Sweden has some of the most generous paid parental leave policies in the world, and as a newbie in Sweden, chances are likely that you have moved from a country with less generous parental leave (or no paid parental leave in my case).
When you see 480 days to be divided between you and your partner, you may think that you have all of the time in the world. In reality, your time with your baby will fly by, and you’ll be just getting into a groove when it is time to start the inskolning (orientation) process at your child’s förskola (preschool) and head back to work.
During my first pregnancy and birth in the US, I returned to work after taking 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. It was emotionally and physically challenging (draining, exhausting, you name it) to return to work with a baby who was still nursing every few hours and not yet sleeping through the night.
When my second baby was born in Sweden, my husband was automatically granted ten business days off to be with us at home. The entire process felt comfortable and unrushed and allowed us to bond as a family unit.
The first two weeks of that postpartum period were such a change from what we had experienced in the US. A Swedish nurse came to our house for the first well-visit check-up, and my husband was able to help with our older child. Parental leave was off to a great start!
What you can do to make the most of your parental leave
Step 1: Take the time
Coming from a country with no parental leave options, taking months off to be with your family is not only unorthodox, but it is also strongly discouraged. Living in Sweden, it felt a bit strange to suddenly have access to an inordinate amount of paid time off from work.
Not only is it socially acceptable for employees to take extended time off to be with their new families in Sweden, but it is expected.
Convincing my American husband to take Swedish parental leave was a tough sell. He had visions of falling behind on critical deliverables so we worked out a plan that would have the least impact on his projects. In the end, his manager didn’t bat an eye when he submitted his thought-out request for nearly eight months of parental leave. (He even wrote an entire chapter about it!) Seeing his fellow male colleagues also take 6-10 months of leave helped bolster his confidence that this cultural norm was expected of both parents.
Step 2: Do the math
Everyone divides their parental leave time in different ways. Both parents receive 480 days but those days don’t have to be taken at the same time.
For example, if your budget can stretch a little, you can choose to be paid five days a week instead of seven. Doing this will add an extra eight days a month of unpaid time off.
That’s an extra week of time off for every month of paid parental leave! This strategy is also how some parents seem to take endless amounts of parental leave time. They are stretching their kronor as far as they can go. Other families may divide the time differently and save some days to extend holidays each year. However, you decide to do it, sit down with a calculator and work out the best parental leave plan for your family.
Step 3: Get on a schedule
When you’re considering 12 months of uninterrupted parental leave, you need to develop a schedule. Make it fun and include your favorite cafe stops, walks around the park, and visits to your öppna förskola. If you want to maintain your sanity and get out of the house (this is important during those darker months), then a routine will help get you moving in the morning.
Step 4: Go to öppna förskola
These open preschools are in every kommun and many cities have more than one. (My small town of 44,000 people has two öppna förskolor.)
Often held in churches and other public buildings, these open preschools are a wonderful opportunity to meet new parents. Sure, your baby/toddler gets to socialize and play with new toys, but you get access to the cheapest coffee and fika bread in town.
Öppna förskola is also a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Swedish and improve your language skills. Singing nursery rhymes is a great way to learn.
Step 5: Make friends at öppna förskola
This extra step is so crucial for all parents but especially expat parents. Öppna förskola is a great way to meet other parents with children around the same age. You have a perfect ice breaker—just ask, “How old
is your baby?” and boom! you’re in a conversation. Anyone can hang out at öppna förskola and sing the songs, but you’ll get the most out of your parental leave by improving your social life with other parents. You can learn which schools are the best, which cafes have the best coffees and discover other fun family activities that are happening in your town.
Step 6: Be present
Sweden’s paid parental leave is a genuine gift to new parents, and we are fortunate to live in a country that supports families in such a generous way. Try as much as you can to live in the moment, capture your baby’s smiles, gurgles, and giggles, and watch them grow. Those 480 days will fly by so hold on tight and soak in the snuggles.
Want to learn more about pregnancy, birth and parenting in a foreign country? Check out the Knocked Up Abroad series
Written by Lisa Ferland
Lisa Ferland is a US citizen who has lived in a small Swedish town for nearly five years. She has published two anthologies about the cultural differences experienced during pregnancy, birth, and parenting abroad called the Knocked Up Abroad series. Find more on her blog here.