Parents all over the globe have plenty in common (night feedings, first steps, and spit-up elicit the same feelings in Istanbul or Atlanta), but beyond that circle-of-life collective experience, our home countries’ governments and cultures have a big impact on the ins and outs of bringing up baby.
While parents in the United States are pretty fortunate compared to those in much of the world, I’ve long been envious of perks offered in countries from Finland to Singapore that would make a mom’s life a little easier. Here are seven international benefits and bonuses I wouldn’t mind having at my disposal:
1. Australia helps parents sleep train.
What parent hasn’t been desperate for a little guidance about getting their baby to sleep? (Just check my Google search history.) Australian doctors can refer families to government-subsidized sleep programs, where parents and young children check in for a few days – and nights – so health professionals can help work through sleeping problems and get everyone some much-needed rest.
2. Sweden ensures 80 weeks of parental leave.
It’s no secret that the United States trails behind other countries in paid parental leave; it is one of only two countries included in the U.N.’s 170-country study that don’t require any paid maternity leave. But Sweden really puts us to shame. Under the country’s social insurance system, parents are entitled to 480 paid days, receiving 80 percent of their salary for 390 days and a flat rate for the last 90 days. They make sure faders get involved, too – 60 days are reserved for each parent, and half of the remaining days are to be used by each parent. There’s even a “gender equality bonus” that rewards families with about $10 per day when they use the leave equally.
3. Finland sends a newborn starter kit.
Since the 1930s, pregnant Finns have received a cardboard box packed with infant essentials from the government. This year’s maternity package comes filled with striped rompers, a snowsuit, an adorable pilot cap, bibs, cloth diapers, bath products and a mattress that fits in the empty box so it can be used as a crib. Who needs a registry?
4. Luxembourg pays families an allowance.
Luxembourg is one of several countries that give parents a monthly cash benefit to help with the expenses of raising a child. The amount differs based on how many children you have, but in 2019, parents with one child will receive 265 Euros ($332) per month. (That could put a dent in my Amazon Mom bill.) Families with two kids are given about double that per month, and parents of disabled children are paid an extra supplement. Another reason to be jealous – the country’s 2015 budget also rolls out free childcare for children ages 1 through 3.
5. College is free in Brazil.
Forget those college savings accounts, because Brazilian state universities don’t charge tuition — students just pay low registration fees. That includes the public University of São Paulo, the largest college in Brazil. Other countries offer free higher education, too – Germany did away with the already-low tuition at public universities last month.
6. Singapore encourages grandparents to pitch in.
Singapore’s low birth rate has sparked a long line of governmental pro-family policies, including a tax break for working mothers if a grandparent helps take care of the kids. The country’s housing board also promotes multigenerational living arrangements, making it easier for grandparents to buy apartments near their children and grandchildren.
7. The Netherlands has a four-day work week.
The average Dutch citizen works a 29-hour week – the shortest of any industrialized nation. Workers are also allowed under the law to scale back their hours to a part-time schedule while keeping their hourly pay, health care and pro-rated benefits. Maybe all that family time is why the Dutch are often named some of the happiest people in the world?