Barbara Almond, M.D.

Barbara Almond M.D.

Maternal Ambivalence

Childhood in Scandinavia

Family life in Scandinavia is made easier by governmental support.

Posted Oct 17, 2011

In my recently published book, The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood, I discuss the pressures and behaviors that modern American women (mostly middle-class) exhibit in their child-rearing. The behaviors which I describe are all characterized by a fraught, highly child-centered quality, as parents ignore their own needs and wishes in favor of raising perfect offspring. As this is a subject of much interest to me, I find myself watching children and their parents, particularly their mothers, wherever I happen to be.

This summer my husband and I took a trip to Scandinavia to see the beautiful scenery and to experience life in a social democracy, to the degree that a casual visitor can-and incidentally, to watch children and their parents. Scandinavians pride themselves on the good education available to their children, but what I mainly observed were parents and children going about everyday life. What struck me the most was the relaxed, matter-of- fact interactions between parents and offspring. Children are clearly cherished, but they do not rule the roost. I saw little crying and no tantrums. This is not to say that they don't exist in Sweden and Norway, but the attitude of the parents seemed very matter-of-fact, while being limit-setting. I'm sure Scandinavian children are encouraged to do well, to succeed, but this encouragement has a more private quality. I did not feel the parents were looking around to see if their good parenting was being registered, or comparing themselves with other parents.

I think that family life in Scandinavia is made easier by governmental support for parenting and the education of children. There were certainly many pregnant women to be seen. But, to me the most important observation was the absence of the kind of pressured parenting I see all around me here in Northern California and hear about in other parts of the USA.

A sense of cooperation seems to exist in these countries. On a drive through a rural part of Sweden, we noticed a very nice elementary school, which was just letting out for the day. Some of the children, who were waiting to be picked up, had started a circle game. There was no pushing or complaining as various children were tagged "out." The teachers did not have to interfere. The whole scene was relaxed, friendly and not self-conscious. It seemed emblematic of the sensible atmosphere that seems to surround family life in Scandinavia.

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