In the deep recesses of our imagination, we all picture ourselves living in a perfect utopian society with a perfect social system, perfect climate, perfect conditions for studying/working/raising a family and all topped with parade of perfect people.
While we all know that no single country is perfect, Sweden is no exception. After living here for one year, I could easily give you a lovely list of all the things that Swedes do (and don’t do) that seriously chaps my ass. But, I won’t. Because while Sweden is not perfect, it is certainly one thing: PEACEFUL.
Forecast calls for a 99% chance of a shitstorm
When we uprooted our life and family to migrate to Sweden, we were pretty optimistic. Perhaps deluded is a more accurate word. In August 2018, we landed into sunny Stockholm with no permanent home to live in, no car, no employment and no freaking clue as to what the future held.
I tried to hold it together as best as I could but after a few months of “I’m not crying, you’re crying!” I had another mental breakdown. Like I’ve stated in earlier blog posts and in my latest book Having a Baby Turned Me Batshit Crazy, I am an expert at neuroticism. 2018 was a prime year for emotional and mental triggers; in one year, we welcomed our second baby, moved country and my dearest Grandfather died at the age of 99.
It was a royal shitstorm, to say the least.
Our marriage almost broke and we dwindled our savings down to zero in a very short amount of time. Tommy found it incredibly difficult to get back into the job market and since we landed during the ass-end of summer vacation, not a lot was happening for us.
The first few months consisted of 2-3 emergency trips a week to the hospital in Stockholm due to Elias’ Haemophilia. The brave boy had all sorts of bleeds, bumps and bruises, so trying to get to a major hospital in the city without a car was hectic. Between borrowing cars and taking public transport, we were losing our minds trying to settle and start a new life.
Miracles in the middle
When you’re in the middle of the storm, you never see light at the end of the tunnel. All you see is wave after wave crashing down on you, with no hope in sight. But then, when you look back, you go, “Hang on a minute… This happened and then that happened and this person did this and God provided this!”
Totes happened to us. You’re gonna love this.
Tommy didn’t just get one job – he got two! (both through friends) He clocked up so many hours working both jobs, we were able to get on top of things again.
When we bought a car, we were finally able to come and go freely to hospital for Haemophilia management. We have since taken the same car to some beautiful parklands, castles and lakes around greater Stockholm.
On the cuff of me objecting to staying in Sweden for one minute longer, a lovely lady (now my boss) called me up and invited me to an interview. Thinking I had nothing to lose (seriously though, I already lost all my friends in Australia, my family, my mind, my rice cooker and vacuum cleaner) I decided to give it a go.
Low and behold, I was offered a position at a global company in content and digital marketing.
Mark my words: immigrants do not get jobs easily. There is a strong racial bias in Scandinavia so if your name has some spicy sound to it, you’re probably less likely to get called into an interview. Furthermore, almost all companies require fluent Swedish language skills and all I could (literally) bring to the table was “vin” (wine) and “caffe” (coffee).
We joined an international connect group full of fun and vibrant people whose common language was English. Over time, we were warmly welcomed by old friends and strangers alike. We didn’t make a mass of new friends, but God brought into our lives some truly wonderful people that have been consistently kind and hospitable.
Baking up a fresh batch of blessings
Looking back, I can see God’s faithfulness all throughout our first year in Sweden.
In 2019, Elias started prophylaxis and he has been taking it like a boss! We have a great relationship with our Haemo nurses at Karolinska Hospital (that word again is Barnkoagulationsmottagningen) and Elias loves it so much, he cannot run fast enough into the coagulation department!
The quality of medical care, not to mention the fact that it is all FREE is something I do not take for granted. Elias was recently admitted into the children’s hospital (barnakut) and I kid you not (pun unintended), it is the highest standard of hospital care I have ever seen in my life. I felt like we should be donating limbs and organs just to stay there. But, as the Swedish social system is made, all children get free access to healthcare.
Elias and Lucy are in a wonderful daycare centre (förskolar) led by engaged and caring teachers. The daycare bill is $200 per month for both of them. BOTH KIDS! Which means, Tommy and I can find satisfaction in our jobs with neither of us feeling forced to stay at home.
This is probably the biggest blessing of them all.
I have been a SAHM for as long as I can remember and after a while, it can get a bit old. My brain is dusty and contains cobwebs in every corner since circa 2015. Furthermore, the corporate climate in Australia is not really made for mothers as most companies offer very little flexibility and some won’t even offer a woman her job back after taking maternity leave. Archaic, I know.
Plus, that outrageous childcare bill. In Australia, you choose your career or your children, but you can’t have both. In Sweden, the working environment is made for families and parents, where people leave the office early shouting, “Hej då! I’m picking up the kids!” while no one bats an eyelid. And to top it all off, the government pays for days you stay at home with your sick kids or, in our case, take Elias to hospital for Haemophilia treatment.
Furthermore, it is virtually impossible to get fired in Sweden as the unions have strong protections over employees. When you have children up to 7 years old, you can ask for a reduced number of hours and your employer is not allowed to deny your request. The Nanny State also pays parents a grant for every child they have to help cover the cost of parenting.
Education from baby to university is free. So is healthcare and dental up to the age of 21. Medical specialists and medications are capped yearly so you only pay a certain amount and then it’s free. Virtually all my psych bills are free for 9 months of the year.
If you learn the Swedish language, the government pays you money as an incentive to assimilate, like this:
“Valkommen till Sverige! Have all this free money!”
“I told you so” – God
We really hit some low moments during the first six months of our time in Sweden. Slowly but surely, things have been coming together and in some ways, I am blown away by God’s goodness. Then again, why am I surprised that he has worked all things for good? Isn’t that what God is in the business of doing?
Many of our family and friends know our first five years of marriage have been turbulent. Most of it is covered in my Batshit Crazy book, but to dumb it down into one sentence: all the things that tried to break us almost broke us, but by the grace of God, didn’t. It only made us stronger.
Tommy and I never got a clear answer as to why God led us to Sweden. Still, to this day, I don’t fully know. But at a glance, I feel it has been his greatest instrument to bring healing and restoration to our lives, marriage and family. We have been through so much and desperately needed a change of scenery. We found that Sydney was not exactly the most peaceful place on the planet! The chaotic traffic, the exorbitant cost of living, the endless stress, the bizarre obsession with money, success and power. Not to mention the charismatic sociopaths that stab you in the back.
Nej tack. No thank you. We’ll take peace over prosperity any day.
While we miss our family and friends, we feel at peace living in Sweden. The air is fresher and there isn’t a competitive dog-eat-dog culture here so everyone is pretty chill. Not to mention, the scenery across all 4 seasons is absolutely stunning. Clean air, clean water (seriously, we drink it from the tap!) and beautiful nature everywhere.
Just like with anything in life, we take the good with the bad. Thawing out a Swede’s cold, dead heart can be a bit of work 😉 but it’s definitely worth it. They grumble about the weather and immigrants but that’s only because we have it SO GOOD here (most Swedes do not realise this) that there’s not really much else to complain about!
Sweden is not perfect, but it is refreshingly peaceful. Here’s to another year – bring it on!