Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The old Finnish work ethic

In September we had an au-pair for six weeks. It didn’t work out so she left, which was unfortunate as it was a big help. But the reaction, from my in-laws and the older neighbour, to my getting an au pair was, “why do you need an au-pair? Emilia is an easy child”. In all honesty in a lot of ways they are right. Emilia is an easy child. She has never been a baby who cries a lot, is usually good tempered and smiling and laughing and does not seem to be too willful. But on the other hand she is a handful. She is a very active and social child. Before she was able to play by herself you needed to be with her all the time entertaining her or she would cry. That meant I couldn’t shower or eat or cook or clean or do much of anything during the day while she was awake. And when she didn’t sleep well (which as all parents of babies know is often) I was usually tired and just trying to get through each day. So I felt we needed some help and since both me and my husband’s family live outside of Finland I thought we should get an au-pair so I could have some help and we could have some free time together.

But in Finland hiring household help is very rare. One reason is that labour is too expensive in Finland, even with kotivähennys (a tax-back incentive that gives you back 40% of the money you spent on household help at the end of the year), for the average Finn to afford. But another big reason is the old Finnish work ethic that you must always be industrious, work hard and be self sufficient. That means that you shouldn’t rely on other people to help you and you should always be busy. If you are ever relaxing you must at least have some knitting or be doing something useful at the same time. You should never be idle. If you hire others to clean your house or yard or look after your children you must be a lazy person who likes to take advantage of poor people. Such is the mindset of the Finns.

Coming from a culture where anyone who can afford to will hire someone to help clean, cook and iron at least one or two days a week this thinking is a bit extreme to me. Some of my relatives have had maids and my grandmother said she had one when her children where very young. In fact her reaction to us getting an au-pair was “Good. You need the help!” I see nothing wrong with hiring someone to help you at home. All mothers know how hard it is to try to do all the housework and take care of children, especially if they also have a job outside the home. At the same time isn’t it a good thing to provide a job to someone? It is not advantageous if you pay them a fair wage and treat them like human beings. I guess the last time hired help was the norm in Finland was when the ruling Swedish speaking class hired servants and of course in that era we know how well the upper classes and aristocrats in Europe treated their servants. But now we are in the twenty first century where we have to pay taxes and pension contributions for such employees. They have unionized rights and regulated salary norms and working hours. It is not the same as two hundred years ago.

I really don’t understand the logic of working yourself to the bone if you can afford not to. It’s better for children if their parents are rested, happy and have more time and energy to spend quality time with them. When the au-pair was here I was well rested and got all the housework done. When I was with Emilia I had energy and time to concentrate on her alone and spend quality time with her. I actually enjoyed spending time with her and wasn’t just trying to get through another day. My mother-in-law will not see it this way but I really think it was better for Emilia. My father-in-law told me that we are young enough to have the energy to “kestää” (endure) like they did with three children while he worked a lot and my mother-in-law was home alone with the children. Like us all their family lived too far away to be of any help to them. But my husband remembers them being stressed all the time when he was a child. Children are intuitive and can pick up on the stress and tension in a house and it affects them. 

The younger Finnish generation's attitude towards hired household help is different to their parents. I know a couple who, after constantly arguing over who’s turn it was to clean, decided to hire a cleaner. They both work long hours and found it too stressful to worry about cleaning when they were hardly ever home. The husband of this couple told me that he has not mentioned to his father that they recently hired a cleaner. He says it is easier not to mention it than to argue with his father about it being a waste of money and having to explain why he and his wife can’t just clean the house themselves. Another friend was telling me that his father doesn’t understand him. His father thinks he should always be working hard. That it doesn’t matter so much whether you are a labourer or a high powered executive but the point is that he should always be working hard. 

Why does the older Finnish generation want us to go through things the hard way like they did? Shouldn’t you want better for your children? And does it make sense to work yourself to death at the expense of your health and quality time with your family if you can afford not to? Is it not better for your marriage and the family to be rested so that you can be in a good mood and have time and energy for your husband and children? Why should I prove to society that I can be supper-mom but be tired and unhappy?

