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Finland gave us Nokia and Angry Birds. Recently, they showed us how to raise the best students in the world.

Interestingly, Finland’s schooling and child-raising focuses more on a child’s happiness and health rather than academic achievement.

And now, the world is getting a glimpse of the amazing support system they have in place for parents and families.

We talk to Finnish mothers Sanna and Kirsi, who share just how the Finnish people do parenting.

It is all about what’s best for the child

The Father often takes care of the baby’s hygiene whilst the mother focuses on the breastfeeding. Image credit: The Guardian

Finnish society has organised itself so that parenting and raising children is according to gender equality principles.

It all begins at birth. Most hospitals provide family rooms for both parents to be with the child after the delivery. The idea is to encourage the mother to focus on breastfeeding. Meanwhile the partner (typically the father) takes care of the infant’s hygiene.

Once settled at home, this arrangement continues. The father will usually take care of the cleaning and cooking. Visitors bring food to help temporarily lighten the load.

The Baby Box

The Finnish state also provides comprehensive maternal child health services.

Since the 1930s, expectant mothers who attend ante-natal appointments are entitled to a baby box  which becomes a cot with a mattress for the infant.

The baby box contains practical items such as baby clothes for the seasons, bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, nail clippers, diapers and even contraception!

Families however, can opt for cash.

Sanna shared that “most first-time parents opt for the box as the value of the items is more than the cash. As the items are of good quality, I reused them for my second child and took the money instead”.

The box that comes with a mattress also turns into a bed for the baby. Image credit: www.bbc.co.uk

It doesn’t stop there…

Sanna, who worked as a maternal health nurse, said that hospital staff provide post-delivery support through home visits.

A nurse is assigned to the mother and she follows through from the time of the mother’s pregnancy until the child’s seventh birthday. This provides continuity of care.

They measure the baby’s growth, monitor the mother’s breastfeeding process and recovery, and more importantly, check how the family unit us faring. The arrival of a child and parenting can after all, be stressful.

The nurses are also trained to watch out for signs for possible domestic abuse and make interventions.

Kirsi shared that the highly trained nurses provided invaluable support to her, giving practical advice for all her “silly questions”.

They even help you make new friends!

Parenting is also supported through the joint 24 weeks parental leave after birth.

Coffee mornings for parents organised by the local authorities and churches are also important spaces for social support.

Both Sanna and Kirsi said that it was through these spaces that they made lifelong friends who journeyed with them in the trials and tribulations of parenting.

When parents share the load

Co-parenting is very much the care-giving model in Finland, where both parents are encouraged soothe, play, feed and clean the baby.

Kirsi explains that this arrangement often continues with school going children.

Children are also expected to be independent from young.

With both parents working, primary school children usually come home first. Whilst waiting for their parents (usually about 2 – 3 hours), they prepare their own snack, do some light chores and manage their time indoors or outdoors (which they do a lot of). The family will then cook dinner together.

And mother’s are freed to work

These arrangements and guaranteed public day care services has contributed to an almost equal number of men and women in the workforce.

Kirsi said that from her experience, work arrangements are also very flexible in Finland. For instance, it is common for parents to leave work early to attend to their children and pick up on the work later in the day.

A shared history that shaped the present

Sanna opines that the strong Finnish work ethic, where women and men worked side by side in industries to repay the debt gained from the post war food shortages  contributed to a gender equal environment, and a sense of pride from being financially independent.

“Although a woman can live off her husband, doing that is not something to be proud of. Finland’s women’s right movement is very strong”, she quipped.

It was the Finnish feminist groups that fought for universal day care and paid parental leave.

Gender equality also has roots in Finland’s government politics. Women could vote and stand for elections since 1907.

That election saw a total of 19 women elected to Parliament. Today, there is a total of 42% women members of parliament.

This was due to the reform of the Act on Equality between Women and Men.

The  Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has jurisdiction on matters pertaining to equality from a local to national level. It works to continuously improve gender equality matters.

The League of Finnish Feminists, founded in 1892. One of their members, Lucina Hagman was one of the first female members of Parliament elected in 1907. Image credit : Embassy of Finland, The Hague

A possible reality for Malaysian mums?

A new dawn has risen in Malaysia, and as more of us speak out, and get more involved, anything is possible.

Looking at historical trajectories of societies, I think this ideal of an equal partnership in families, could one day be a reality for us in Malaysia.