Denmark: Paradise for New Parents?

Denmark is the happiest country on earth -- and its support for parents is one of the reasons why.After the birth of my first child, I tried to make the most of my 12-week maternity leave and then hustled my way back to the office. After the birth of my second child, I gave up my full-time job and hustled my way into the borderline-terrifying world of freelancing.

I’ll tell you what I didn’t do: I didn’t spend carefree days cuddling with and cooing at my babies while secure in the knowledge that I live in a country where one year of family leave is a given and apparently doesn’t hurt women’s career prospects.

To have that, I’d have to move to Denmark.

Shakespeare, eat your heart out — Denmark isn’t rotten; apparently it rocks. For the second year in a row, it was named the happiest country in the world in the World Happiness Report. This week, The Huffington Post explained why, noting that the support that Denmark gives to parents and to gender equality are two of the factors contributing to the country’s superlative status.

Here are some jealousy-inducing statistics, according to the European Union:
* Families in Denmark are entitled to 52 weeks of leave, including two weeks of paternity leave, with varying levels of compensation, including full salary levels in certain cases.
* Women in Denmark took an average of 7.4 months of maternity leave in 2008.
* 79 percent of Danish moms who take maternity leave go right back to the same jobs they had before.
* The Danish government guarantees daycare availability for children six months and up; lower income families pay reduced fees for daycare or are eligible for free daycare.

I know Denmark has its problems. For instance, Denmark joins Sweden in having the highest taxes in Europe, according to the EUObserver. (All those awesome maternity and childcare benefits have to be funded somehow.)

Also, it’s cold. I once had to wear four pairs of pants on a cold day while in college in New Hampshire, so I might not be able to handle the Danish climate so well.

Last but not least, I know that Danish parents aren’t necessarily walking around in some soft-focus parenting heaven — they can be harried like the rest of us. As one Danish mom told me, “I love my daughter to bits, but still (hopefully) ask her all the time ‘Are you tired, dear?’ and look forward to Monday when I can ship her off to daycare.”

Still, I can’t help but think it would have been awfully nice to be living in Denmark when Saucer Eyes and Scrunchy Face were born. I can even imagine what I’d write on postcards to send back to my friends in the states: “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. I really need to empty the diaper pail. Wish you were here!”

 

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