Friday, 14 September 2012

Latin American/Caribbean Men vs Finnish Men

I have been meaning to write about this topic for a long time because I think this is a very interesting topic and highlights so well the differences between cultures. Also I have gotten a request from a fellow Trini who is also with a Finnish man to write about this. But I have been so preoccupied with other things lately that I just haven’t found the time.

Let me say up front that I do love my Trini men and that I am not trying to put down any one culture over another. It is what it is. But there is a definite culture in Latin America and the Caribbean for men to “play around” on their women. Many men, and some women too, think it is the norm and you will even hear people say “he is a dan” if a man has more than one woman. You will also hear people say stupid things like “every marriage have horn” meaning every marriage will involve some cheating. A man who is faithful, goes home early, and helps his woman around the house or with the children is a “mama man” or a “sissy”. And many men have “outside” women and children. On the other hand the wife is expected to endure this and understand that a man is a man and patiently wait at home taking care of the children and keeping house. I met a Venezuelan who said that he had half brothers and sisters by his father and that it was a common occurrence in Venezuela. When asked if his mother also had affairs he was shocked I would ask such a question. “Of course not!” was his reply, she was always a good mother and wife at home taking care of her children and the house. This Venezuelan man followed in his father’s footsteps when it came to cheating on his wife. I have also seen numerous examples of this amongst my own relatives. Many of my male relatives have cheated on their wives at some point. In some cases when the wives found out they confronted their husbands and saved their marriage and family. In other cases the wives knew and simply endured. Many of these relatives saw their own fathers do the same or were themselves outside children. And so the cycle repeated itself. I cannot understand why any man would do the same thing to his wife and children that he saw his mother and himself suffer through. Why perpetuate the pain and even leave children to be fatherless? Needless to say I don’t understand the women who would knowingly have affairs and children with married men. Then Trinidadians wonder why we have so many delinquent youths.

This idea of a man being a stud if he has many women is so entrenched that some men don’t seem to understand any other way of operating. For example, while in Trinidad for our wedding in 2005 some of our friends met some Trini youths at the guest house/hostel they were staying at. They were chatting about life and my friend said he asked them if they had a girlfriend. They replied yes they had girls. But my friend asked if they had one special girl whom they loved. He said they didn’t seem to understand the concept of just having one special girlfriend. I find it truly sad that running around is such a part of our culture that some young men can’t even understand the concept of having just one woman. They probably don’t understand what love is either. In addition to the acceptance of this sort of behaviour many women seem to stay with these cheating men out of desperation. Sometimes begging and pleading with them not to leave. I have heard of women sometimes even promising the man that he could “do what he want” if he would only stay. What causes this desperation I wonder? Is it so hard to get a man in Trinidad that we have to beg, plead and settle? Or do we women have so little self worth? And if so where does this sense of worthlessness come from?

On the other hand, in Finland, having a woman “on de side” is decidedly rare. And there is no euphemism for it. It is just called plain old cheating. Having “outside children” is also rare. And cheating is not considered a good thing for either the goose or the gander. Usually such cheating results in divorce. There doesn’t seem to be much tolerance by either female or male for cheating spouses. Don’t get me wrong, of course there are Finnish people who cheat. However, it doesn’t seem to be as prevalent or most importantly not acceptable as it is in Latin America and the Caribbean. From what I understand cheating is not culturally acceptable for men in all Scandinavian/Nordic countries. I only know of one of my Finnish friends being “an outside child” or one of many children by different women from one man. And when I tell people here that I am one such child and that I never really knew my father it sounds like something from a story or soap opera to them.

Unlike Latin and Caribbean men Finnish men are not good with sweet talk. And few of them swagger. Few of them will take you out and pay for the entire evening just so that they can get into your pants. Instead, if sex is all they want, they will ask you straight up “your place or mine?” Instead of saying they love you and pretending to try to get to know you a Finnish man will probably take a year or more before he says the words “I love you”. But when he does it will be because he means it. At first Finnish men are generally shy and unsure of themselves. They need a few drinks to get up the courage to speak to a woman and even more drinks to get up the courage to dance with one. Because most lack a flair for words, just agreeing to have a regular conversation with a strange man will give him the impression you might be interested in him. Agreeing to dance with him will give even more proof of your interest.

