Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for All rights reserved

How to be a Bad Mother in Norway

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for All rights reserved
Illustration: Ole Johnny Hansen for All rights reserved

Now that I understand Norwegian I notice the unbelievable amount of articles coming out almost everyday on topics such as “How to design a happy child” or “Signs that you are a good mother“. Norwegian society seems completely obsessed with children, their well being, and what we, adults, do wrong. Was it like that in France when my mother was pregnant with me? Was it even like that in Norway 30 years ago?

I am at this age where every time I ring or meet a girlfriend she tells me she is pregnant. My facebook thread is filled with pictures of uterus ultrasounds with black and white pictures of E.T-like foetuses (I heard they get cuter later on). My holidays resonate with questions from my family and friends back home asking me whether I want children soon, because you know, the clock is ticking. My aunt even called me on my 30th birthday to advise me to freeze my eggs. The truth is what scares me more than to have kids is to have them in Norway.

Norway is the best country to be a mum

How is that possible? Everyone agrees that Norway is the best country in the world to be a mum. Medical Daily advises all mothers to move to Oslo. And many things indicate that it might even be one of the best places to be a kid. Longer parental leave than anywhere in continental Europe, kindergarten where kids are covered in oversized yellow vests to avoid getting hit by a car. Long days being outside as soon as your are born, breathing the fresh air from the fjord instead of breathing the polluted air from Paris or New York.

So why be scared? The problem is that the Norwegian society has an unbelievable amount of unwritten social rules that need to be followed without anyone saying it out loud. And social pressure is immense for those who read the news and listen to all the other parents and medical experts telling you what you are potentially (probably) doing wrong. Sometimes I have the feeling that because the Norwegian society agrees their way is the best way to raise kids, it becomes the only possible way.

The requirements are so high that it is very easy to be a bad mother in the eyes of Norwegian society. I write here about a few of the aspects of Norwegian upbringing I would find difficult to meet. As a side note, if anyone wonders (especially my parents, colleagues and Child Protection Service employees who are reading this): I am not pregnant or planning to be.

Stay away from wine and bottled milk

I have this irrepressible attraction to red wine. But being a good mother involves eating only green and organic things from the day one gets pregnant, so red wine is out. Thankfully other enjoyable activities such as sex and rock n’ roll are not forbidden anymore during pregnancy.

If that wasn’t hard enough one absolutely has to breastfeed in order to pass the second test at being a good mum in Norway. I had this idea that feminism had given all women the right to decide what we want to do with our body. Get a bottle out of your bag to feed your new born baby in a café in Norway and you will see the looks in other peoples’ eyes: bad mother. My mum breastfed her kids 6 months each and was seen as a hero. In Norway if you do not breastfeed you need to have a very good excuse which you must say with tears in your eyes and a huge feeling of guilt.

Adopt strange sleeping and food habits

It doesn’t stop there. In Norway children absolutely need to sleep by 7pm if not earlier. And they must eat at 5pm. How can one come back of work at 4.30pm and have time to make a boeuf bourguignon or even fish cakes (let’s take a traditional Norwegian dish) by 5pm? Completely impossible. And why do kids need to sleep so early? Most parents I asked about this were unable to give a concrete answer. But if experts say so and other parents do it, then it must be right.

And why aren’t there any cantines in Norwegians schools in a country? I would have thought that a society so committed to giving equal chances and treatment to all children no matter their social background would provide all children minimum one warm, balanced and nutritious meal per day. Instead of what children eat something called matpakke (slices of bread with something on it) every lunch. It is easy to throw some chocolate spread and brown cheese or basically sugar. The best fed kids are those whose parents read books about “How to make a fun and healthy matpakke” (Norway has an unbelievable amount of books and blogs about this issue) and cook fish and vegetables for them in the evening. I might not be objective on this topic: French have as many strict rules about food than Norwegians have them on sleep time.

Spend tidsklemma quality time with them

Experts, which are a bunch of psychologists and parenting coaches, say parents need to spend quality time with their kids. Like teaching them stuff and spending time with them which does not include stress, expectations, anxiety (I am not an expert but just guessing).

