Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ten Reasons why I am glad I will be in Sweden and not in the USA in 2009

I have really enjoyed the last week with my husband home on paid vacation leave from his job at a major international corporation based in Sweden. He does not go back to work until next Wednesday the 6th.

This has me feeling grateful for our new life Sweden, so I wanted to write up a little list of why we are glad we are here for this New Year. So here is a count down, late- night-show style, from 10 on down ...

"The Top Ten Reasons We are Glad to Be in Sweden in 2009."

10) You can drink the water. We had stinky chlorinated water in Florida and had to spend money to keep drinking water on hand. It is wonderful thing to turn on the tap and have fresh clean water.

9) We have 25 hours of preschool a week at the school of our choice for our three year old daughter, for just a tiny amount of money that equals what the government sends us monthly for raising her, and less than what I would spend on two partial days of care per week in the USA. The care is good too, it's no plastic toy hell with screaming kids that smells like unchanged diapers, like some American day cares. It is a Waldorf school, the teacher ratio is 1 teacher to 4 kids, and they serve meals and snacks with only organic food.

Access to daycare means there are fewer insane, stressed parents here- it is good to be able to get out with out your child a bit. There are things grown ups need to do with out kids. Childcare is a luxury many can not afford in the US. In my town, before I left there were several stories about single mothers working at low paying jobs who got in trouble for leaving their small children at home unsupervised. Well, when its work to eat, and show up at work or lose the job, and the job pays less than childcare costs, its no wonder these things happen not too infrequently. So sad, how little children and families are valued in the USA.

8) There is a stay at home dad culture. I was recently at a mall with a fellow American, and we were admiring the dad that wheeled his stroller up to a table and took a seat, at 1pm on a Wednesday. He started fussing with baby food for his infant, and soon he was joined by a male friend. The guy friend greeted him and scooped up the baby and started flying him around, making airplane noises, and generally loving up the baby in a very connected, male way. My thought was, wow, that guy friend of his actually knows how to BE WITH A BABY, probably because he spent time caring for his own at some point as well. Where else can you see two dudes in a shopping mall mid-workday hanging out and ogling the baby? Gotta love Sweden.

This really is a reflection not only of sane work practices, a culture that values children and family, but also gender equity. In Sweden there is a sense of gender equity needing to be extended both ways- that women should be included in the public sphere, and men included in the domestic sphere. This country has the largest percentage of women in government, and from what I can tell, also has the largest percentage of men in cafes with babies in strollers.

7) Kids ride their bikes to school, and all around the neighborhood. Kids are safe in Sweden. There is very little crime here, and very little concern over children's freedom to be out in the world alone. In my Florida hometown in the last two years, there were two child murders of children under 10, and a stay at home mom that was dragged from her home while her two toddlers napped, and was raped and murdered. There were no children on the streets in my Florida hometown. Since children can not ride bikes to school, the drop off lines for cars taking children to school can be an hour long, as the road infrastructure as not built to support one car per child each morning.

In all the criminal cases I mentioned in Florida, the perpetrator had a history of mental illness, addiction, and of recent suspect behavior. In Sweden, there is health care care for people who have problems. The man who abducted the stay at home mom had a head injury as a child his family could not afford to treat, and had never gotten any services, even though everyone who knew him knew he was "off". One of the men who kidnapped, assaulted and killed a ten year old was addicted to cocaine and depressed, but again, no services. Who pays when we do not take care of the people in our society? Ask the moms who have to wait in line an hour each day to drop off their kid at school in the USA, who have obese kids that never get to go outside, and they probably do not know the answer.

6) Work/Life balance is valued. 5 weeks paid vacation leave is the norm in Sweden for all jobs, in addition to the national holidays. Sane work hours make for sane workers. Overworked people are not more productive. My husband has six weeks vacation, since he has a cushier white collar job. This is in contrast to the 10 days off he had annually in the USA at a similar job. And if he was sick, it counted against his time off. We usually juggled these days to get a short break around Christmas, then were left with a long weekend or two. We did not get to visit Sweden much, as three days is not much time to travel! Though I did once actually visit Sweden over a five day break, when I was at my first job. That was that was all I could get- I spent two days traveling and three days in daze meeting his family. Here in Sweden, we can live away from my family, but perhaps go spend a month with them on our time off. And since we do not have to pay for childcare and health care, we might even be able to have enough money to pay for some plane tickets!

5) Separation of church and state is for real here. I do not care what people believe in their personal religions, but I think we can all look to Iran and say it's not a good idea when a government imposes it's religion on it's people. From this standpoint, I can not even begin to understand the 'Sarah Palin' phenomenon, of Christians who hoped to see the American government become more christian. Swedes are for human rights, and respect individuals to determine what is best for them. The government helps makes sure everyone has access to good education, health care, and needed services in jobs, language, and housing so people can freely do in their lives what they see fit. They are not there to make moral judgments, but to create a system that allows individuals to flourish by having their basic needs met.

