“Look, children, the bush pig has lost his parents, so it’s being cared for by mama and papa lion. Even in nature, there are blended families.” – From the movie Blended
I’d never heard the term blended family until I saw the Adam Sandler movie of the same name.
Blended families are where the parents have children from previous relationships and all the members come together as one unit.
In Denmark 15,000 couples divorced last year (2018), that’s nearly half the number that got married.
It’s a country with one of the highest divorce rates in Europe and until recently the act of divorce was almost as simple as filling out an online form and hey presto ‘you’re now divorced’.
This results in a lot of blended families.
The headteacher of a Copenhagen state school once famously said “There are lots of divorces and our children have from one to six parents. It’s not uncommon to hear a child say, ‘I heard you had Charles’s father last year. I have him this year’”
I’m not sure this is a true depiction of reality, though blended families are much more common here and they work (as divorce tends to be very amicable in Denmark)
What’s interesting is that whether blended or not, 50/50 split parenting between mums and dads is the norm.
My kids need their father as much as they need their mother
Danish men take on parental responsibilities almost as much as danish women do, which is rarer in countries like the UK & USA.
In fact, there are many more males in Danish kindergarten and education too. It’s sad when I think about the UK, where the mixed messaging for males has created a culture where they’re encouraged to be good parents inside the home, then treated like potential paedophiles anywhere else.
Not so in Denmark.
What’s more common here is that Danish men and women split 50/50 when it comes to getting the kids to school, picking them up at the end of the day and looking after them when sick.
Work is flexible for this, with gender equality for parenting being closer to reality than many other countries (though it’s still got a long way to go).
Don’t let your luggage define your travels, each life unravels differently
While in the UK my wife chose to give up teaching law in order to parent our children in their first 4 /5 years (before they attended school).
So she did just that.
“But how will you define yourself?”
Came one of the questions my wife was asked at the university where she lectured. This was right after announcing she was moving to full-time parenting.
Neither of us defines ourselves by the job we do or where we work, so the question didn’t offend her, it made her chuckle.
“I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.” – Maya Angelou
Yes, I wipe up poop, but I deserve to get paid
If you choose to stay at home and parent full time in Denmark, that choice is confusing to many. Society has little understanding as to why a person would do it and how it could be fulfilling.
In the UK, while it’s more common to give up work completely or work part-time to parent as much as possible, it can also be judged negatively by many women (my wife experienced this first hand).
My older brother was a stay at home dad in the USA for many years. I got to see first hand it wasn’t all sitting back drinking coffee and watching your favourite TV shows all day.
So why have many societies begun to look down on women (or men) giving up work for full-time parenting?
I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is that in Denmark, while it’s less common and can be a lonely existence (as everyone is working full time), no one is judging our parental choice, they’re simply interested as it’s not a choice many people make.
In reality, all mums are working mums, and all mums are deserving of respect and support
Denmark is great for flexible working, whether that’s to enable your hobbies and / or to parent your children while working.
It’s also great for not being judged on choices such as not working in order to parent.
For me, the type of society I want to live in is one which enables choices. Choices like making it easy for mothers to work full time, while at the same time making it easy for those that don’t, and crucially, not then judging whichever choice is made.
If you are a mum, you are a superhero. Period
Women and men should have equal status, equal rights and equal opportunities.
Whether one chooses to parent full time or work full time is a personal choice. Making it so there is an opportunity to do either is our responsibility as a society.
If you feel forced to work full-time when you want to parent full-time, there’s an issue to solve.
If you feel forced to parent full-time when you want to work-full time, there’s an issue to solve.
In Denmark, it’s not perfect, but at least mothers tend not to be judged by their choice.
And that’s a good place to be.
“When we are judging everything, we are learning nothing.” – Steve Maraboli
Extra reading – Here are two terrific letters that might interest you. One is from a working mum to a stay at home mum, the other a stay at home mum to a working mum.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!
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See you next week for Episode 9.
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Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters