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Sweden is discovering the cost of pushing mothers back into work

Its wraparound child care system is a dangerous social experiment that has damaged family life

By on Monday, 27 February 2012

An article last week in the Telegraph stopped me in my tracks: entitled, “We’re just not ready to be Swedes, Dave” and subtitled, “The PM may want to copy Sweden’s ample child care benefits but they wouldn’t work here”, it was written by Tamzen Isacsson, an Oxford graduate now living in Sweden with her Swedish husband and baby. I settled down with a cup of coffee, anticipating that I would read a critique of Sweden’s wrap-around child care system and a plea to David Cameron to support mothers in this country who believe it is their task, not the state’s, to raise their children.

I anticipated wrongly. To my surprise and disquiet, Isacsson’s article praised the Swedish system unstintingly: she writes that “affordable (state-funded) child care makes it possible for many mothers to return to work” and asks the reader to “Imagine a country where full-time child care costs [only] £110 a month. Imagine a country where the state spends more on pre-school child care than on its defence budget… Imagine a country where stay-at-home mothers are discouraged. Welcome to Sweden.”

I am trying to imagine it, amazed that there was no hint of irony in the penultimate sentence. Isacsson can find nothing wrong with a system that puts babies in full-time nurseries as a matter of course by the time they are 18 months old and she thoroughly approves of the “Swedish work ethic” where mothers are expected to go back to work at that stage in their toddler’s life. Now pregnant with her second child, she admits she has not yet met a Swedish stay-at-home mother and concludes, again with no sense of irony, “I, for one, look forward to going back to work and contributing to a state that puts children at the very heart of society”.

At the heart of society perhaps, but not at the heart of the home and in the company of the person who, apart from their father, loves them best. As it happens, I am a member of Mothers At Home Matter (MAHM), formerly Full-Time Mothers, an organisation set up 20 years ago in Britain to provide a voice for mothers who want to have the choice (and thus the economic viability) to stay at home to raise their children rather than be forced by successive governments to return to the workforce as early as possible. MAHM is not lobbying for a return to the “1950s housewife”; it simply believes, with a wealth of solid research behind it, that “looking after young children at home is just as important a stage in the lifecycle as paid work”.

At the organisation’s AGM last November, by coincidence one of the speakers was Jonas Himmelstrand, an expert in Swedish family policy, who painted a not so rosy picture of Swedish family life, dominated as it is by government-planned childcare outside the home. He described the comprehensive day care system which began in 1975, with the result that today 92 per cent of all 18 months to five-year-olds in Sweden are in day care. The outcome of this policy is not the utopia expected: there has been an increase in psychological problems among young Swedes, an increase in disciplinary problems, a high rate of sick leave among women, deterioration in parents’ ability to raise their children and deterioration in the quality of the day care offered. Himmelstrand’s message is that the institution of the family needs support and respect from society and the government as the key institution for developing close relationships.

As over here, surveys show that the great majority of Swedes would like to spend more time with their children and children would like more time spent in the company of their parents. Apparently seven out of 10 Swedish mothers want to be able to stay at home longer. My response to this article is that we are not ready to be Swedes, Dave, not because of the massive costs such a package would entail, but because many of us value the role of motherhood and we know how essential the work – vocation is a better word – of mothers is.

In writing as she has Tamzen Isacsson has allowed herself to be a useful idiot for a dangerous and unsustainable social experiment.

  • EndTimes101

    Amazing that it is not discussed more openly that this policy and almost ever other ‘innovation’ throughout the West in the last 50 years is mearly Communism repackaged and rebranded, then introduced in a creeping and stealthy fashion.
    Wake up, look around you sometime and smell the coffee people…… Communist ideology has completely saturated big business, the Media, Government Policies and even….very sadly, our own Catholic Church. Is that statement not politically correct?! ;-)  Ahhh, has the penny dropped yet?

  • theroadmaster

    The Swedish state in the guise of a super-nanny can never compensate for the lack of familial bonding in family homes between mothers and children when the exigencies of work take priority.  The work-life balance has been skewered in favor of careers which unfortunately leaves behind far too many kids deprived of maternal affection and stressed-out mothers.  The pendulum must swing back in favor of women who prefer to be present in the home for their children.  This could be achieved with tax breaks, financial incentives as well as quality team allowed during a woman’s working life for the necessary activity of child-rearing.

  • theroadmaster

    typo error.  In my last sentence mean’t “quality time” and not “quality team”.

  • Brian A. Cook

     I prefer not to smell conspiracy theories. 

  • Brian A. Cook

    I’m sorry to have to bring up this fact, but hasn’t the Taliban in Central Asia pushed women out of work?  I will say that nuclear families should be helped to remain intact.

  • Brian A. Cook

    I appreciate your comment (although I disagree with the use of the term “nanny state,” which can be used as a slur against any and all governmental safety nets).

  • theroadmaster

    What else would you call it when the state effectively takes over the duties that naturally are the prerogative of the mother?  One can imagine the state in this case as a ubiquitous  Mary Poppins which might start out with the best of intentions but ends up undermining them by usurping the role of the mother by depriving children of the necessary bonding which they require in their very early years.

  • Anonymous

    The Swedish model of parenthood may or may not be driven by the marxist policy to destroy the family, respect for God and make the state the ultimate ‘giver’ and ‘taker away’. Only time will tell whether this new age social engineering will make or break societies that practise this model. 
    Societies must respect their Mamas and allow their Mamas to be Mamas.

