We have a good friend who once said that being born in Norway was like winning the lottery. As a newly-minted beneficiary of the Norwegian “permisjon” system (i.e. – maternity leave), I must agree. As of yesterday, I am now offically excused from work until March 2012. With full benefits. Plus full vacation time. Plus 80% salary. Plus a guaranteed job when I return.
Now I know there are some heated opinions on the topic, but let me say this – I challenge any mother (or father, for that matter) to choose lower tax rates over having the first 12 months at home with their newborns. In Norway, there’s no need to choose between surviving on one salary or paying for expensive daycare. You have full rights to stay at home for 42-52 weeks and then make your child care decision at a more civilized age.
I get these benefits not because I’m married to a Norwegian but because I’ve worked here and paid into the system for at least the past six months. And pappas are also required to participate – they must use at least 10 of the 42 weeks or else lose them completely. In Oslo, it’s not an unfamiliar site to see fathers and baby strollers filling the cafes during the weekday lunch hour while mommy goes back to work. Of course, these poor children are usually dressed in mismatched clothing that daddy didn’t see a problem blending together, but the fashion trauma doesn’t seem to leave any lasting impact…
It’s also quite common for both parents to take their leave at the same time, thereby allowing the entire family to rent a house in the south of Spain for a month or two on the government’s dime. I know one set of parents who just returned from three weeks in the Alps with their one-year old daughter, another set of parents went off for six weeks to Australia (with their little one as well – no leaving them behind for a child-free holiday).
I also haven’t paid a single penny towards my prenatal care and won’t have to pay anything for the delivery at the hospital. You won’t find any insurance debates about what gets covered or who pays if something goes wrong. It’s all included, thank-you-very-much. We will have to pay for Per’s room & board at the post-delivery hotel with me and the Melon, but I suppose we can swallow that goverment-subsidized pill without too much complaint.
This isn’t to say that the system is flawless, and I know a lot of people take advantage of the benefits that we all pay to receive. But for the Svendsen family – right here and now – it is indeed a winning lottery ticket.
Next time I’ll update you on what I’m actually doing with the time “off” this month before the Melon arrives — nursery photos are on the way!