One of the more noticeable features of Icelandic culture is the rich emphasis on family and the early start of one.
It’s not uncommon, although less common than nowadays, for young couples to start a family while one or both are still at university.
Even though the income is not in any way compatible to that of an income for a worker, it seems many people make it work. Others wait until they’ve finished their studies and then have a child before finding work.
A growing number of people, though, decide to wait until they’ve worked for a at least year, because if memory serves me right, the right to a fully paid maternity and paternity leave is earned after a year of employment.
This may seem to be the sensible way to go about it.
In the other countries where I’ve resided things are different.
It’s rare to hear about professionals straight out of university in their first employment starting a family, let alone ask for maternity or paternity leave.
It goes without saying, that there are far too many countries where paid parental leave is not a reality, and in some countries, it is made difficult for women in particular to return to the work force after having a child.
But the concept of starting a family early is different to every one of us.
For some of us - and those of us who fall under this category are few, albeit growing in numbers - it’s important to achieve dreams and ambitions of a personal nature before looking after another human being.
Some people my age have kids who are in their teens now or younger. It’s a crazy concept to me but a reality to them.
This is not unusual for people of my generation and later generations. But I have a feeling this is changing, too.
I am noticing a new and very likeable trend in the young generation entering adulthood.
They are worldlier and more curious about the world around them, and their goals are to see more of the world than previous generations did. They understand they are part of a greater network than just Iceland.
This to me is a wonderful change and I am absolutely certain it will benefit Iceland in the future.
Do I think this will change the culture around the family structure?
No, not really.
There are still enough young people about to embark upon adulthood who cannot imagine living anywhere but in Iceland. However, I suspect the number of young families with parents in their early twenties will be fewer than at present, let alone a decade or two ago.
As someone who made a conscious choice at a very early age not to embark upon parenthood until I have reached a point in my life at which I am ready to change my priorities as necessary, and at a point in which I am financially stable enough to enjoy the experience without worrying about money, I find it easier to comprehend the choices of those who choose to experience life first.
Iceland is considered to be family-oriented from the outside. Both parents have a legal right to parental leave and both parents are able to work outside the home.
But I get the feeling it’s not so rosy below the surface.
People I know who are having a child are faced with reduced income and because of the gender-based salary inequality (which, by the way, existsts in Iceland), fathers are less likely to use their legally earned three months of paternal leave.
Another factor is that these days, the additional cost is by no means met with the insufficient amount reserved for parents in parental leave.
The cost of living in Iceland is high, and it is rational to assume that these expenses increase with the added expenses of a new baby. So, in order to have a worry-free parental leave, it is necessary to put money aside to keep afloat during a period that should be enjoyable.
I struggle to comprehend how it is possible to make a living on the even more meager amount granted to students who have not been employed for a year or more.
Having a child, regardless of what age the parents are, should be enjoyable and, at the moment, it is my impression that it’s not only blissful, but also a time to tighten the budget and live sparsely.
And that’s just the beginning because day care, sports and other extra-curricular activities are not cheap.
So, beneath the surface, it seems to me that family life is not always easy.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]