Living in Sweden

Our life in the dreamland of many parents – in Sweden.

When a family packs their bags and breaks up their tents in Germany, they are at the beginning of a great adventure. In the tenth part of our series, Eva Häußling talks about her family life in Sweden.

Eva Häußling has lived in Sweden for 20 years. Her husband Mikael was born in Sweden – as were their three children. The oldest, Bartolomeus, graduated from the German School in Stockholm this year and will study in Berlin in the future – even though he has never lived in Germany before. In the tenth part of the stern series “Wenn Familien auswandern”, Eva Häußling talks about her family life in the far north – and reveals whether the Swedish social system is really as great as its reputation.

What is the difference between being a parent in Sweden and family life in Germany?

How I came to Sweden

I met my husband Mikael in Germany, he was my table master at a ball – very romantic. Mikael worked in Germany and after our wedding we decided to move to Sweden. That was not easy for me as a German lawyer. But I didn’t let myself get discouraged and found a great job. After five years in a Swedish company, I longed for more Germany and took over the management of the legal department at the German-Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Stockholm. Meanwhile I work for the Swedish Employers’ Association Svenskt Näringsliv in the International Department.

When my husband Mikael is not on a business trip, he works in his home office, as his company headquarters are several hundred kilometres away. Especially for our youngest, it is of course nice to have Daddy here when she comes home from school.

Housewives are a rarity

In Sweden it is a matter of course and mostly also for financial reasons that both parents have to work. Parents who stay at home with their children for several years are very rare. Such a child would not have any playmates in his neighbourhood, since most of the children go to kindergarten at the age of 18 months and their parents return to work. You are not a raven mother or father just because you work again when the child is only one year old.

If you know in business that someone has small children, you would not schedule meetings with that person before 9am or after 4pm. It is always to be expected that children will have to be brought to the nursery or fetched at these times.

The often copied Swedish system

Thanks to the good childcare facilities in Sweden, family and career were a good match for both of us. Our children were twelve months old when they went to kindergarten or to a childminder. In Sweden, parents have one and a half years parental leave and receive 80 percent of their salary for 16 months from the state social insurance fund, but not more than 3000 euros gross per month. This means that there are no costs for the employer. Parental leave is to be divided between the parents. Parental allowance days may be assigned to each other, but each parent must claim 60 days. This system has been in place for many years and Germany has certainly had Sweden as a model for changing its parental leave regulations.

But not everything is perfect

For me it was always a matter of course to have a family and a job. This was certainly made easier for me in Sweden than in Germany. But even in Sweden men still earn more than women in comparable positions and a quota in boards of directors or supervisory boards is discussed again and again. If I had stayed in Germany, I would not know whether I would have been able to pursue my profession in this way and raise three children with my husband without outside help.

If the children are sick, they are “babbled”

Children get sick sometimes and what happens then? The Swedish system offers a great solution that does not burden the employer financially. For every day that a parent has to stay at home with a sick child who is not older than 12 years, he/she receives parental allowance of 80% of the salary, but not more than 105 euros gross per day. Parents have the right to stay at home for up to 120 days per child per year! This parental allowance is paid by the Swedish National Social Insurance and is called VAB (vård av sjukt barn) for short. The verb “vabben” has developed from this in colloquial language.

In Sweden, by the way, it is perfectly okay to vabben in business and working life. If our children are ill, we usually solve this in the following way: We discuss which of us has very important appointments that can hardly be postponed. Then the one with the more important appointments goes to work and the other stays with the child. Often we divide the day and everyone stays at home for half a day. One can also only spend half a day at home. That has always worked out well for the last 18 years.

What I miss

I have been in Sweden for quite some time, but after all these years there are still some things I like to bring back from Germany. These are morello cherries in a glass for the Black Forest cherry cake, Opekta 3:1 (a gelling aid, editor’s note) for jam cooking and vanilla pudding. I also miss the Annodazumal rolls and the spelt bread from the local baker as well as the Federweißen and Zwiebelkuchen in autumn.

Blaumachen allowed

In Sweden, parents can go on holiday with their children even if they are not on holiday. This is simply communicated to the school, which has no way of preventing a trip during school hours. Of course this is not a good thing for the school.

The Swedish school system

School grades in Sweden only exist from the sixth grade onwards. There is also no subdivision into Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium, but all go to school for twelve years. In the last three years you choose a school with a certain orientation. This can also be a professional orientation such as a car mechanic. Whoever wants to study after the so-called “student examination” after the 12th grade usually chooses a scientific, linguistic or communal direction.

If you are looking for a job, grades and degrees are not as important as in Germany. Great importance is attached to social behaviour and whether the person fits in well with the company and the people there.

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