  • maryp

    Come to rural Illinois where, at our local parish, families are big, happy and home-school. The children are well-balanced and show a maturity way beyond their years. How sad that Swedish women don’t really seem to have the option to stay at home. Also, in these days of high unemployment surely mums at home mean more jobs for men and young people. Hugely non-PC to say this but true.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OTCKAYXC6V65WVJUPZFYCCUEUU Lee

    Very good article. Roland Huntford wrote about this back in the 1970′s, a book entitled The ‘new’ Totalitarians which basically done a detailed breakdown of what was nothing but a cuddly fascistic system that had its roots in Northern European/Germanic welfare systems/statolatry. He concluded that such a system , far from emancipating, actually made Swedes obsessive materialists and at the same time, diligent ‘yes’ men of the state whereby the state does not serve the nation but ultimately, the nation serves the state !

  • Victor

    Easier  to indoctrinate children when no parents around to actually raise them. Also, good population control if women are too busy working to have lots of kids. There’s a method to the madness but we are too naive to acknowledge it.

  • Anonymous

    And if the father wants to stay at home with his child? Would that be a possibility for the mother to go back to work or is it just mothers at home that matter?

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    Dear Ms Phillips,

    Reading your commentary on Isacsson’s article was invigorating! At least there is one woman out there who sees through the Nordic countries’ propaganda, promoting their affluence-reducing and freedom-restricting childcare policies to the rest of an unsuspecting world!

    We in Children’s Right to Their Parents Sweden have made a note of Isacsson’s article and your very effective rebuttal here: http://www.barnensratt.se/news-en.htm#120222-1 !

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    I agree that the kind of Big Government the Nordic countries practice these days is a kind of stealthy Communism which most people, in their half-sleepy state, do not react to as they should.

    But I don’t think evil is the driving force, I merely think it is ignorance and complacency. Both our elected representatives and we, the electors, are ignorant and complacent. Neither party realises, nor rises up to, the demands democracy poses.

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    I am not inclined to think in terms of conspiracies either. I am more inclined to explain the political madness going on in terms of ignorance and complacency.

    Both our elected representatives and we, the electors, are ignorant and complacent. Neither party realises, nor rises up to, the demands democracy poses.

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    You seem to wander off from what Phillips’ article was about: Sweden’ family-disintegrating, so-called, “family policies”.

    Take it from me, a Swede, cringing when my governments forceful propaganda sinks in with unsuspecting foreigners who may have heard the expression. “there is no such thing as a free lunch” but still do not seem to understand what it means.

    Read more about Swedish family policies here. http://www.barnensratt.se/index-en.htm !

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    The Swedish model of parenthood was indeed created, subtly and gradually, to replace “the family” with “the state”. So much so that the family, no longer, is a legal concept in Sweden. Everybody here has an individual relationship with “the state”. The family no longer exists, statutorily.

    – Only time will tell… you write, but I am afraid that Sweden’s family-unfriendly policies will not have that kind of binary effect: It will just, slowly and gradually, hamper our progress, something it has already done.

    E.g., in the early 70s, we were 4th on OECD’s affluence list but are now 14th & would have been far lower down had the countries we “compete” with not adopted our famed “family policies”.

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    I am impressed that you understand that Swedish women don’t really have the option to stay at home (while the kids are small)!

    That is precisely the problem and it has been created, politically, on purpose!

    But still, I don’t believe in evil being the motor here. I have a tendency to see it as a consequence of ignorance and complacency, on the part of both electors and elected in our – so-called – enlightened democracies.

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    I am impressed that you remember Roland Huntsford’s book! It deserved to be more talked-about than it was.

    He pulled us Swedes’ pants down very effectively.

    Need I tell you that that book was all but totally silenced here in my country. Hardly any reviews were written and you cannot find it in our public libraries.

    But we in my association, Children’s Right to Their Parents Sweden, still flag up for it here: http://www.barnensratt.se/getbuy.htm#000731-1 .

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    I am impressed that you remember Roland Huntsford’s book! It deserved to be more talked-about than it was.

    He pulled us Swedes’ pants down very effectively.

    Need I tell you that that book was all but totally silenced here in my country. Hardly any reviews were written and you cannot find it in our public libraries.

    But we in my association, Children’s Right to Their Parents Sweden, still flag up for it here: http://www.barnensratt.se/getbuy.htm#000731-1 .

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    You are so right!

    In representative democracies such as Britain and Sweden, we, the citizens, must be more on our guard and jack up our knowledge in politics so we become able to resist the most blatant political con tricks.

    In business there are laws agains fraud – but not in politics. The only defence we, citizens have against political fraud is knowledge and involvement in the paramount issues.

  • http://www.barnensratt.se/ Bo C Pettersson

    With a personal name like “Per”, you must, like me, be (another) Swede.

    Then you must know that, in our country, by way of taxation, parental leave regulations and day-care subsidies, our government control pretty well how long you keep your child at home and by whom – and that, in the longer term, the parents will find that they can no longer afford to keep the child at home.

    What we in Sweden – & Britain – need is something we in my association (http://www.barnensratt.se/index-en.htm) call Family Taxation that would enable parents, mutually, without governmental interference, to decide on who should do what & för how long.