Work Life Balance

Norwegian Working Moms Have Problems That American Working Moms Would Kill To Have

By  | 

work-family-balanceThe Scandinavian model of work/family balance isn’t perfect; both Norwegian parents are expected to hold a job outside the home. In Norway, staying at home with the kids apparently isn’t really on the table as a socially acceptable option.

This interview with Norwegian Else Hasle digs into the reality of Scandinavian parenting. She brings up problems that will sound familiar to any American working parent (the difficulty of trying to find a daycare close to home, the lack of guaranteed spots – although in Norway this is only a problem for babies who arrive after the end of August). She also gets into some stranger-sounding issues, such as the end-of-summer baby boom that slams hospitals, as families try to plan their visits from the stork (or its Scandinavian equivalent) to beat the September 1 deadline for guaranteed childcare placement. But the point that will probably sound the strangest most American ears is the fact that both Norwegian parents are simply expected to hold a job outside the home. (Depending on where in the USA you live, the fact that Norwegian SAHMs are looked down on may or may not feel get you back into more familiar territory.)

Norwegian society is structured around the kind of support for working parents that American moms dream of: for example, a daycare spot in the city of Oslo would cost Hasle about $420 a month per child. That’s less than half of what it would cost me to pay for two weeks of childcare in the city where I live. She also describes having ten days of sick time specifically provided to her for looking after a puking/sniffly/chickenpox-riddled tot – a number that increases to 15 with the addition of a second child to the family. (Single parents get double time, too.) And try not to wistfully sigh as you check this out:

With Natalia, I had three weeks before the due date until she was 10 months old. So 11 months in total, with 80 percent of my salary. If you want a shorter parental leave, you can have that with 100 percent salary. There is a “roof” on the salary the state will cover, and it’s currently about $83,000. If you earn more than this, some employers will cover the rest of the gap for you, and some will not.

A roof of $83,000 – and some employers will climb out on that roof to pay you above and beyond that threshold rate. How many of you are currently Googling some riff on the phrase “how do I get a Norwegian work visa”?

But the trade-off (besides the obvious higher tax rate) for this kind of social support is a social expectation: when your leave is over, you either need to get your butt back to work, or deal with all the side-eye you’re going to be getting from your friends and neighbors.

It’s a pretty different way of limiting parents’ choices – one enforced by expectation rather than financial worries – and it’s one that isn’t entirely fair to Norwegian moms and dads who’d rather be home with the children. But to American parents, cheap high-quality daycare sounds too good to be true, and 11 months of (paid!) maternity leave sounds like a fairy tale. Right now, we’re in a place where thirty percent of American moms can’t afford diapers for their babies: I’d rather be frustrated with having to go back into the workforce than trying to figure out how to feed and clothe my kids, any day. I’m hoping for Hasle’s sake and the sake of working American moms too that we all get the chance to trade up for a better system at some point soon.

(Image: Lightspring/Shutterstock)