On the other hand Latin and Caribbean men are quick to tell you how “sweet” you look or are, how beautiful you are or how much they like you or even love you. I once met a Mexican who told me he loved me and wanted me to meet his mother after conversing and dancing with him once in a bar! They will express all this sentiment for you even if or especially if they only want to get laid. Not to mention with Latin and Caribbean men you usually never know where you really stand. Do they really love you? Does he have another woman? Does he want to marry me? These are questions constantly on a Trini woman’s mind. The day I hooked up with a Finn all those worries ceased because he was always so brutally honest about his intentions - or lack of intentions - that I knew exactly what I was getting into. If anything went wrong I knew it from the start and could blame no one but myself. The day he said I love you, many months after I had started saying it to him, I was so happy because I knew he meant it. And he has not stopped saying it since. I am so sure of my man that when we lived apart I never worried that he would stray. My grandmother told me “be careful” and to “watch him” because “some women will want to take your man even if he is married”. And I had a Ghanaian guy tell me I should leave my dog in a shelter and go with him “to know what my man is doing” rather than let him be abroad by himself where one only knows what he could be up to. But I didn’t panic I told them I was not worried about my man. And I know many other Finnish men I would say the same about.

Now as I said there are cheating Finnish men as well as cheating Finnish women. Also there are one-women men in Trinidad. My step father was one of these. And I have heard that nowadays women in Trinidad are not so docile and many are even giving as good as they get. But culture is hard to change in an instant and the general idea of unfaithfulness among men being acceptable or normal in Trinidad is still pervasive. It is simply interesting to note that what is the norm in one culture could be so alien in another. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Fatherhood the Old Fashioned Finnish Way

The following story is something a friend of mine posted on her facebook. I thought it so exaggeratedly true that I had to share it with you my friends. This story is very representative of the stereotypical way of bringing up your children the Finnish way i.e. via the school of hard knocks. This story was a reply to a post on the page of an American who has a Finnish girlfriend and lives in Finland. The link to this post and reply is here. http://www.finlandforthought.net/2008/12/03/quirkiness-among-finnish-men-is-a-positive-trait/

Well, my father was very old school finn. He teatched me to swim by throwing me from the pier to the lake. When I was able to scramble back to the shore he was very happy and said: See, you can swim and the water is nothing to be affraid.
He teached our dog to avoid the sauna by sticking its nose in to the red hot stove. Dog never came in to the sauna no matter what after that.
He showed to me and my brother how to make slingshots, throw a knife and axe, make ice balls instead of just snow ones during the winter to gain advantage over our enemies during the snow wars.
He teached me to drive my bicycle by putting me on it and pushing me down the hill. We did it so many times that I finally stayed up because the falls hurt too much.
He gave me my first knife when I was five. When I was ten, I had already nine scars in my left hand. I also learned to make fires in the woods, rain or snow. I also learned how to put fire in to the fireplace.
When I once loaded too many logs in to fire place, he let them fall out and told me to watch what kind of damage those burning blocks did to our summerhouse floor so I would learn when the fire escapes and turns in to a house fire. The I had to put it out.
When I was affraid the dark, he took me to his car, drove me about six kilometers away from our summer house and told me to get out. - You know where you are, he said. - It is six kilometers by the road and only two trough the woods. See you at the breakfast.
I was seven years old but I was proud when I was at the breakfast table before anybody else woke up. When my father woke up and saw me, he was very proud of me. - Fill the buckets at the sauna with water, all of them, he said.
When my older brother got caught first time for drinking at the age of eleven, my father threw him around couple times and then opened his own Kossu and took a sip, and offered one for my brother too. After that we did not discuss about alcohol again.
We had a tradition in my family that when ever my father was drunk, we had to wrestle with him and for real too. I remember when I was able to dislocate his spine disk and he dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes for the first time, he was proud of me. After that I was no longer a kid.
He has funny sayings. " A man eats everything he orders", " Never trust the russians" and " Swedes are sissies" and the old classic: "Never loose a fight for a guy smaller than you". Also" It is not a shame to loose a fight if you can hurt the other guy". He also quoted his favorite writer Väinö Linna often. He favorite was "Koskela from Finland, eats iron and shits chain."
When he was diagnosed of cancer he warned everybody: I don't want to hear any fucking thing about Jesus. He eventually won the fight with the cancer.
Once, when we were coming from our summerplace, we drove from there to Helsinki in just two and a half hours. Speed meter never went below hundred and twenty and topped at one ninety. When I got jitters because we were going sideways in curves with tyres screaming, he smiled and said: "You feel that? Nice when you are in control, isn't it?".
His uncle who was at the Tali-Ihantal in 1944 once decided to talk to me about the war. All he said was this: " You know the battle of Tali-Ihantala? That was no fun".

There are some similarities in this story to those of my husband's upbringing such as using knives as children. My husband received a commando knife at the age of ten, as a Christmas present no less, and was allowed to play with it in the forest with his friends. There, they carved pieces of wood and chopped things while playing in a forest with deep, defense moats dug out during the winter war with Russia. Moats so deep any small child who fell into it would surely break a few bones. But their parents weren't worried they just told them how to be careful and let them go. This is something very foreign to me, and my husband and I have discussed how difficult it will be to mesh my overprotective Trini/Anglo parenting style with his Finnish laisez faire/school-of-hard-knocks style. We'll see how it turns out in twenty years time.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Class Divide in Finland

The Finnish society has been largely middle class since the last world war. As such the gap between rich and poor is a narrow one, unlike many other countries. The homogenous make up of the Finnish society in terms of religion (82.5% are Lutheran), language (there is a very small Swedish speaking minority), race, culture and ethnicity (93.4% are ethnic Finns) means there isn’t much basis for divisions. Also unlike most European countries which had a system of governance based on a king and aristocracy the Finnish people did not have such a class structure. The Swedish ruling class did (Sweden ruled Finland from the 12th to 19th century) but the Finns were all united in their peasantry. The development of the Nordic welfare model and uniform education are other factors which helped to integrate the working class into the rest of the nation by improving their standard of living. In the Caribbean in addition to the amount of money a person has, we also have the added mix of race making it more complicated as to who are “the haves and have nots”. Finns are so much into equality and making sure the government takes care of everyone that on the surface it seems as though there is no rich and poor or class divide. As a result the class divide in Finland is not very obvious. There are no ghettos like in the US. There is no obvious accent or way of speaking if you are working class versus middle or upper class as there is in Trinidad or UK. So trying to spot who is who is not apparent or easy on the surface.

Be that as it may I recently realized that there is class division in Finland. In my ten years here in Finland I had not really noticed it. Since having Emilia I have been mostly passing my days at the nearest Perhetalo. A Perhetalo or leikkipuisto is a place where children and their guardians can go to pass the time. The guardians (usually mothers at home alone with children) can get adult company and the children can play together. They often organize information sessions on childcare and activities for the children.  They are run by the city’s social welfare department. In spending time there I have gotten to know the women and over time we have exchanged some information about our lives. I realized that most of the mothers are what you would call “working class” and I guess Robert and I are “middle class”.

All of us are stay-at-home moms receiving parental allowance from the state. But where we differ in education levels and our husbands’ professions. While Robert and I are university educated most of the others are not and their husbands have non-skilled jobs. One lady spoke of living in city housing (which is by no means as dangerous or bad as the state housing in US or Trinidad) but still houses unsavory types. For instance she spoke of men who pass out in the hall drunk or families who disturb the peace by fighting loudly while their children are crying. She would like to move to a better housing unit but the bureaucracy makes it a difficult and lengthy process.

So the main difference between the classes here is in education levels and therefore income. It was then that I realized why I had not met anyone else from my immediate neighbourhood at the local perhetalo. The perhetalo is a fifteen minute walk from my house but it is in the area of Kontula. Kontula has a reputation for being a low income, run-down area. The type of place Finnish people consider “ghetto” but in reality is a far cry from what a ghetto is. So naturally the people who go to the perhetalo are from the nearby area of Kontula. In my area of single family homes with their back yards and two cars people probably at best feel like they have nothing in common with the working class patrons of the local perhetalo or at worst feel like they are better than these people. In my world of university graduates and professionals if I had never started going to the nearby perhetalo I would not have come into contact with many working class people. The women there have been very friendly and welcoming to me. Recently I was even invited by one of them to her home for a Vappu (May Day) party. Coming from a working class background myself I can understand and identify with them to a certain extent. But at the same time I feel somewhat removed from their reality. I couldn’t help but thank my lucky stars I don’t have to live in city housing and be afraid of some junky touching my child’s face when I get into the elevator. I don’t have to worry that the only money I will get this month is my parental allowance check.  

