When everyone around you is telling you that your children will be better off with someone else, when your community and your culture and your government encourage and even incentivize mothers to leave their children as early as possible, when the picture of what a family and what mothering is has become something up for debate and legislation, what do you do?
For Caroline Hoglund, she had the courage to listen to her mother heart, and realize the vital importance of building and nurturing connections and relationships to her children, ‘swimming against the stream’ to change what mothering looks like in her community.
Sweden’s family leave policies have been celebrated throughout the world as being progressive steps towards equality and fair treatment, with legislation that requires that mothers and fathers be given generous family leave to be split between them. These policies are held up as an example, among developed countries, of ‘critical social change.’ However, it comes at a cost, and that cost is the long-term ability to choose to stay at home with your children. To support these types of generous social programs, all adults are expected to work, contributing to the economy.
Caroline grew up in a family with a mother who stayed home with her children, and she knew that she wanted to stay home and parent longer than what is normal in Swedish communities, where many mothers return to work full-time and leave children in care or pre-school at one year of age. But she knew her path needed to be different. “Among my friends I was the first who had children, and I initially had a fear that I wasn’t doing the right thing for my kids, that they were in some way missing out on learning provided by these other care situations. There is a lot of pressure because everyone is encouraged to put their children in full-time care, and to go against the system creates a lot of fear and anxiety.”
Caroline listened to her mothering instincts and stayed at home, long past the age when most other children were in full-time care. It was a time she treasures, and although she had fears and doubts about whether she was doing the right thing according to the society in which she lives, she knew she was doing the right thing for her family.
“With my first son I finally left him in care at the age of three, and I remember dropping him off, and he was just screaming, clinging to me, but I left, and walked around the block, and I just remember thinking, ‘This is wrong—I am never going to do this again. I will never leave him when it is so traumatic.’ Something woke up in me, and for the first time I felt like a mother, that my mother’s intuition was telling me that I needed to make the choices that were right for us, not just be told what choices to make by others. “
Through family and friends she learned about Haro, an organization founded and designed to support families and mothers. Haro’s mission is to “put the child in focus—to advocate for Swedish family policies that respect the individual needs and demands of each family.” They believe that parenthood must be defined by freedom of choice and equality, a message that resonated with Caroline in a fundamental way. She believes strongly in the ability for mothers to choose the way they parent and create powerful connections within their families. “We need to empower parents to make the choices that are right for them, and for their families, and stop listening to the media which has taken a one size fits all approach that says that every child needs to be in care, and every parent needs to work full time, and there is no room for us to be led by our own situations and circumstances. “
There are many positives to the Swedish family policies, most of which revolve around allowing parents to bond with new babies and take time away from work to be together. However, in order to accomplish these policies there has been a single minded approach that does not value or recognize family care work as a valuable contribution within communities, but sees them as a chore to be outsourced in order to achieve ‘equality.’ Haro, along with women like Caroline and others, is trying to raise awareness among stakeholders and politicians about the importance of the work being done by parents. They are trying to make it possible, both culturally and financially, to take care of their own children, instead of placing them in a care situation where someone else is being subsidized to act in the role of parent.
Caroline now lives in Sweden, where she is raising three children between the ages of 3 and 9. She is active in her community, active with Haro, and active in her family life. She believes that she has found the best of both worlds, advocating for change and building strong family relationships. “We suppress our mothering instincts because our society is telling us that it is better for our children to be with others, to ‘socialize,’ and to learn from teachers, but we know that we are the best choice for our children. We have to find the courage to break from tradition. There is an attitude that we cannot be empowered through motherhood, and that we are unfulfilled if what we choose to do is to stay at home and raise our children. But this isn’t true. There are times and seasons in life that allow us to care for our children, and grow as mothers and parents, as well as improve ourselves and make contributions in our communities. What we need to find is balance.”
Haro is empowering women to support one another, connecting women who are having similar experiences, and similar feelings—they are creating a community of support that helps to build a village, helping to raise children within an organic community of women and families that are close to one another, close to their communities, and close to their families.