In ‘Mums of The World’, we ask mothers from other countries and cultures about their babies, parenting and unique traditions. In our first in this series, we talk to mum Karin Rosen about how parents in Denmark look after their little ones.
Our Babies Nap in Sub-Zero Temperatures
I find that our use of strollers or prams usually surprises people from other countries and cultures. All year round, our babies (from birth to 2 – 3 years) are placed outside for their naps. We do put them in Voksi sleeping bags that keep them warm and give them a sense of security. They are unsupervised, even in the thick of winter when temperatures are below zero. The only exception is when the temperature is lower than minus 10°C. There is a strong belief that the children sleep better this way, and that the cold and fresh air is good for their immune system. It’s a practice that raises eyebrows though!
Security Is Not Really An Issue in Denmark
When my Argentine mother-in-law came to visit, she was worried sick when her napping grandson was placed in his stroller on the pavement outside our flat. She was fully convinced that someone would kidnap him, but I replied ‘Who in their right mind would steal a baby, whose skills are screaming, pooping and peeing?’ She ended up sitting in front of the window for three hours every day to keep an eye on the stroller, and to make sure no-one would take him. In general, there is a very high level of trust in Denmark. We’ve also never really had any nasty cases concerning kidnapping, for example, so I believe that is why we feel confident leaving them outside.
When we are in town, it is not uncommon for parents to let their children sleep outside a cafe while they have coffee inside. I find that leaving the stroller outside at times is a far better alternative than bringing a wet stroller inside a crowded café on rainy and cold day. There is a risk of waking your sleeping baby up when you undress him so he doesn’t overheat in all his winter gear.
Danish Children Play Outside All Year Round
There is a saying here that goes: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Our son is in a nature kindergarten – this means he goes outside every single day, come rain, snow or sun. His dad often feels a bit sorry for him, but to be honest I find that he is more bothered about the rain and cold than our son is. Our little one just wants to go outside and jump in puddles and eat the snow.
To make this possible in winter, the children wear gloves, hats, boots and often very colorful snowsuits and woolen underwear. By the age of three most children know how to get in and out of a snowsuit unaided!
Mums and Work Life in Denmark
When maternity leave ends, most Danish mothers return to work full-time. There are few housewives, even fewer househusbands, and not much of a part-time work culture. Flexi-working is common. I think it will surprise some that around 36 per cent of Danish men choose to take more than the obligatory 14-day paternity leave to be with their child. We are, by law, entitled to 52 weeks of paid parental leave. [Mothers are entitled to take 14 weeks of maternity leave. During these first 14 weeks, the father (or co-mother) can take two consecutive weeks off as well. Afterwards, both parents are entitled to split 32 weeks of parental leave, which can be further extended by another 14 weeks.]
Childcare Costs in Denmark
Childcare costs are paid through taxes and the amount you pay depends on your income. For example, the unemployed pay nothing and people with jobs pay, but only ever a maximum of around 25 per cent of the full price. The state covers 75 per cent.
Our Bedtime Routines
Our son goes to bed around 7.15pm to 7.30pm every day. We get up at 6am. Our son only takes a bath once every two days. On a bath-day, our routine starts with us heading to the bathroom around 6.45 pm. It is bath time, pajamas time and then we brush our teeth. For bedtime, we read one to two stories, followed by two songs. Afterwards I stay in the bed with him for about 10 minutes before sneaking out. In Denmark, most children around his age go to bed between 7 to 7.30pm too.
What Our Tots Eat, Use and Play With
We mostly do baby-led weaning when it comes to eating – we let him decide what he wants to eat. So there is no porridge, purees or anything like that. In general, Danish people try to eat as organic as we can. Our family buys a box of organic food that is delivered every week. And most of the time we pick vegetables to limit the amount of meat we eat every week.
For shampoos or anything skin-related, we always use those with no perfumes and are extra soft and gentle. The emphasis is that these things are allergy-friendly. When it comes to toys, parents try to go second hand. It is also very common to get second hand clothes. We have a company called Vigga, where you actually rent used clothes for children. You buy a monthly membership where you pay a small amount for clothes – it’s a circular economy.
Here in Denmark, children move away from home when they are around 18-20 years old, and it is encouraged by the parents. I know that in Argentina, for example, children stay in their parents’ house well into their twenties or thirties. Boys and girls are given house chores and are expected to help at home here, whereas in Argentina, it is mainly the girls who are given chores. I guess it is like this in Denmark because we do want independent children who can take care of themselves. Since our son turned two, he has participated in setting the table for dinner. He also has to remove his own plate from the table when he is done, and place it in the dishwasher.
By Karin Rosen, as told to Lay Chin Koh
If you’d like to point out an interesting parenting tradition from your country or culture or are curious about a particular custom, write to us at [email protected]