Ingvild Segersam is the president of Haro in Sweden, a group formed to support parents. Haro’s purpose is to promote the family as a natural, cultural, social, and financial entity. “One of the most important things we can do is to help one another become better parents. We need to empower parents to put their children as the focus of their decisions.” Through Haro, instructors and counselors offer parenting courses focusing on the importance of attachment and bonding. They try to help parents develop needed skills, which usually changes the outlook individuals have on parenting, and the needs of their children.
But Haro is not focused solely on the home. They are also, as an organization, trying to raise awareness among stakeholders and politicians, advocating for a change in perception— asking those in power to realize the importance of parenting and the work that is being done by parents in the home. Their goal is to make it possible not only financially, but also culturally, for parents to make the decision to stay at home with their own children. “We believe that instead of subsidizing daycare through other organizations or individuals we should be free to make the choice to raise our own kids.”
Why the backlash against a social program that people all over the world are praising as revolutionary and forward thinking? Ingvild is quick to note that, “The strength of motherhood is very powerful, but we are suppressing it, bowing to the demands of a society that does not support women in a way that allows them options, but instead demands that they forgo choice and follow what everyone else is doing.” Sweden has been praised as a pioneer in family care, an “International Example” that the rest of the world is encouraged to follow. But at what cost?
When The Family of The Future: A Socialistic Family Policy was published in Sweden in the late 1970’s it called for universal, affordable childcare, claiming that it would lead to better outcomes among children socially and academically, as well as, in their own language, “liberating women from their maternal instincts.” But far from leading to the type of outcomes predicted by the 1978 policy pamphlet, universal childcare has, instead, led to rapidly declining mental health in youth in their teens, women who feel coerced into leaving their youngest children in daycare from as early as 9 months, and a deteriorating connection between families who spend little to no time together. “I have been working part time as a child therapist in a public school, and we are seeing that attachment disorders are very prevalent and concerning, especially for the exhausted teachers who sometimes end up being the emotional anchors in their young students’ lives.” Invild is the mother of five. “My youngest is 12 and oldest is 22, and they are so grateful for the effort we have made to create strong family connections. Motherhood can be hard. Motherhood can be exhausting. But at the end of the day, motherhood can also be rewarding and fulfilling—and as women we deserve the ability to choose the type of motherhood that works for us individually, and the freedom to support one another. The village that helps to raise a child should not be made up of the temporary presence of the pedagogues and the preschools, temporary institutions that will leave children feeling abandoned. Instead we need to be building our own communities and support systems among one another, free to create the family connections that can enrich our lives.”
For a country that has assertively pushed its universal child care program, very little has been done since the 80’s to study the effects of this system on the children who are left to its care. However, a New Zealand study found that if an infant, especially in the first year of life, spends more than 20 hours a week in non-maternal care they may be at a higher risk of developing an insecure attachment with their mother and the infant-mother bond will not be as strong. With extensive non-parental care the study showed that the child may even develop an avoidance of their mother and in some cases children start to develop insecure attachment issues with the mother and the father.
“The thought about preschool seems clever because it was designed for women to be more empowered, to be able to work and to have an education, but always there was the problem of what do we do with the kids? Preschool was never designed to benefit the children, but to benefit social systems and working markets. We need to get away from the male model where the consideration is only about progress at all costs, no matter what family sacrifices need to be made. Once I had children my decisions were questioned, and I felt imprisoned—all the talk about being empowered as a woman was true only as far as I made the same decisions as everybody else—it was only true as long as I denied my maternal instincts. Is it hard to do both? To find personal fulfillment and be a dedicated parent? Yes. It might be impossible—at least at the same time. But there needs to be more than one view of female empowerment. We need to create the spaces culturally that allow women to be empowered through their own choices.”
Haro is trying to address these problems by putting the focus on the children, by seeing them as the first consideration of a strong family instead of the aftereffects of a woman seeking a more empowered life. One of the ways they are seeking to do this is by advocating for a societal shift that does not view children as a burden until the time they enter the workforce and begin to contribute to the GDP, but to see the ‘cost’ in both time and effort of raising a child to be a crucial investment in the future. They are asking communities to consider the rights of the children—not only a right to safe spaces and physical well being, but a right to emotional health and strong familial attachments.
“When you look at society as a machine, and you try to engineer a perfect society and if your focus is on increasing consumption and GDP—if you are always in the pursuit of things—you overlook the needs of people. Sweden has outsourced parenting like it is a job that can be done by anyone, forgetting the powerful effect relationships can have on our lives and our happiness. Because of this we are creating children without the ability to empathize with others or to control their behavior—we have cut the roots that create stability within our society.” Ingvild acknowledges that there are many good things in Sweden, programs that support the parents and mothers when children are born. But after that initial period support is withdrawn. “We are starting to see the effects of these policies on our families and in our communities. Right now parents are an ignored resource and reservoir of expertise in society. They should be treated with greater respect. They should be encouraged and strengthened in their role as parents. They should feel free to make the decisions that will empower them in their own lives and according to their own beliefs. Then we can truly say we are free.”