I can’t help but remember what one PhD student I worked for in a lab in the University of Helsinki said to me about his army experience. A one year stint in the army or civil service work is mandatory for all Finnish males. He said that in the army you meet a cross section of the Finnish population. Being in the army had been a good learning experience for him because there he met working class people and realized they were normal people just like himself! I was flabbergasted by that statement especially since it was made by a Finnish person in this land of equality.

But it just goes to show you that even in Scandinavia, where there is probably one of the smallest gaps between rich and poor and where equality and being treated equally and fairly is very important, there is still some class divide.

Here are some facts on Finland, its society and its economy https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fi.html
Here is some info on the history of the Finnish class system. http://countrystudies.us/finland/37.htm

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Finnish Palm Sunday Traditions

Once again the Easter witches have caught me by surprise on Palm Sunday. Although I have lived in Finland for almost ten years every year I forget. In Finland there is a custom where little children go from door to door with brightly decorated pussy willow branches in exchange for candy on Palm Sunday. Luckily I remembered to buy candy three weeks ago. So although I was unaware of this Sunday's significance I was not unprepared and when there was a knock on the door I was able to dig out a big box of candy from the cupboard.

A week or two before Palm Sunday you can see families in the forest searching for budding pussy willow branches. Parents then help their children to decorate them with colourful paper streamers and feathers. The children dress up as witches. Boys may also dress up as cats.  Then they go from door to door reciting the verse: 

I touch you with my magic branch
That will refresh you and keep you well.
You get the branch, I get a reward.

 All the while they wave the willow branch at you. Then they give you the willow branch in exchange for sweets. This is supposed to bring their neighbours good luck and health for the next year. Here is a picture of the branches we got from the children this Palm Sunday.

I have read that dressing up willow branches for church on Palm Sunday was an eastern Finland Orthodox Christian tradition. The willow branches were blessed in church on the Saturday to be given to family and relatives in memory of  the greeting with palms that Jesus received on Palm Sunday. Willow branches were thought to have magical powers and were supposed to bring good luck and health. The tradition of the Easter witch is supposed to be an old western Finland tradition which probably came from Sweden where they would dress up as witches and go from door to door to wish each other a happy Easter. This seems to come from the old pagan superstitions about witches being active around Easter especially on Good Friday when they would fly around and do bad things. Dressing up as Easter witches became prevalent in Sweden and western Finland in the 1800's. But it seems that over the years these two different Finnish traditions have been mixed and become this new "virpominen" tradition in Finland.

It is a unique and interesting Palm Sunday tradition which at first I did not understand. My first Easter in Finland I did not know about this tradition and was awakened by the door bell early on Palm Sunday morning. I wondered who could be at my door, uninvited, early on a Sunday morning? Robert went to the door and then told me that Easter witches were at the door looking for candy. I thought to myself what? I think they have their holidays mixed up that's supposed to be done on Halloween! We spent the rest of that morning hiding in the house, pretending no one was at home since we were unprepared and had not bought any candy. I also forgot the following two years in a row. But lately I have been trying to remember to buy candy way before Easter so that I am prepared when Palm Sunday sneaks up on me. Because ever year I seem to forget that the little Easter witches in their aprons, headscarvesrosy red cheeks and freckles will be coming for their candy.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cultural Differences or Just Plain Bad Manners?

This past week another person almost bumped into my baby's carriage with their shopping cart at the grocery. This time however it was not intentional like the disagreeable (I am trying to use a nice term here) old man who purposely bumped into my baby's carriage a few months back. She was cluelessly just dragging the cart behind her and not looking where she was going. I said a loud blasphemy and then she noticed us but said nothing while I complained that she was not watching where she was going and almost hit us. After almost ten years of living in Finland I know that people don't say sorry when they bump into you but it still ticks me off! That's one thing I still cannot get used to. And I still don't understand why they do it. What is it about the Finnish culture that caused this habit of not saying sorry? How hard is it to say?

