Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's Good to be a Mom in Denmark

I live in the 5th best place in the world to be a mom. I am from the 25th best place in the world to be a mom. Hmm.

Save the Children launched their annual Mother's Day Report this week. The report takes into account the well-being of mothers, education, childhood health and nutrition and economic status among other factors.

I think my favorite snarky blog, Gawker said it best: "It's worth considering that, even though the United States placed relatively well overall, it only ranked 25th out of 43 "developed" countries, which is actually pretty terrible."

I was a mom in the United States for seven months. I intend to be a mom there again when we move home. For me, an educated, white, upper-middle-class woman, nothing was particularly horrible about motherhood in America until I realized that I did not want to go back to work after only three months of unpaid leave. I know many strong women and fantastic mothers who did go back to work when their babies were three months old. I cast no judgment about their mothering, but for me, it felt all wrong that I was supposed to leave my three month old baby and get back to the office.

I was going to have to pay a nanny a big chunk of money to do what I wanted to be doing while I went to work to make enough money to pay said Nanny and some of our rent and bills. Forget about getting a spot in a daycare, though that would have been very expensive too, apparently people who intend to someday get pregnant get their not-yet-conceived children on wait lists all over DC making the wait for my not-yet-born child who got on the list when I was four months pregnant more than a year long.

I couldn't get over the idea of paying someone to be with my son when he was so small and I wanted to be with him. It didn't sit right. I kept asking myself why I carried this guy around for nine months, gained weight, went through the physical agony of labor and birth only to hand him over to someone so soon and miss out on the fun stuff - sitting up on his own, laughing, crawling, rolling over...

I tried to find a solution, I asked my employer if I could return to work part time - a compromise, more days with Riley, but still back to work. It didn't work for my employer.  So I did something crazy in America in the middle of our massive economic crisis. I quit my job. I stayed home with my baby and four months later we moved to Denmark.

When people ask me why we moved here, I usually say, "My husband got this great job and I wanted to stay home with our son longer than three months and we thought living abroad would be a lot of fun since we didn't study abroad in college." All of these things are true, but I am also thinking in the back of my mind, "We ran away from a system that doesn't offer adequate parental leave. We left because an opportunity presented itself and because we couldn't figure out how to stay."

In Denmark, everyone has up to a year of paid maternity leave at 80% of their salary. Some people return to work a little early, around nine or ten months. Most people I have met do not. When I tell people that I had three months of unpaid maternity leave in the United States, they either laugh or look shocked. Once Danes do go back to work, their children attend very affordable government-run childcare. I know there are issues with the childcare system here. Wait lists are long, sometimes you have to opt for private childcare while your child waits to get into a school, etc. But Riley attends a Danish Voggestue and I could not be more pleased with the quality of the teachers at his school and the cost of his tuition.

In Denmark, there is a trend of unmarried women having children or adopting children because single motherhood is easier here. Healthcare is covered, maternity leave is guaranteed and childcare is affordable. It is easy to be a mom here - the kind of mom you want to be.

I feel very fortunate to live in the fifth best place in the world to be a mom. I miss my home and the United States of America. I am proud of many things about my country, but we can do so much better when it comes to parental leave policies. I know there are many who complain of big government taking away freedoms, but sometimes more government can lead us to be more free - to be the kind of moms we want to be, to care for our children without worrying about how we will pay for their healthcare, to be home with our babies they need us most and to return to work and resume our careers when we are ready.

1 comment:

  1. Right on, Jodi! Our leave system here is a disgrace. I'm very glad that we are able to live on my salary alone right now, as Shannon didn't try to get a job after moving here, only to take leave for 3+ months. Bulgaria had 1 year of 90% pay, and I think they were considering making it 2 years. Paternity leave is common too. I'm glad that my teaching schedule gave me enough flexibility to help Shannon during mornings and nights (and now it's summer) because I got no paid paternity leave. We need to do better here. I'm sure any effort will get labeled as "job crushing socialism" but I think of all the countries that are _poorer_ than the US (like Bulgaria) in addition to those that are wealthier and think it is just something we need to do. End rant.