My parents spent lots of quality time with us, but not in the frame Norwegian education coaches have decided. They were young when they had us and believed the Malaysian jungle was as good learning experience as any school in a western country. They didn’t work much unless they had no money left, and we spent months playing with them on beaches of Bali, camping in the Australian outback an sometimes going to the local school. No matpakke, no TV, schools in different languages, and lots of quality time with our parents.

In Norway quality time does not mean you can chose whatever you want to do with your children. They must be a plan because later they have their 3rd activity of the week and then you’ll have to go to the gym. It is what Norwegians call being in tidsklemma. Spontaneity, freedom and lack of control over one’s kids are not words I have read often in the perfect Norwegian upbringing written by experts, but why? What feels better than freedom and spontaneity for children? (besides a giant candy man of course).

Is it allowed to say “no” to children?

Besides a hippy childhood, I also experienced the French system. In France one is taught to respect authority, accept failure, not interfere with the life of adults and eat whatever is in your plate. We were also very free: a child’s life involved disappearing from the house from the minute one came home from school until the minute before we had to be home to eat dinner. We played with neighbours, in the forest and in the street. We had time on our hands, and no parental control or cellphones to be tracked in our every moves.

I am not saying I remember slaps on my bum with tender nostalgia. Definitely not. However I do remember freedom as one. Is there not a middle way between the strict French upbringing style and full freedom which makes Norwegian children decide exactly what they want when they want it? In Norway parents have become slaves to their kids. What if one does not want to have control over one’s children? What if a parent decides not to drive one’s kid to every single micro activity and friend’s house? Is one seen as a bad parent for not knowing exactly where is one’s kid?

Yes your child is the best in the world, just like everyone else’s

When I was 11 one of my teachers liked to tell us “Study whatever you like, you’ll all end up unemployed anyway”. It is horrible of course, but at least we knew that failure was possible even when we put hard work to succeed. Which is comforting if you think about it: it wasn’t our fault.

In Norway it is advised to tell children they are great at everything they do. They are the best in the whole world, so talented. It reminds me of a story a teacher in the US told me: when a child wrote 2+2=5 teachers were advised to say “Well done, it is almost right!”. We all need to hear we are a super hero and talented human being and can do anything we want, especially during childhood. Sadly success is not just up to you as an individual person, sometimes hard work won’t even do the trick because there are other factors at play here such as luck, the risk one is willing to take, the motivation one can show, and sadly the fact that some are just better than us at something. The unemployment rate going up. Too many old people at the positions that we want to take, so we have to wait for them to retire. We worked harder because we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But who wants to tell one’s child that life will be tough? It is way too depressing.

I am a bit far from the requirements of being a good/bad mother in Norway now, and the list is still long: being fit, flat belly 2 weeks after delivering the baby, being a superwoman being great as an employee, a mother, a wife, a lover and a friend etc. Hopefully it is not that hard to raise children, despite all the signals society sends us on the do’s and don’ts of being a bad mother. Like my Norwegian friend told me when I told her I was writing about this topic: “You know which women are the best mothers? Those who don’t have children”.

This article was published in the Norwegian daily paper VG on the 15th of August under the title Derfor blir jeg en dårlig mamma.

32 thoughts on “How to be a Bad Mother in Norway

  1. Goodness gracious, FINALLY someone whom actually speaks up about this “upbringing”. “Experts” may say that this is the best way to raise your children, but the results are rarely good people. Take my little sister (different father and 15 years younger) for example, she’s now 7 and has become a very spoiled child and uses her crocodile tears whenever she doesn’t get her way. Fortunately, she still has a minimum of upbringing, so she won’t grow up to be like many of the youths are here in the north: Respectless children whom seem to believe that the world is their toy and that they can get away with anything as long as it is not illegal. Which it seems like they do, since they do it again and again and again. Also, it really doesn’t help things that teachers are no longer allowed to discipline pupils and that parents usually blame teachers for the childs bad grades. I suppose parents who tell the lie “You’re the best.” to their children, eventually start believing it themselves.