There is also the habit of not saying excuse me and just steam rolling ones way through a group or crowd of people. I don't understand that either. How hard is it to say excuse me? Saying excuse me is such a strange thing here that when someone is blocking your path and you politely say, excuse me, it takes them a while to realize that you are talking to them.

Then there is the door slamming in your face that also ticks me off. If someone is right behind you coming through a doorway how hard is it to hold the door open for a second? Not saying hello to people you have met before is another pet peeve of mine. Luckily, not saying hello is not common in all circles. But when I worked in the University of Helsinki's Viiki campus this was very common. In one example, a few months ago, some plumbers my husband sent to the house came to check a pipe and then left when they were done without saying anything! I would not have known they were gone if I had not heard the door shut. What takes the cake are the maintenance men at my last work place. They would come to the lab, look around, not say hello, not ask for the person who requested them, and then just leave. A week or two later when you realize they never came and you called them they would say that they came and you weren't there. Then someone in the lab might say "I think I saw a guy in overalls poking his head into the lab a couple weeks back but he didn't ask for you". I sometimes wonder, are these behaviours really their culture, or is it just plain bad manners?

Unfortunately I found myself picking up the bad habit of not saying hello. Mostly because I felt stupid saying hello to people who never said anything back and just left me hanging. But recently I have been reading a new American best selling book called "Bringing up Bebe or French Children Don't Throw Food". In it the author mentions how important it is in France that children learn to greet everyone they meet and that their parents are constantly telling them to say Bonjour. I thought that's the same thing I was taught in Trinidad. In Trinidad it is considered very bad manners not to greet everyone you know with a good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night or at least a hello. And I thought I really shouldn't forget these teachings and start to lose my manners too. Regardless of whether no one else around me exercises good manners at least I should.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The benefits of living in a Welfare State aka the Scandinavian Model aka the Nordic Model

Recently an old school mate of mine wrote on Facebook that she was reluctant to have to go back out to work just three months after giving birth. In spite of sometimes feeling bored at home with only a baby for company I am really glad I don’t have to face her dilemma. As a Finnish mother, by law, I am allowed maternity leave for one hundred and five days at sixty percent of my salary. I can start the leave up to fifty days before the due date but at least thirty days before. After this I can get Parental leave and allowance at the same rate or I can switch with my husband and he can take the parental leave and allowance while I go back to work. That means that by the time parental leave ends and we start to feel the economic pinch our child is at least nine to ten months old. For sure it is still hard to leave your ten month old in daycare but it is a little better than sending him/her there already at three months old. However, if I wish, I can opt to stay home for up to three years and receive child care allowance of approximately three hundred and thirty euros a month which is not much but it is something. In addition there is the child benefit of one hundred and fifty euros a month until the child turns seventeen. If I had a permanent job I would be in an even better situation as my employer would be required by law to keep my job for me for up to five years after giving birth. And if I decided to go back out to work and put my child in a daycare centre, the cost is subsidized, so that the maximum cost per child is two hundred and fifty euros a month but could be less depending on your income.

And there are many more benefits we Finns are fortunate to have. If I become unemployed and I am a paying member of a labour union or an unemployment fund I can apply for unemployment allowance at sixty percent of my lost salary for up to five hundred days.  If after five hundred days I am still unemployed, I can then get a labour market subsidy of approximately seven hundred euros per month for an indefinite period of time. Unemployed immigrants may also apply for the labour market subsidy. There are also housing benefits for low income families. We receive free health and basic dental care. And free education all the way through to University. I did my Masters degree for free! And I also received a study grant of approximately three hundred euros a month while studying, so long as I didn’t make too much income of my own. Other students living on their own can get an additional two hundred and fifty euros a month in housing supplement. And of course there are sickness and disability grants and pensions for those too sick or old to work. In this welfare state sports and culture are also heavily subsidized.

