Africa’s population is predicted to double in size by 2050. In Finland, we have the opposite problem - our birth rate is in steady decline. The number of births this year is the lowest is has been in a hundred years. As the population continues to age, the questions we must ask are whether we will have enough qualified people to look after children, the elderly and the sick in the future? And what should be done about this?
IT’S A QUESTION that has also been considered in Parliament. As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to encourage young couples in Finland to start families. Are there any societal barriers preventing people from having children, and if so, what should be done about them?
One solution is to reform the parental leave system. Parliamentary parties and unions have already presented their own models for the reform. One thing they have in common is a proposition to allocate more of the paid parental leave to fathers.
I am personally not enthusiastic about this proposal. I understand that there are certain, slightly old-fashioned, male-dominated fields of work where it is seen as odd that men would like to stay at home to look after their children. The suggested parental leave model proposes that a third of the parental leave is used by each of the parents, with the remaining third to be distributed according to the parents’ wishes. In my opinion, this model sounds inflexible. The results of the recent survey published by the Family Federation of Finland reflect my opinion.
According to the families in the survey, they have the most expertise when it comes to deciding which of the parents stay at home and for how long. Usually the parent with the highest salary remains at work. There are many reasons for this, one of them being that men and women are still interested in different fields. For example, in many entrepreneur families the father may continue to work while the mother stays at home even after the discontinuation of aid. In these cases, the reform would worsen rather than improve the situation for the family. I don’t want to be involved with any kind of parental leave reform that in reality is simply a savings operation masked as an improvement for families.
My four children were born in slightly different periods of my life. In some cases, the child has brought a much-needed break between different jobs. When you have a larger family and many young children at the same time, you are forced to learn to become organised. It’s a useful skill that can be implemented into any kind of work.
It’s also important to be flexible when combining work and family so that part-time work and different positions of responsibility can be combined with parental leave. No one has to work full-time from their twenties until they retire. If one does part-time work or projects, they are able to remain part of working life, even if they haven’t returned to work full-time. This is something that is also appreciated by employers.
Parenthood shouldn’t be made into something that is overly problematic. We can also talk about children in a positive light. For example, we can talk about the things we are able to do despite, and maybe even thanks to, the fact that we have children.
We are exposed to many voices in the media that tell us that once we have children, everything else in our life must be placed aside. This isn’t the case. I personally would’ve become an even more insufferable leader and politician without my children. Now an uptight over-achiever like myself has been able to find some degree of relaxation and patience. With children things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes they can go even better than expected.
Besides, children don’t remain children forever. If by the time they reach adulthood, and children are happy to visit their parents and spend time with them, parents can finally breathe a sigh of relief: perhaps the balance between work, family and other aspects of life has been found after all. We should make it easier for people to choose their path themselves.
Pia Kauma, MP National Coalition Party
Translation: Maria Timko