Jun 5, 2014

What's with all the gay nannies?

Those of you who know me well know about my research into and fascination with social welfare in other countries for their citizen kids and parents. You've probably heard my rant about the U.S. being one of the least generous countries in the world in terms of paid family leave. We're one of a handful that doesn't have a federal mandate for allowing parents to take paid time with their newborns--the others being Liberia, Suriname, Papua New Guinea and a couple of micro, micro islands in the Pacific.

Sweden, on the other hand, is a veritable Mecca for young children and their parents. So, I came looking for signals of such civilization, but I didn't have to look hard. Swedish parents are allowed up to 13 months of paid leave for each child. In the last decade or so it was mandated that a single parent cannot take all of those 13 months--at least two had to be taken by the other parent (most often the father) or they would be forfeited. As a result, I've seen dads pushing strollers here during the work day constantly.

I'm practically tripping over them.
Even really macho looking men with big muscles and chains--they, too, push strollers (I didn't dare to take a picture of one of them for fear that they might beat me up for snapping shots of their darlings, but they're out there).
 
I may be prone to romanticizing this situation, but I notice that the parents I see out with kids seem relaxed and happy to move at a child's pace, not your average harried American parent. This makes sense, of course.
 
You even see the hipster, saggy-pants daddies at the children's section of the library. I chatted with a Swedish female colleague of Tim's. Her kids are the same age as ours, and she said the social welfare system has been great for her kids and family. She knew an American who came to Sweden recently and after seeing gobs of men pushing strollers, the American's comment was, "What's with all the gay nannies?" Hilarious and, as a comment on American society, depressing.

But the nice thing is the support system doesn't end after that year plus of parental leave. After the child turns one, the Swedish government heavily subsidizes and ensures placement in a childcare option of your choice. There are year-round outdoor daycares (yes, even in Swedish winters), and all sorts of other themed options. Childcare providers are often college educated, paid well, and, as a result, make a long-term career out of their work. I kept running into kids out and about with their preschools--according to the Swedish mom I spoke to, exposure to nature is a very important part of a child's early education. You'll notice the kids wear pennies (like the ones we wore in P.E. as kids) that indicate what group they belong to, in case they get lost. 
 Oh, and see the bike above. There were five kids careening down a hill on that thing and no adults scolded them. My impression is that the childcare folks are very responsive and engaged with kids, but they aren't hovering or unreasonably terrified about their safety. Another difference.
 Notice, men hold these jobs, too.

 Cool playgrounds--notice the pulley system above.

 Bikes fitted for kids are ubiquitous.
 And public spaces are frequently outfitted to appeal to kids--above are the dress-up clothes for kids at the Nobel Museum.

 Not again--another stroller-pushing dad! Or, is that a gay nanny?