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A Second Take on Swedish Parents

Helicopter parents have an ice-cold name in Scandinavia: Curling parents.

This post is in response to
Childhood in Scandinavia

By Maria Carling

A few weeks ago psychologist and psychoanalyst Barbara Almond, M.D., wrote an interesting blog post about childhood in Scandinavia. During a summer trip to Sweden and Norway, she had been watching children and parents, and she noticed that a sensible atmosphere seems to surround family life in Scandinavia.

Being one of those Swedish parents I’m happy to hear about her observations, and I agree that the relations between adults and children are relaxed in most cases. I think equality is the key to that. In Scandinavia we value equality between children and adults as well as between men and women, managers and employees. Governmental support does make it easier for us to take long maternity or paternity leaves and to keep a rather good work-family life balance.

But unfortunately this doesn’t stop us from being anxious helicopter parents. We just have another name for it: we say curling parents. This ice-cold metaphor describes two parents sweeping the ice in front of the child so the child can avoid any kind of obstacle on his or her way through life. Swedish middle class parents seem to be more and more anxious and in need of expert answers to all kinds of questions about the art of bringing up children.

We struggle just as much with the pressure of raising perfect off-spring as parents do in the U.S. We ignore our own needs and worry about whether we chose the very best kindergarten or school for our children, and we hover over our young ones like helicopters all the way to university to make sure that they’ll be successful.

The debate about curling parents in Scandinavia started off in January 2004, when I wrote a series of articles about the phenomenon in the daily paper I work for, Svenska Dagbladet. The response I got was overwelming. Everybody seemed to have noticed that Swedish parents today tend to do too much for their children and that children rule the families in many cases. At least people said that ”everybody else” let their children rule the roost ….

This is how a Danish child psychologist I interviewed describes the ideal childhood of contemporary curling parents: "Like the yolk in an egg, completely protected from all evil."

Many times I’ve heard that my articles ruined dinner parties when the guests started accusing each other of being curling parents.

In 2005 I wrote a book on the topic. It has been translated to Norwegian and Finnish too, so the phenomenon is spread all over the Nordic countries.

My conclusion is that pressured parenting is a global phenomenon, at least among middle class parents. And when we try hard to give our children the very best it seems that we deprive them of developing coping strategies for the future. That paradox scares me.

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Maria Carling is a newspaper editor at Svenska Dagbladet in Stockholm, Sweden, and has been a visiting editor at Psychology Today.

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