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.
Monday -6:30 am.
I wake up along with my husband, my oldest son, and my infant daughter. I start the day by breastfeeding my baby, cooking up some porridge, and making breakfast for my other two kids. I also help my husband prepare the eldest for preschool and they’re usually out the door by seven, my husband driving my son. Lunch is provided at my son’s preschool so I don’t have to bother packing lunches. I put the baby back down for a nap.
I start with some laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and vacuuming. I’ll bang out some ironing too while my younger son plays either indoors or outdoors. I make some food for the baby and pop it into the freezer for later.
The baby is awake and ready for lunch. I heat leftovers from dinner for myself. I dress myself, the baby, and my son and walk to my older son’s preschool within the hour.
Myself and my three kids meet up with friends, fellow mothers also on maternity leave, for coffee. Because the weather is lovely, we meet at an outdoor cafe and the children play together outdoors.
I return home with the kids and put the baby down for another nap and finish up some house work.
I start preparing dinner and send the kids outside to play again. My husband comes home around four p.m.
The entire family eats dinner.
The boys watch TV while my husband and I catch up.
Boys go outside to play for their last run around for the evening. My husband hits up the grocery store around the corner.
The family eats supper which consists of bread and milk or porridge. My husband starts the boys on their bedtime routine that includes the brushing of teeth, a story, and nightly prayers. I put the baby down for the evening and stay with her until she falls asleep.
My husband and I watch some TV together.
We both head to bed.
I’m up early to feed the baby. I later start breakfast for the boys and my husband empties the dishwasher so that I can spend the morning studying. He walks the eldest to preschool and then bikes to work, leaving the car for me.
I put the baby down for a nap and begin my psychology course work. I click around online and study for a couple of hours or until the baby wakes up –which ever comes first.
The baby stirs and I throw together an early lunch for me and the baby girl. I pack a quick sandwich for my middle child and dress him for daycare. We hop in the car and leave by noon.
I collect my oldest son from preschool and drop my youngest at daycare, which is paid for by Finnish taxes, and provided in a local church. Myself, my eldest son, and baby daughter all come back home. My son plays outside and then drags some LEGOs out into the living room. The baby coos from the sofa and bounces up and down at the sight of her older brother’s toys. I give the baby some yogurt snacks and get to work washing those cloth diapers.
I place my sleeping daughter in the stroller and zip up the older one as we walk back to daycare to collect my younger son. I get back home in an hour and start dinner. My husband walks through the door with a couple of more things for our meal that he picked up from the store.
After dinner, the boys get their TV time and I head out to meet a friend to study.
I return home in time to prepare the baby for bed, my husband having already started brushing the boys’ teeth. After stories are read and the baby falls asleep, my husband and I have our own second adult dinner.
I work in my garden outside and plants some seeds. Later, I check up on some emails and am asleep by 10 p.m.
Eldest son is off to school with my husband who takes the car. I’ve been breastfeeding the baby out on the balcony for about an hour, after feeding the two other boys and having my own breakfast. I tidy the home and vacuum all morning while the baby sleeps. My middle son plays alone.
After lunch, I button up my middle son to collect the eldest from school. After the baby is in the stroller, we’re out the door.
I take all three children to a friend’s house — a friend who also has children. All the children play outside and inside while my friend and I have some coffee. I feed the baby fruits and rye bread in my lap throughout the conversation.
The baby is asleep again and we start back home. After placing my sleeping daughter into her room, I make a dent in the laundry and pull down the ironing board. I hear my little sons playing underneath, their voices changing as they become new characters.
The entire family eats dinner together.
I leave to meet a friend alone. My husband cleans the kitchen while I’m away.
I come back home for the bed-time routine and then read by myself. I eventually make my way to bed around 10.
Thursday- 6:30 a.m.
After I finish preparing breakfast and breastfeeding, my husband cleans up the kitchen so that I can concentrate on my studies in the morning. He drives the eldest to preschool.
I return to my online courses and studies until lunch time. I feed the baby, eat lunch, and then quickly prepare a sandwich for my younger son.
I’ve collected my older son from preschool and am dropping my youngest one off at daycare. Back at home, my older son draws while I start on some house work. After vacuuming and cleaning, I wash another load of cloth diapers. I put the baby down for a nap.
I rouse both children and walk with them to collect my younger son from daycare. I have already started dinner by the time my husband comes home.
After dinner, the boys go outside to play while my husband and I clean up the kitchen and straighten up the house. Once the kids are asleep, we have a later dinner together and spend the rest of the evening talking.
I help ready my eldest son for preschool and say goodbye. After breastfeeding, I get to work on cleaning. My middle son helps tidying up the house.
After lunch, my two children and I walk to my son’s preschool.
My three children and I head to a playdate for my older son. I stay, chatting with the other mothers as I feed the baby some fruit.
My husband returns with groceries. I start dinner and afterwards, the boys have their TV time.
After the children are asleep, I wash some dishes and hang some laundry to dry.
After breakfast, I go on a 2-hour walk with my baby daughter by a nearby lake.
The entire family goes to eat lunch out and then we head to the park for the afternoon. On the way home, we stop at the library to collect some books for the children.
My husband serves dinner and then handles the dishes while I study. Later, he goes to see a band in town alone.
After breakfast, my family and I go to church. Once the service is complete, we drive four hours to meet with our extended family. We spend the entire day with cousins and grandparents before eventually driving back home — and perhaps stopping off at the grocery store on the way back.