Friday, June 26, 2015

Maternity & Parental Leave in Sweden - As Amazing as the Facebook Articles Say

I could have given this post the title "We Aren't in Kansas Anymore" but I could say that about a lot of things.  I feel like I should have posted about this sooner so I could have lured  encouraged some of you to move here while we were living here and then we could experience the amazingness of parental leave together.

Maternity/Parental Leave
If you are on Facebook much I'm sure you've read/seen the articles about paternity leave in other countries and how the US has nothing to offer parents (other than unpaid leave for 12 weeks with a guarantee you won't get fired - go us).

Here is a map I found on Google showing maternity/parental leave.
 In Sweden you get 480 days of parental leave. Yes, 480 days but wait . . . it gets better.  You get 480 days of PAID parental leave.  You get 80% of your salary (there is a limit if you happen to make a lot of money but for most people they get 80% of their salary).  There are some rules/regulations:
  • 60 days before the baby is due you can start taking pregnancy leave.  You can stay home and get paid 80% of your salary while you finish out the end of your pregnancy.  (When I first told my coworkers I was pregnant they asked me when I was going to start taking off for pregnancy leave.  I was so confused by the question.  After being asked several more times I finally asked what most people do and that is when I found out about the 60 days.  I guess most teachers take off about four weeks early and teachers of really young children take off even more because it is hard to pick them up and get up and down from the floor with them.)
  • The 480 days are 480 work days.  You can choose to get paid 5 days a week at 80% which means you get about 80% of your normal salary each month or you can take 3 days a week and have a lower monthly income but stay at home longer.  You can also take 7 days a week (including weekends) and get paid almost your full salary.  You can also take parental leave in  parts of a day (50%, 75%, etc.)
  • 10 Days after birth - The first 10 days (or 2 work weeks) after the baby is born the dad gets 100% of his pay to help take care of the new mom and baby or the other children in the household.  This is almost "mandatory" it seems.  You use it right away or lose it.
  • Each parent has 60 days reserved that cannot be transferred or shared but the other 360 days can be shared between the two parents.  
  • If you split your time almost equally you get a bonus on top of your regular 80% pay.  Sweden is big on equality.
  • You get 30 double days (6 work weeks) during the first year that you can both be home taking care of the baby at the same time and both be getting paid.  After you use those 30 double days only one of you can be paid at a time.
  • Most moms stay home for the first year and then the dads stay home the next 6 months or so.  Which is why if you are visiting Sweden you might see dads pushing a 1-1.5 year old in the stroller by himself in the middle of the day.  Sometimes you will see a few days pushing their 1 year old in a stroller because they are hanging out during papa leave.
  • You can also save days because you have until the child is 8 to use them.  Most people save some to use for family vacations until the child turns 8.  Then you can take time off at any point and call it mama leave or papa leave and still get paid.  (Swedes also get 5 weeks of vacation so there is a lot of potential time home with your family.  #getonboardAmerica)
  • If you have a second child you get 480 days for that child as well.
  • If you adopt a child you get the same benefits for 8 years after the child is adopted until the child is 10 and then the days can no longer be used.  (So if you adopt a newborn you get the benefits until they are 8 but if you adopt a 4 year old you only get the benefits until they are 10.)
  • If you have twins you get an extra 90 days plus you get more double days.  
  • If you have triplets or more at one time you get 180 days extra for each child after the first two.
  • You get the parental leave if you are married or if you are a registered partner of the child's parent.  (In Sweden, marriage isn't as common as it is in the US.  Couples might be together and committed for years and have several kids together but not get married.  Your sambo is what you call the person you are in a serious dating relationship with but you aren't married.)
  • There is a website you go to to request your parental leave and to plan your leave so you know how much you will be getting paid each month of your leave.
  • You can also spend 6 months of your parental leave outside of the country.  I've heard of several people going to another country for several months and still get parental leave pay.  This happens quite a bit since usually one parent is Swedish and the other isn't so they go to the other parent's country for 6 months or so.
To Receive Parental Leave
You have to fill out lots of forms to sign up for parental leave.  I sent in a pregnancy certificate that my midwife gave me proving that I was pregnant.  I also had to give some forms to my school to have them fill out how long I had been working there and what my salary was.  It seemed like I filled out forms for the same thing a few times but I'd rather fill out a form and get paid than not fill out a form and not get paid. (*Even if you are unemployed you can get paid for parental leave.  It isn't much but it is more than nothing.)

Benefits of Parental Leave
Other than the obvious one of getting paid to stay at home with your child it seems that parents are much more involved here than they are in the US.  It makes sense really.  If you are able to spend so much time with your child without the stress of working or staying home without pay why wouldn't you be more relaxed and happy about life?  

When we first moved here we often saw parents walking with their child and then standing around waiting patiently as their child explored whatever caught their eye (a bug, grass, the sidewalk, a tree, etc) on their way to wherever they were going.  The parent didn't hurry them along, grab their hand or tell them they didn't have time to explore.  The mom or dad just stands there patiently, not just faking it, waiting for their child to make the discovery and the child decides when it is time to move on.  Parents don't seem as stressed or frazzled here since they have so much time to devote to their children.

I've also noticed that kids are more affectionate with their parents much later in life than they are in the US.  It isn't uncommon to see older kids, up to middle school age, holding their parents hands or giving them hugs or kisses at school.  I had 6th graders last year, the age of 7th graders in the US, hug and kiss their parents when they stopped by school to drop off something they forgot at home. 

Daycare or Dagis
Kids can start at daycare, dagis, when they are one year old but most don't start until they are 18 months.  When the child is 6 months old you can start putting them on waiting lists for the preschools you would like for them to attend.  Some waiting lists are really long.  (One of the schools I subbed at had a 6 year waiting list to go to the school.  Some parents contacted the school shortly after they were born to add their name to the list.  Since that school started in grade 4, age 10, they could get on the waiting list as soon as they wanted where as preschool waiting lists start at 6 months.)  You can have your name on 5 preschool lists and apparently the government has to give you one of your five choices after you've waited at least 3 months.  Day care varies in cost but I have heard it costs about 1500-2000 kr ($180-$240) per month.  That price is for 5 days a week, full time and it includes all meals and diapers.  *I could have gotten some of these details mixed up since I haven't been through the process yet but I've heard lots of moms talk about it at my Mommy fika get togethers.

Summary for Parental Leave
The US needs to get on board!  When people take parental leave it is no big deal.  That is right, telling your boss you are pregnant and therefore will be gone for about a year on maternity leave doesn't even make them sweat.  This is normal.  When I told my boss I was pregnant his response caught me off guard.  He was very supportive and told me that this time was about the baby and me being healthy and taking care of myself.  If I needed anything I could just let him know.  It helps that the government pays for the parental leave so then the school (or other businesses) have money to hire someone to replace you for the year you will be gone.

Everyone is used to this but it is also serious in that if you try to email someone on parental leave you will most likely get a response that says "On mommy/daddy leave until ______ (6-12 months from now), if you need something before then contact so and so."  I feel like it would be hard for people in the US to just leave their job for 6 months to a year and actually stop answering emails or being involved.  I'm sure we could figure it out eventually given the opportunity . . .

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