  2. Haha still laughing – “Those who don’t have children” is the best answer EVER!
    What shocked me about norwegian kids is first, the lack of limits. You can perfectly set a limit with love, you dont need to use the force to do it. Kids need to know where they’re standing. Or maybe I’m wrong and my kid became a wonderful adult just because.
    The second thing it almost killed me of anxiety was to see kids outside even though they were freezing at the kindergarden just because they HAVE to be outside AT LEAST 1,5 hour so the adults can have lunch inside. At the beginning I thought that kids sleeping outside were guilty of some terrible offense and that’s why they were tossed outside to sleep. But nop, they’re just getting benefit from the frisk luft that cures everything.
    Excellent as always, Froggy. You can always win points adopting, right ? 😀

  3. Telling your children they are best in the world? Hmmm, it always seemed to me that Janteloven promoted a humble approach rather than inflating someone’s ego…

    1. Whilst that’s what the Janteloven indeed advocates, I’m sure you’ve been noticing the lack of oppdragelse in many children nowadays. That comes in part from the whole “You’re the best.” children always hear when they grow up. If they’re the best in pretty much anything they do, then isn’t everything they do the best way to do things?
      At least that’s what I, a rather uneducated individual, hypothesize. So don’t forget noen klyper salt 😉

    2. That sounded really strange and completely unfamiliar to me. It is not normal parental behaviour neither is it what parental experts, or “experts” if you like, would advice. On the contrary, they tell you to tell your children that you see them and pay attention to them when they ask for it, not to praise them for what ever they’re doing. I do believe our frog has misunderstood something here.

  4. You do have a strong point when you say that there are a strong social pressure to do things a certain way in Norway, but I’m not entirely sure it’s typical Norwegian to think their method is best. Or at least i have met raised eyebrows both in Norway and in France, because I do things “my way”, which means a mix of the two “traditions”.
    You are certainly right about the bed time thing in Norway! My kids have routines about when they go to bed, usually around 8.30 in the evening if school the day after. Even before school, it was around 8. My mum (Norwegian) found this to be very late! On the contrary, my mother-in-law (French) found it to be rather early… So with food as well. I would give them porridge in the evening when they were very young, and my mother-in-law was shocked that they didn’t get mashed vegetables. My mum on the other hand was severely shocked it was not possible to buy the special baby porridge in the supermarket.
    I also find that in Norway everything is supposed to be very pedagogic, and if you raise your voice against your child it will surely suffer for the rest of his/her life. In France you are still allowed to slap your kid both in the face and on his buttocks. As you say, something in the middle could be good? At the same time I find that in France (specially in school) you are obsessed with respect/good behavior, and I find that at least in some classes that has priority to teach the subject itself. In Norway it’s become a bit too much slack in all respects.
    One thing I do find good about the Norwegian upbringing, which you clearly puts a lot of question marks to, is the thing about spending time outside. I was frankly shocked when I realized that the children are not playing outside in the kindergarten if it’s raining! I live in Nice, so it never really gets cold here. It’s quite a lot the same in school. I find it peculiar to see all the little boys and girls with their umbrellas on their way to school. My sons has (Norwegian style) rain jackets and boots, and are very happy about that, as they are allowed to splash in every puddle they see 🙂
    If you ever have a child of your own one day, you will find your own way to raise it, the way that feels the better one for you. It’s what I decided to do, being “pushed” from to sides about what is “the right way”. I also avoid reading all of those articles you are referring to, because I think it’s better to trust my guts and common sense, and not to listen to all those experts who tells me how every little mistake I make as a mum will “ruin” my child. Cause frankly speaking, you can not be a parent and never do anything wrong! Thing is, you learn from it, and your kid too 😉
    And at the very end: Thanks for a great blog! I enjoy it very much! 🙂

    1. My husband is Norwegian and I’m originally South African. In Norway I felt under pressure to conform to the Norwegian way, and when we visited family in South Africa, family disapproved with the way my then two-year old daughter was being raised (eg. potty-training, etc). Fortunately, we moved to a third-world country – very different to either of ours – and where there were no expectations and/or prescriptions re child-raising, neither from “experts” or family. Common sense was what raised my children (even in sometimes dangerous conditions – eg. snakes in the garden, malaria etc.), and pleased we are with the results today.

    1. YES! People in Norway seem to be obsessed with kids! I live near a school in Teisen, so I get to see things pretty close-hand (albeit, in the Mini Pris). The kids here seem to YELL constantly whilst running amuck on their little scooters (can I have one??), all while being watched contentedly by their besotted parents.

