited. From free healthcare to education, to food and alcohol, to phone plans, latest Hollywood releases, options are few. The loss of choice accompanying a change in geography calls for a change in mentality of the individual as well. We mourn that loss of choice but we forge on. There is a language to learn, a medical and educational system to navigate. The formidable mystery of the Swedish pysche awaits.

This blog is about my Swedish experience.


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