There is a reason American women should be bitterly resentful over their measly maternity leave: we’re the only industrialized country that asks mothers to make the completely unrealistic decisions that they do. Whether it’s financial losses for breastfeeding or the workplace being utterly hostile in the wake of motherhood, the United States doesn’t even come close to what countries like Denmark and Finland offer families.
Mommyish interviewed a Finnish mother named Liisa about her day-to-day life while on maternity leave in her home country, asking her to keep a diary of just one week. Liisa is a registered nurse and a mother of three. Her two sons were born in 2005 and 2007 respectively, and she and her husband welcomed a daughter in 2011. Her older son goes to preschool for fours hours a day while her younger son attends daycare a couple of days a week.
The following account is of her most recent maternity leave with her infant daughter. In addition to having her undivided attention on her family, with spare time for friends, her marriage, and even herself, Liisa was able to work on her nursing certification while on maternity leave. Her husband is a professional photographer and a primary school teacher. In addition to his nine to five job, he accepts freelance photography projects, some of which are financed by the EU.
Finland’s paid maternity leave is exclusively for the mother for the first four months. Following that period, parents get an additional 154 days to share between them. Mothers and fathers then have the option of taking a complete childcare leave, unpaid, until the child is three years old. Finnish parents are entitled to complete employment security should they take this option.
Liisa and her husband are by no means rich. The mother describes their income as “not high at all,” and yet Liisa’s diary reads like a woman of pronounced privilege, always available to collect her children from school and prepare home cooked meals. The mother tells Mommyish, “I would describe my recent maternity leave as a time I had really looked forward to. These peaceful, quiet mornings and the walks to the preschool with the youngest son and the baby have made the 10 months very nice. I have really enjoyed the pace of life where I have time to do all I need to do. I have really enjoyed it.”
Her life is by no means perfect, as she does describe some loud weekends when she is trying to study, her husband caring for the “loud boys” while exhausted himself. Life with three children is hectic, even it seems with all the time that government can give you. She admits that between the daily grind of keeping laundry clean and the kids fed, it can be difficult to even enjoy the downtime.
“We have tried to make the weekends enjoyable. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t,” she admits.
Her account is far from a luxury spa visit, nor is it frought with pressures to keep up with professional responsibilities while lugging around a breast pump. She’s always up early. She makes lunches for her boys. She works hard. But she also has enough time to truly be present and attentative to her children — something that very few modern women can achieve.