I think of Sweden in the same way as Narnia. A far off place with foresty islands, magical light, mythical history, and renowned novelists with strong female protagonists such as Lisbeth and Annika. They also have generous paid family leave. I try not to think about the dark cold winters, and focus on a country that is creating policies to offer families the healthiest work life balance.
Today, we present Emma Olevik, a horticulture journalist based in Sweden with her husband and three daughters. I had the fortune to “meet” her in an online photography class several years ago. At the time she was a mother of two and I was a mother of one. We bonded over ‘Wabi-sabi’ and have kept in touch since.
Here we talk about having and raising a family in Sweden while being a working mom.
As told to me March 2016. Emma welcomed her 3rd child, a beautiful baby girl, in October 2016.
Are there birth doulas and postpartum doulas in Sweden?
Yes, it exists, but it is unusual. But getting more and more common I think. None of my friends had a doula, or anyone I’ve heard of, but you can easily find one online.
During your pregnancies did you receive care from a midwife or an obstetrician?
In Sweden once you find out you are pregnant you call your local ”mother care central” where you register and get a personal midwife whom you meet regularly during the pregnancy. Once or maybe twice you visit the hospital for a scanning/ultrasound (more often if there are special needs). You don’t meet an obstetrician as long as everything is “normal.” Even during the actual birth it is most common to be assisted by a midwife and a nurse. They call on an obstetrician if there is a need for it.
Did you receive in-home postpartum care after birth?
No, but after birth you go to the “child care central” regularly for checkups. I think some child care centrals make one or two home visits in the beginning, but I did not have that.
Did your children take naps outside in their strollers as babies?
Absolutely! Everyone does that here, both out of necessity (you are walking somewhere) and because it is considered healthy for baby. Of course we don’t leave the baby unattended in the stroller, you walk with it or sit close by.
I know you freelance as a garden journalist, how long did you take parental leave after the births of both of your children?
With my first child I was on parental leave for a year, because I ended up sort of in between jobs. With my second I was on leave for about 6 months, and my husband for another 6 months.
Is it true child care in Sweden is available for children as young as one and it’s very affordable?
Yes, government supported childcare is available for everyone from when the child turns one. The price is at most 160 euros per month, less if you earn less. And the second and third child is also less.
How old are your children now?
Blanka is 6 and Billie is 4!
Do they attend school all day?
Blanka goes to school from 8:30 until 4:00 and Billie goes to child care/kindergarten from 8:45 until 3:45.
Have you found it difficult to balance your freelance career with parenting your little ones?
Not really, since I control my own time and work from home I can be very flexible and that is so helpful. I had a harder time when I was working 9-5 at the office, with a little one.
How do you keep a consistent schedule when some months the sun is up till midnight and some months its dark all the time? Does bedtime fluctuate?
It does fluctuate a little from winter to summer, but that feels kind of natural! I find that the kids have a bit more energy in the summer, and stay up a little later. But the difference is not huge. A thick curtain is a must during summertime!
How do you spend the summers?
We usually have about 6 weeks of vacation. We have a cabin in the woods where we spend a lot of summer days, and try to visit family and friends in different parts of the country. This summer we are also going to Spain to stay with family there!
What are your favorite Swedish children’s books? If possible, one that has been translated into English!
Everything by Astrid Lindgren, naturally. Pippi Longstocking, That Boy Emil, Ronia the Robbers Daughter, The Brothers Lionheart, The Children of Noisy Village… the list is long! The books about Alfie Atkins are classics from my own childhood that we enjoy. A more modern author is Pija Lindenbaum who had several books translated to English, for example Bridget and the Moose Brothers. I also love The Moomins, but those books are still a bit difficult for my kids.
Can you try and explain Mysig to me?
Mysig is basically a description of something cozy! But it is often used as a verb: “mysa,” to be/have cozy. And also as a noun: “mys”. A very Swedish thing/word is “fredagsmys” = Friday coziness, which means staying at home with family at Friday night, cooking good food (and dessert!) and just being cozy!
All photos courtesy of Emma Olevik