      And whenever I turn on the TV every other commercial is about pregnancy tests, hipster kids clothes (all set to “Express Yourself”, like they don’t express themselves enough), or feeding your kid organic produce. What gives??

  5. The post could be expanded with discussion of Barnevernet practices. A difficult subject, but after living in a mid-sized Norwegian town for a little over a year, I got acquainted with already THREE families (German, Finnish-Spanish and Polish) who had their kids taken away by the state authorities for reasons beyond most of other societies’ comprehension.

      1. :O Is my old hometown in such a state as to being the first guess whenever Child Protective Services are discussed? O_O
        I do have one or two acquaintances going through the loops there now though..

  6. Yes, I agree, why not talk about the Barnevernet?
    Most recent horrifying case, a Romanian-Norwegian couple ( the husband Romanian citizen and the wife Norwegian ). All 5 children were taken away cruelly!!!!

  7. Reblogged this on Wings of the Wind and commented:
    “Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. On the surface, it looks as if people there have everything they need—beautiful countryside, breathtaking fjords, rich oil reserves, plentiful jobs, abundant health, technological progress…but spiritually, Norway is incredibly dark. Only 2% of the people attend church. While a large percentage are official members of the Church of Norway, actual church attendance is nearly non-existent. Increasing numbers of Norwegians are turning away from the God who created, blessed, and loves them dearly.”

    This is a comment from Group’s new VBS which will hopefully reach to Norway. The story is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Norway’s problems. Thanks to Octavian who shared this on Delight in Truth’s blog.

  8. My son’s school has criticized my “American attitudes” regarding the upbringing of children, although I abide by the no-spanking law, for example.

    When someone’s *thinking* becomes culpable, Scandinavian utopianism slides into totalitarianism.

    There is quite a bit of highly educated, expert arrogance and stupidity over here.

  9. “Longer parental leave than anywhere in continental Europe…” Don´t understand where you got this information from, but definitely not true. For example, I´m from the Czech Republic and paid maternity/parental leave normally takes 3 years (you can choose 2-4 years, but most women opt for 3 or 4). Kindergarten starts at 3 yrs. of age there anyway, so no point in taking money only for 2 years, plus you are considered a bad mother if you don´t stay with your kid long at home. You get 8 months of full salary and for the rest you get about 60% of it, depending on how long you choose to be at home. If you were unemployed before you have the baby, you must take the 4 yrs. leave (illogical, I know), but in Norway you don´t get anything at all if you didn´t work before 🙁 . Plus you start the leave 2 months before due date in the Czech Rep., not just 1 month like in Norway. And it´s the same or similar in more countries as far as I know. So I myself consider Norwegian 8 months leave quite cruel and pressing for both mothers and children. Plus when pregnant, you get just one ultrasound free in Norway, unlike several tests in my home country…. So, I definitely don´t recommend to have kids in Norway, at least not the first few years of their lives. On the other hand, Norwegian kindergartens are really good. 🙂 But all in all, I really don´t get why Norway should be such a parent-friendly country – I think more the opposite, after having lived there for some years.

  10. “Longer parental leave than anywhere in continental Europe…” Don´t understand where you got this information, but definitely not true. For example, I´m from the Czech Republic and paid maternity/parental leave normally takes 3 years (you can choose 2-4 years, but most women opt for 3 or 4). Kindergarten starts at 3 yrs. of age there anyway, so no point in taking money only for 2 years plus you would be basically considered a bad mom if you don´t stay 3 yrs. at home with your kid. You get 8 months of full salary and the rest is about 60% of it, depending how long you stay at home. If you were unemployed before you have the baby, you must take the 4 yrs. leave (illogical, I know). But in Norway you would get NOK 0. Plus you start the leave 2 months before due date, not just 1 month like in Norway. And it´s the same or similar in many more countries as far as I know. So I myself consider Norwegian 8 months leave quite cruel and pressing for both mothers and children. And there are other weird things in Norway when it comes to parenting and medical care f.ex. you have just one ultrasound while pregnant (it´s around 5 or more in my country, free of course), genetic tests etc. are basically illegal to perform in younger women…. very strange approach. In many ways Norway feels somewhere 30-40 years back in time. So I don´t recommend to have very small kids in Norway. But kindergartens later on are very good 🙂

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