There was recently a debate on Swedish radio here about a lesbian couple who had artificial insemination for one partner to become pregnant, and then they discovered she was infertile. The debate was that the law was written so only one partner can undergo fertility treatment in the national medical system. Their situation brought to light the need for both partners to have access to insemination services. Can you even imagine the US having this discussion?? National health care covering fertility treatments, for lesbians, and no one even trying to get moralistic about it?!! In Sweden, that is their business, not the government's.

4) Sweden is a good global citizen. Sweden makes peace, not war. Unlike the US, which destroyed the Iraqi health care system first with sanctions that caused hundreds of deaths in innocent children who had no access to needed medicines under the sanctions. Then we destroyed the whole infrastructure of the country- healthcare, transportation, power, and communications in a war to go after fictional weapons of mass destruction. We left a whole country feeling too unsafe to leave the house. By contrast, the think tank 'The Centre for Global Development' in Washington DC just named Swedish foreign aid the best in the world. "The Swedish foreign aid programme is the best in the world in terms of quantity, weighted for country size, as well as its quality,” said the report, and "in assessing Sweden’s ranking in the category of Security, CGD praised Sweden’s contributions to international peacekeeping missions" according to this article in the Swedish paper The Local. Sweden helps its people at home, and extends an actually useful helping hand to other countries as well.

3) The Swedish Economy is more stable than the US economy. I just moved fro man area where we luckily got rid of two houses that had declined 50% in value since they were appraised in 2005. In my hometown the foreclosures epidemic is plaguing neighborhoods, families are suffering from job loss, and there is little relief to be had. The whole system, even the little back up available in terms of medicaid for health care or other assistance, is going broke. The Swedes went through a market crisis in 1991 and 1992, and bailed out banks and had a swift recovery. In September, as the US market collapsed, there was talk about how the US should emulate Sweden, who managed a successful bailout and recovery in the 90's , and about looking to Japan for what not to do -who had a bail out that was too little too late that they have never recovered from. The Swedish bail out plan of the 90's included several key points the Oct US bail out sadly did not include, like safe guards to make sure citizens did not get stuck with the bill in the end. The Swedes did not participate in the Euro currency, but maintained control over their own currency. They are poised to have shorter recession with less negative societal impact than almost anywhere else in the world. The Swedes learned a thing or two from their crisis, and while everyone in the world is hurt by the collapse of the credit market, Sweden is braced and more stable than many places.

2) We have health care coverage and so does everyone else. We just need to call the clinic with our person number, and we can get what ever care we need. My husband worked for a company that had a group policy in the USA, so we had coverage. It cost us more than we pay in taxes here, though, and our swedish taxes also go for other useful things, like free college for everyone. Not to mention that in the US there were limits on coverage, so even if you are insured, if you get cancer or your medical tragedy gets to expensive you may reach 'the ceiling' or life time limits of your coverage. So even if you are insured, if there is a catastrophe, there is no guarantee you will not be stuck with huge bills.
Until May of last year, when we got group coverage through my husbands work, I could not get maternity insurance since I have had a c-section. If we were self employed as we were then and having this baby, there would be no way I could buy a plan to cover me and the baby. Insurers can pick and choose who they cover, and since c-sections put you at risk for future problems, insurance companies will not cover women who have ever had c-sections unless they are forced to by law as they are in group plans. This would mean we would pay thousands of dollars out of our pocket if everything went well for birth, but could easily owe $30,000 if I had no have c-section and had a baby with any special care needs.

I saw this many times in my midwife practice- women who had c-section before who were hoping and praying they would not need one again, since they were still paying off the $20, 000 bill from the last one. No wonder #1 cause of bankruptcy in the US is medical bills. Think you are not paying for someone else's health care? You are right, you are paying for other people's disaster care that comes from lack of health care.

1) I am having a baby. This number 1 reason we are glad we are here all the way, and can easily explain the other million reasons I am glad I am here. In Sweden 2.8 babies per thousand die in the first year of life, in USA it is 6.4 per thousand, and for non-white people in the county I lived in in Florida it was 14. The USA ranks 48th the world in infant mortality, which is an indicator of overall societal well being. Here is a May 2008 article about the USA having the second worst infant death rate in the developed world. The only way your baby is less safe than in the US, is if you are in Lativia. In my town, the hospital had a 39% c-section rate, the local Swedish hospital has a 14% rate and they are working to lower it as they see that as too high. In the US, I was bullied for no medical reason into a c-section, here I have no worries that will happen. When our baby is born we will be given appropriate medical care, have plenty of time off to adjust to life as a family of four, and we will have childcare for our older one so I am not burdened by taking care of two kids with no break. My husband will get two weeks off after the birth, and will have 9 months paternity leave if he wishes. We will get a monthly check from the government to cover basic costs. There is a place in the village called 'open forskola' or open preschool where I can go any day of the week to meet other parents at home with small children.

I am grateful for our life here, and hope that things can improve in my homeland as well. Bill Maher's take on this is worth considering....


Kangaroo said...

Great list, mama. We miss you here, and I'm sure you can come up with a list of things you miss about the States...but it is always nice to put things in global perspective. Hopefully your list will be modified after four (eight?) years.

MermaidLilli said...

This was an excellent post, Heidi, followed by that video that reminds us how inadequate our social status is in this lovely country.
Many of the pilgrims I met while walking the Camino in Spain would say about Americans that we work too much. It made me think a lot about how true that is, and you placed a few examples of the reality of living here, especially if low income.
I envy your move, for it has been several years now that I have contemplated moving to Spain (Norway was in the running, but there is something about that climate that I am having a little issue with) at least to experience again another culture and lifestyle, one which gives me such joy.
I am still visualizing it and especially now that my kids are grown, even if they are in college. Also the Birth Cottage is being handled by 2 very competent midwifes and that has given me the freedom to search, more like the time to search..... hopefully I will join the rank of Yanks moving to Europe.
I do not have the same issues as you do, being a new mom with childcare needs, having a baby and all that encompasses it, but one of my biggies is health care. I cannot comprehend how bad it is here. It impacted me greatly when I got cancer. It still does.
Like Kangaroo said, hopefully with this president we will improve in all the areas you mentioned. I doubt it, as Americans are still uptight about "socialism" and "who do you think has to pay for all this....our taxes" and have a very hard time changing.
We'll see.
In the meantime, keep your posts coming, they are so enjoyable.

lornadoone1972 said...

Hear, hear... I am so sad in a way to be having my first one here in the US - and in a hospital where I will have to 'fight' to have vaginal if possible... I wish we had taken the UK job offered to Flex a couple of years ago... a lot of the same benefits and structure... Happy New Year lovely!

gana said...

sweden sounds ideal! i could totally go for 6 weeks of vaca. :) btw, congrats on the baby! and happy new year.

Heidi said...

Right on, sister. I am so jealous of your life there. We are going to a wedding in Norway (and will perhaps try to squeeze in Sweden, too -- I will keep you posted) in May, and I plan on using it as propaganda for Why We Should Move to Scandinavia Now. I don't need the child care, but I like the vacation time and work/life balance and health care, and if I could ski more often, well, that's a bonus. Oslo is looking very, very attractive. :)

Incidentally, the couple whose wedding we are attending had a baby in June, and HE is the one taking care of her right now -- he gets A YEAR of PAID paternity leave.

I don't have children and don't plan to, but I offer my services as a babysitter to everyone I know who does -- it's the least I can do to help counter the cost and stress of child care, plus I get time with my "nieces" and "nephews" but still get to give them back at the end of the day. ;)

Good thing the US has such strong "family values," huh? Sheesh.

tone almhjell said...

Great post. Most of these points apply to Norway, too, but Sweden is even better when it comes to making life easier for parents and kids. I'm glad you came, and I'm very glad that you like it! Now comes the hard part, January through April. Hang in there, the sun will be back soon.

SwedeLife said...

Thanks for the words of reflection friends! And I enjoyed back tracking to your blogs as well.. Ms. Mermaid, are you blogging now? I looked at the journey ones :) Glad life is good. Gana, you'll have to add me to yours -it's password protected!

Nic's NEWs said...

Great to find your blog - there seems to be a few similarities between us - a fellow ex-pat Waldorf mum who was bullied into a c-section 1st time round! Hope things go much better this time! I managed to find myself a midwife from Foddahemma and was lucky enough to have a homebirth second time round.

I know a Waldorf doula if you want one - she is in Lund. She was my son's dagmamma so I can really recommend her as a person.

If not - best of luck to you - hope you have a fantastic second birth.

P.S. Great list by the way!

Eva said...

Hey there. Thanks for this post. It's good stuff to consider as we are going to be moving to Sweden in about six months, I think, depending on some job stuff.

Do you have any advice on international moving companies from the southern part of the US to Sweden?

Dee said...

I love your list!! I'm a twenty year old college student in New York and your list reminds me why I want to make Sweden my permanent home.

Anonymous said...

Well expressed. From time to time one finds a few surprising exceptions to what one expects from the Swedish culture--adoption laws for example, which in 2008 disallowed anyone over 42 from adopting. Now the age is 43. Given the fact that there is such a family friendly culture that seeks the best possible environment for children, and the fact that the life expectancy rate of men and women averages 79 and 84, AND that couples in their 40s and 50s are generally settled, stable, and financially secure, one would think that this kind of environment would be terrific. The health care for families and children is quite good. My own experience has been varied depending upon the region in which I have lived and the sickness I have had. In Stockholm county, one can get bogged down in a Kafka-esque process that defies typical Swedish reason, if not ethic. Otherwise, I'm all with you. It has been hard to consider a return to the US after spending a decade in Sweden. I only hope that the new government here avoids imitating notions of "free market" adapted from the US which in practice, not theory, tend to lead to cartels, anti-trust, oligopolies, and short-sighted greed--when not properly checked by law and smart consumers. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

#5 Church and State are a little tricky. The "Swedish Church" is still the State Church, but since the turn of this new century, one is no longer required to be a member from birth. You might enjoy looking more closely at this history. Still, what I think Sweden is good at doing better than most nations is showing by example and policy that it behaves in ethical and moral ways. If good government and good citizens can live this way, churches wouldn't be necessary. Sweden has been moving this direction for a long time!