Naturally all these benefits are paid for by high taxation. For instance, just recently I unexpectedly received my summer vacation pay. Since I had not given my employer this year’s tax card by default I was taxed the maximum rate of sixty percent (don’t worry I will get it back at the end of the tax year). So as you see the very rich are heavily taxed. But that’s the tradeoff for the benefits we receive. In Finland people don’t mind the higher taxes if it means that disadvantaged people are taken care of and we don’t have to pass beggars on the street. Finns are all about equality and taking care of those less fortunate in society. Hence, an individual giving to charity is not a common practice here.

Of course the Finnish social welfare system is not perfect. Every year authorities cut health, dental care, and social work budgets while we pay the same amount of taxes. Unless you have an acute problem the waiting line to see a doctor or dentist is months long and there are not enough places in the daycare centres. This is the result of the government not prioritizing and trying to support everything a little and therefore, not supporting anything properly. And of course there are people who abuse the system preferring to take as many benefits as possible instead of working but they are few. In fact the government recently increased benefits. The Helsingin Sanomat newspaper estimated that it is possible to get government support of up to approximately one and a half thousand euros a month without lifting a finger, while most cleaners make around the same salary. And then there are a few people who fall through the cracks and are homeless. However, those are usually alcoholics or drug users who do not qualify for housing if they do not stay sober. So no, our system is not perfect, but no system ever is. However, I think the Nordic model is the best system we have.

Here is an explanation of the Nordic model on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_model

Monday, 13 February 2012

My Pet Peeves

If this post sounds like a rant, then maybe it is. I recently had a bad day with the baby. She was crying and fussy all day and nothing I did helped. Most people would say it’s just one of those days and it comes with the territory. But thinking that really does not help the feelings of despair and frustration when you are going through it at the time. Add being confined indoors during the dark winter while nursing a cold and maybe you too would feel close to loosing it. In my frustration I posted a status update on Facebook saying “Danielle is wondering where all those friends, relatives, family members and in-laws are, who kept pestering me about when I would have children, when the child is fussy all day and doesn't want to be left alone for a minute?” Two of the responses I got was “fussiness is part of the package” and “chill…and enjoy it”. Arghhhhhh! This annoyed me to no end.

It seems society believes that if you are a mother it is forbidden to complain. If you are a mother you should always be happy and enjoy motherhood. If you do not, you are a bad mother. Are these people serious? Does everyone always love and enjoy every moment of their marriage even though they love their partner? Do people always love and enjoy every moment of their years of studies even if they loved the subject? It is not humanly possible to enjoy something every second even when it is difficult. And the last thing I need is to be told I should be enjoying my fussy baby. What I need at such times is some sympathy and commiseration.

Before I had Emilia I was always annoyed by the questions: “when are you going to have children?” and “why don’t you have children?” Is not just so yuh does have children and bam dey grow up! It takes time, work, patience and love. You need to show love and patience even when the child is fussy, even when the child is misbehaving, even when he or she is rebelling. So I had to think long and hard about the decision to have children especially since, unlike those friends and relatives who were always bugging me, my husband and I do not have any family living near by. Unlike my friends I can’t call and say “Mom/sis/ mother-in-law the child is driving me crazy and I need help. Can you come over right away?” Where are those people now when I am going through the daily grind? Are they here to help sooth the crying baby? Are they here to nurse her when she is sick and give me a break? No! So people should just mind their business and leave people to get on with theirs. What people should also consider is what if I was barren? How would those persistent questions have made me feel? How much despair and anguish would they have caused by their seemingly innocuous question?

Now in spite of all my doubts and fears I decided to take the plunge anyway because I wanted to have a child more than not. And I recognized that it will be hard and that I will have to deal with it. I realized I will have to deal with being home all day everyday, alone in the dark with a screaming baby. And I resolved to deal with it, and for the most part, I am. But don’t make me feel guilty and inadequate if I complain. I believe I am better off complaining than keeping it inside. Keeping things inside and feeling that I have to be the perfect mother would probably lead me to develop post-natal depression. Or like a friend said to me on Facebook I would probably start taking antidepressants or drinking like those perfect looking wives and mothers of the 1950’s. We need to recognize that mothers need sympathy and help, not criticism and judgement.

