Monday, July 26, 2010

happy moms?

It's summer time, which means "fellesferie" (literally "all together vacation") in Norway;  basically, everyone's off for the month of July, vacationing.

 (On a 1 1/2  hr. ferry "cruise" of Lake Superior around Duluth during our three-night summer vacation there this summer.)

The interesting part about it, to me, is all the e-mails and facebook status updates I've been receiving from friends in my native Norway, telling me that, yes, they're having a splendid time, though it's raining a lot ... and it gets kind of hard to be with the kids all the time like that.

My response? "See?! It really is really hard, huh! To parent a child full time." (if not in so many words.)

In this recent post I quoted studies that show how, in general, moms in the US feel overwhelmed, while Scandinavian moms feel happy.

According to a new report by Save the Children ("the leading independent organization creating lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the word") Norway has the happiest moms in the world. The US, on the other hand, came in 28th of 43 developed countries ranked in order of the well-being of mothers and children (see the full report here: State of the World's Mothers 2010: Women on the Front Lines of Health Care, (PDF file), May 2010. The July-August issue of mothering also has a short summary of the report.)

I can't help but wonder if I'd never left Norway to live in other countries; if I too would live there now as a rather happy and content mom. Yes, of course, my friends in Norway too complain about feeling a time crunch ("tidsklemme"). And they all talk about the dinner hour being hard, when they leave work around 4 to pick up their child in daycare, themselves hungry and tired, the kids tired and hungry, and then to get a meal on the table, eat it, play some, and then quick get around to the bedtime rituals before child's in bed and there's some time (!!!) for parents to relax. Because of course, most kids are asleep by a fairly reasonable hour there because most parents follow the health stations' advised "Ferberised light model" of crying it out (in monitored intervals) and teaching the child to self-sooth (very much in tune with the Scandinavian sense of "independence"). Leaving evening time for parents to do some of their independent free time activities ("fritidsaktiviteter"), like working out or attending a club meeting, or being engaged in local politics,  or tackle the list of the multitude of things that need to get done in all homes.

But picture this. All day with a toddler. Who does not nap. Who gets tired and likes the idea of sleep for sure, but who'd rather be in bed cuddling, reading books, hearing stories, than being left alone to self-soothe. With a set of parents who're unwilling to let her "cry it out" in even "Scandinavianly tempered" portions. A child who will not necessarily "crash" early, even without a nap.

It's a lot of parenting time.

Let me give you a picture of our situation: with barely no money to live off of, with my husband going back to grad school and me leaving my acacemic position (which would not have given me any maternity leave since my daughter was born during the summer) when our Lilly arrived 2 + years ago, and with no family close by to help; it's been either me or my husband who has been with our daughter. Mostly me the first year (aside from occasional runs to the gym or yoga studio while my husband stayed home a little longer in the morning. I had only one hair appointment that year and it was on a Saturday afternoon); the second year sort of split days with most time on me still (what with her still nursing frequently, and needing that to go down for a nap, or for comfort, and of course during the night).

This past month I've been full time mom again while my husband is working on both his thesis to finish it up as he's applying for jobs, and doing some wood work to help out a carpenter friend. And though I thought I could continue to get some work done on my two book projects (one on how children sleep, another on porn made by women), well, it's kind of hard when your kid doesn't take a nap and you're shot by dinner time. It's not like a day can't be "good' or anything like that, it's just a lot about catering to a toddler's needs. As her food provider (gardener, shopper, cook, server, nurser ... ), playmate, doctor and nurse, entertainer, educator, pedagogue. Etc.

As I've posted about before a couple of times, we've seriously considered a move to Norway. We even put our house on the market after I put together an elaborate pros and cons list, and the social benefits and job opportunities there in particular seemed so attractive, especially now that we're responsible for a child. We have good friends there and here, but in the end opted to stay here. We love our home here. We have a house, a garden, a community. Those are immense resources when you're parenting a child. Also, food that we like. Income is harder to come by, but the stuff you buy is cheaper. And there are more choices in the grocery isles. (and elsewhere).

Yet parents there are happier. With one year paid parental leave, as well as subsidized universal health care and daycare (guaranteed from the child is one year), they live in a country where families are supported in actuality and not just in name (as they are here).

No place is perfect. And I like to bitch. I just get really resentful, I guess, when I receive all those rosy greetings, because I just can't help but feel like spitting out; guess what, it's not so rosy when you're with them all day long.

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