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Two children playing with their parent outside in Stockholm

Photo: Helén Pe

Categories: Before

Why we chose to raise our family in Stockholm

Publish date: 30 November 2023

I think moving to Stockholm is probably the best decision we could have ever made. It’s a fantastic city, but it’s more than a city. There are these incredible suburbs that aren’t far from the city, which gives you access to space and forests and this great family life.

It feels like just the other day I moved to Stockholm with my Swedish husband Peter and our firstborn son Ethan. But it’s been over 11 years and we’re not newcomers anymore - we’re fully-fledged Stockholmers, Swedish summer house and all!

Living in Sweden was never part of my plan, but life has a funny way of taking the steering wheel. I met Peter while we were both living in Dublin in 2006. I’m originally from Canada but had moved abroad looking for an adventure. I found something even more life-changing! In the middle of that first summer in Dublin, Peter asked me out and we’ve been together ever since.

The following year, we moved to Edinburgh where Peter proposed and I became pregnant with our eldest son. Ethan was born in 2009 and, although I’ve always been career-driven, it didn’t make financial sense for me to go back to work. I stayed at home to look after Ethan and a year later was pregnant with our second son Hudson.

Peter was always trying to sell Sweden to me and how good it was here for families. When Hudson was on the way, we finally decided to make the move. Peter managed to get a transfer with work and we arrived in January 2011.

I was able to get a ‘Sambo visa’ (a visa for the partners of Swedish citizens) which entitled me to subsidized maternity care. Healthcare is free for children in Sweden and, like other medical expenses for adults, the costs associated with prenatal care and childbirth are minimal. You only pay a small amount per appointment until you reach a cost ceiling (högkostnadsskydd) of 1100 SEK (€105) over 12 months.

Famous parental benefits

Once the baby is born, Sweden’s famously generous parental benefit gives parents the financial freedom to stay home and care for their new arrival. Peter is Swedish, so he could also backdate his parental benefit for our first son.

I hadn’t previously worked in Sweden so I couldn’t get the full parental benefit, which is income-based for 390 days and paid at a minimum level of 180 SEK (€17) per day for another 90 days. I was able to claim the minimum level, and Peter was allowed to transfer some of his parental benefit to me which gave us some financial breathing space.

Ethan started at preschool (förskola), where he could socialize and learn alongside other toddlers. Fees are capped for even the highest earners at 1572 SEK (€150) per month, so childcare is accessible for everyone.

International parents can also apply for a mother-tongue teacher (modersmålslärare) if more than five children in the commune speak the language. They send a dedicated teacher to come and speak to them and teach them English or Arabic, or any other language as long as five kids in the commune speak it. I think it’s incredible that they promote language learning.

You can’t claim parental benefit when your child isn’t in preschool, but on those days, there are ‘open preschools’ (öppna förskola). They were absolutely one of my favorite things and as valuable for me as they were for the boys. Most churches or preschools have drop-in days and you can just show up. They have preschool teachers or caretakers leading the activities, and you get to meet other parents. So it’s a chance for both the kids and parents to socialize.

Support to parents in the workplace

When I started work again, I was pleased to find there’s a supportive attitude towards parents in the workplace. There’s this understanding that if you have kids, you have to leave to pick them up. There’s a higher level of trust because your boss is probably doing the same thing. It eases the pressure of juggling work and home life and allows both parents to pursue a career - and also means double the family income.

Our boys are older now, but the perks didn’t stop when they started school. Parents with children aged up to 16 years old receive a monthly child allowance, and after-school activities are offered for a minimal cost.

In fact, the entire city seems geared towards family life. There are a lot of open spaces; all the parks are incredible. There’s so much to do, and having kids here just seems more affordable. If you break down the cost and compare it to different countries, you’re paying higher taxes, but you get it back tenfold for other things.

Today, we live in a townhouse in the suburbs and have a summer house a couple of hours north of Stockholm. It’s quite unique to enjoy this blend of city life and country living, and I don’t know if it would have been achievable elsewhere.

Above all, it’s a good feeling knowing the boys are growing up in a safe environment where they are both excelling. They have the freedom to be kids. There’s a lot of trust in the community here and I don’t have the helicopter them. I know if they’re out, they’re out, and they’ll come home safe.

About the author

Originally from Canada, Shaena Harrison moved to Stockholm after meeting her future husband in Dublin. When not busy connecting people, which she does A LOT, Shaena can think of nothing better than spending time with her family by the many lakes and forests dotted around the city.

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