While we are on the subject of criticism and judgement, why is it that those most critical and judgmental are always other mothers? If you look up any online blog or discussion forum there are lots of mothers criticizing others for going back out to work too early or going back out to work at all. Or they are criticizing others for not breastfeeding. Do we know that mother’s circumstances and the reasons she has for going back to work or not breast feeding? Sure in theory it is probably best to stay at home until your child is school age but what if the family needs the money? Studies show that children growing up in poor households are at a great developmental disadvantage. Poverty is in fact worse for a child than being put into day-care. Or maybe that mother is going stark staring mad being at home instead of in the workplace doing something mentally stimulating and challenging. And we don’t need any studies to tell us that a child would be better off with a sane mother who works than a depressed, mentally unstable mother who stays at home. Is this mother a bad person because she prefers or needs to have a life outside of the home? I think not. I have a friend who thinks that mothers who like and want to stay at home and be a house wife are backward and old fashioned and I strongly disagree with that viewpoint also. Everyone is different and has different needs.

The breastfeeding issue however, is probably the most contentious issue out there. If you don’t breastfeed you are made to feel like a bad mother who does not care about the health of her child because “breast milk is the best milk”. After reading about all the benefits of breast milk I believe most mothers in Finland, Trinidad and the USA (I can’t talk for other nations I haven’t lived in) want to breastfeed. If they don’t they probably have a good reason for not doing so and one should not assume they just don’t want to.

FYI, there are various reasons why breastfeeding (though “natural”) does not always work. One problem is that breastfeeding does not necessarily come naturally. Breastfeeding is actually a skill which a new mother and baby need to be taught. Without the correct instruction it could all go very wrong and you may end up with a baby who is not getting any milk out of the breast. Some babies may never learn how to “latch on” properly and in one case I know the suction power of the baby was so weak that although the latch was correct she just did not suck hard enough to get enough milk. Also, sometimes it can take a long time for the milk to “come in”. In the mean time the child may be supplemented with the bottle and later not want the breast. Or in a few cases the mother just does not produce enough milk. So you see, the natural method of breastfeeding, does not come naturally. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, frustration and stress for it to work. And in spite of all this it still may not work.

Having said all that, I will now go on record and tell everyone that I do not breastfeed my baby. I tried and it did not work because of insufficient instruction, leading to improper latching on and therefore, supplementation with bottles which lead to rejection of the breast. I also had a problem with my milk production due to all the stress and lack of sleep. In spite of the help of a friend who is a midwife and two lactation consultants I had very little success. The feeling of failure and inadequacy as a mother were tremendous. And having everyone ask all the time, "Are you breast feeding?" and then proceeding to give me advice on breastfeeding, only served to make me feel worse.

At the end of two weeks of trying to produce milk and breastfeed, my husband advised me to stop, because I was too stressed and in his opinion becoming depressed. Two days later I took his advice and decided not to force my screaming baby to my empty breast anymore. That day I felt so much better and my milk “came in”. I started to enjoy motherhood because I was able to get some sleep and have time to take care of my baby since I was not trying to pump every two hours in order to get my milk going. I realized my husband was right. Deciding to give up on the breast feeding and giving her formula was healthier for my child than having a stressed out mother who had no time to spend nurturing her. A renowned Finnish professor and paediatrician at the Children’s hospital in Helsinki said in an article, that in developed countries such as Finland with a clean water supply and well regulated food safety, formula is almost the same as breast milk. Unlike formula in the 1970’s, the formulas on the market today have been specially formulated to closely mimic breast milk. They are based on thorough research and analysis of the composition of breast milk.

In spite of this I still felt it was in my child’s best interest to receive some of the antimicrobial properties of breast milk and so I pumped breast milk for twenty-five minutes, four to six times a day, everyday for three months. I stopped after three months because it was becoming difficult to find the time to pump while trying to care for an increasingly active and social baby. My mother-in-law does not understand why I have stopped pumping breast milk for her grandchild and still mentions it. Every time Emilia gets sick she says it is because she is not being breastfed. These comments used to make me feel sad, inadequate and a failure and I would become really angry. But I am finally learning not to let other people’s opinions and advice, on how we should live our life and care for our child, bother me anymore. I can never be a perfect parent so as I saw written somewhere all I can do is try to be a “good enough” parent.