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CHILDREN

Readers reveal: What it’s like raising an international family in Sweden

From playgrounds to healthcare, these are the best things about raising a family in Sweden, plus some areas for improvement, from those who know a thing or two about it.

Readers reveal: What it's like raising an international family in Sweden
File photo of a mother and child taking an evening swim: Gorm Kallestad / NTB scanpix / TT

After a report from Unicef ranked Sweden as one of the world's best places to raise children, we asked our readers for their experiences.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, but parents still highlighted areas where authorities could make it a more welcoming country for international families. Here's a look at what five parents in Sweden had to say.

For Cristina, 39, Sweden is the “best place without a doubt” to be raising her two children. Originally from Ecuador, she has lived in Västerås since moving there for her husband's job in 2013, even though the couple had no previous connections to the country.

Sweden's family-friendly reputation, which they heard of from colleagues, was a big part of the draw.

“When we moved in six years ago and went to different places to do errands, such as the Tax Agency, the Migration Agency, even the car dealership, it was stunning to find inside these offices a small place with toys and books for children,” she remembered. 

In terms of how Sweden could be more welcoming to international families, she said that without Swedish family, it was hard to understand some of the social norms.

“As well as SFI, it would be nice to have an course that explain how the Swedish society works. For example, recycling and how and where to sort the garbage, and the school system,” she suggested.

Dad-of-two Tyler has moved to Gothenburg with his Swedish wife in 2015 after having their first child in India. The family spent some time there and in New York before deciding to move to Sweden.

“Our goal before we had our first child was to give them the best environment to raise them in. We were lucky to have options and after our son was born we decided to move back to my home country of USA,” he said. “Quickly though, cost realities set in with daycare, health insurance, longer work hours, very little vacation and no sick leave.

“We took the next leap and moved to Sweden. At this point my wife hadn’t lived in Sweden for 12 years so it was a big jump for all of us. But we could feel so many stresses slowly drift away. As parents we can be more present for our children without the stress from before. Our boys are lucky to get the feelings of both a city and a rural life,” Tyler said.

File photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

Thanaletchumy, 27, was also happy with the state support system she found after moving to Varberg from Malaysia with her three-year-old.

“It's very good having help from the system like parental leave, daycare and more to raise a kid,” she told The Local.

And one Swede who moved back to their native country after living long-term in South Korea also highlighted the ready availability of facilities public toilets with nappy-changing units, as well as  playgrounds and high chairs in restaurants.

“Swedes are generally understanding towards parents and kids and I have never experienced anyone getting annoyed and complaining when out with the kids. On our two-week visit to Korea when our daughter was one, people complained about our daughter crying, some restaurants had no chairs for kids, and 'no kid zones' were a thing.”

Natalie, 24 moved to Sweden in 2016, from USA, and is now living in Uppsala county with her two children under three. She was already in the process of moving to Sweden for her partner when she found out to her surprise that she was pregnant, and said the choice to stay in the Nordic nation to raise her family was a “no-brainer”, particularly from a financial perspective.

Natalie and her Swedish-American family. Photo: Private

In the US, we felt that we’d have a constant struggle trying to make ends meet. Giving our children access to free healthcare and affordable daycare is something we are so thankful for,” she told The Local.

“Right now I am mammaledig [on maternity leave] and the paid leave helps us enormously to be financially stable, as well as the monthly barnbidrag [childcare contribution] for raising kids,” explained Natalie. “But, surprisingly enough, we do even better financially when I am back to full-time studies with the help of CSN [the Swedish Board of Student Finance]. I can’t even imagine how it will be for us financially when I actually have a full-time job here.”

She says she feels “spoiled” to be raising her young family in Sweden, but admits that there was still an adjustment period. “International parents need to adapt to Sweden as best as possible to have the easiest time creating a life here. It wasn’t until I began to understand and speak the language that I started to feel like a part of the country,” she advised. 

She also noted that moving to Sweden for love typically takes a long time, and said the Migration Agency could improve by speeding up this process and allowing families to be together sooner.

The Unicef study took into account national policies on paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, accessibility of childcare services offered up until school age (six years old), and breast-feeding rates. While the parental leave policy and childcare were highly praised by the readers who spoke to The Local, factors such as the access to nature and many playgrounds appeared to be equally important to family life.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our survey. Although we weren't able to include everyone's comments, everyone who responded helped contribute to the article. 

READ ALSO: 11 of the best playgrounds in Stockholm

 

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FAMILY

Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Are you raising children in Sweden? Here are a few very personal tips for what not to do from Alex Rodallec, who was raised in Sweden by a French Breton mother.

Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Raising children is hard enough as it is without having to do it in another country. The added difficulties of being a foreigner can be taxing: grappling with the language, the cultural differences, not being well acquainted with how the system works.

So how do you get advice from someone who knows a bit about the issues your child might face growing up as the child of an immigrant in Sweden? One way is to ask someone who was raised by an immigrant parent in Sweden.  Someone like me.

I am no expert in child rearing, and have no children of my own. I can, however, tell you a few things that you should try to avoid. Here are a few of my best tips for what not to do.

Do not reject your adopted country’s culture

This does not mean that you should assimilate completely. It is, however, a good idea to try to embrace your adopted country’s culture as a positive, rather than a negative, for the sake of your children.

Why? Because your children will not have your cultural identity, at least not entirely. And this will be true no matter what you do to prevent it. They will in part become Swedish, imbued with many of the values and customs of Swedish society, with the behaviour and norms.

This might not sound so serious, but if you are someone who is resentful of Sweden, or if you ever become resentful of it, it might become a serious problem.

My mother, who was French, first came to Sweden as a tourist and then later to work, but with no plans of staying. Then she met my father, a Bolivian man, whom she would eventually divorce when I was around two years old. After that my mother went to live in France with my big sister and me, and with the intention of staying.

The next part I am not so sure about, but I believe my father might have threatened legal action if she did not return with us to Sweden. Whatever the reason for her involuntary return, I do know that my mother’s dislike of Sweden grew with her resentment of having to stay there. And sad as that may be, because of our Swedishness she eventually began seeing us children – though only intermittently – as physical manifestations of the country she hated. Or perhaps we were a constant reminder of the fact that she could not leave. Why could she not leave? Because she loved us. How complicated the twists and turns of life sometimes play out.

Growing up, my mother would often tell us that it was our fault that she was “stuck in this country”, and her most common use of the word ‘Swedish’ was as a profanity directed at us, her children. Naturally this created a dissociation with Sweden and Swedishness, primarily in myself and my big sister, and to a lesser degree in my little sister.

And even though my mother had put my big sister and I in private schools with other children of immigrants (The Catholic and English Schools in Gothenburg), coupled with the fact that we went to preschool in France, we had still committed the cardinal sin of absorbing ‘Swedishness’. My little sister had it the worst when it came to this. She went to a Swedish public school, and never had the experience of going to preschool in France, and so was the most ‘Swedish’ of us all.

To this day, the subject of Swedishness and the like or dislike of Sweden is still a topic of conversation whenever I talk to or meet my sisters. My little sister has accepted her Swedishness, and lives in Gothenburg where we grew up. But my big sister and I both live abroad, and to varying degrees have issues with the country we grew up in. I am slowly learning to love and accept my Swedishness while living in France, but my big sister lives in London and baulks at the thought of ever moving back to Sweden. We are a separated family, in part due to our varying degrees of acceptance of Swedishness.

Perhaps I should stress that my mother was not a horrible person, but she suffered greatly from the circumstances of her life.

So, do not fill your children with your resentment of the country they will grow up in, it may very well be detrimental to their well being and their integration into the society they grew up in.

Do not ignore the complexity of cultural identity

Even though cultural identity can become symbolic of underlying issues, as was the case with my mother, it can also be a great resource, albeit one that might need some help along the way.

Being half French, half Bolivian, born and raised in a Swedish multiethnic suburb, had me untangling the threads that make up my cultural identity for decades. An experience common among multi-ethnic children. Your children might eventually need your support in this, I know I could have used some help.

My advice is to promote the idea that one can be many things all at once. And that to a certain degree these things are contextual. I myself am Bolivian to a greater degree when I spend time with the Bolivian side of the family, and more French when I spend time with the French side.

Having multiple cultural backgrounds also has benefits. Your reference points are multiplied compared to someone who has only one cultural background. You can act as a sort of cultural bridge, much like Commander Spock in Star Trek, for the Trekkies out there. Beyond that, having multiple languages is an asset, children who grow up speaking multiple languages struggle a bit at first, but then tend to outdo their peers in language mastery.

Do not be intimidated by how well your children adapt to Swedish society

This one might be slightly odd, but is an experience that many of my friends of immigrant background have shared with me.

Because your children will grow up as cultural insiders they will master the ins and outs of Swedish society much better than you. Most parents want their children to outdo them, but a parent also wants to feel useful and capable in front of their children. You might have a hard time coping with the fact that your children at a certain point, and perhaps much quicker than they would if you were in your home country, will outdo you. On top of that, in many cultures there is also a more authoritarian parent role, where children ought to know their place as children, and let the parent lead and decide.

My advice is: if you have an issue with your children making you feel inadequate, try to think of yourselves as a family unit. If your children can help you do better, that is good for all of you, try to embrace that. And why not look at it as a great opportunity to learn?

What are your best tips for parents raising children in Sweden? Share your experiences of parenting in Sweden with The Local by emailing us at [email protected] 

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