Last updated: 2/2-2023
This text is about family life. It describes what it is like to be a parent in a new country. It also discusses raising children, routines in children’s lives, and having a teenager.
The text is also about different ways of life and about starting a family. It also describes the divorce process, as well as what help is available if there are problems in your family or relationships.
Children have special rights, and it is the responsibility of the state in which they live to ensure that these rights are upheld. All children have the same rights, and are equal in worth. No child may be subjected to discrimination.
Children's rights are enshrined in the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Child Convention. It states, for example, that all children have the right to grow up in safety and security, and that the best interests of the child must always be considered when making decisions that concern children. It also states that children must be protected from war and disease, and that children's views must be respected.
Being a parent in a new country
Starting to live in a new country is a big change for adults as well as children. Sometimes children have an easier time adjusting to the new society than adults do. Children often learn the language faster than their parents do, which can lead to changed roles within the family. Parents can become dependent on their children for their contacts with the new society, and children can start taking responsibility for their parents and for organising things the parents are unable to. That is too much responsibility to lay on a child. For example, children must not be interpreters for their parents in contacts with government agencies, medical care services and schools.
It is important that parents learn to deal with the society their family has started living in. If they do, they will be able to be strong and unambiguous parents in order to create a secure environment for their children. Parents who learn about and gain an understanding of the laws, norms and traditions of the new society become happier and healthier in their new country. And if parents are happy and healthy, this has a positive influence on their children's health and development.
Can you give any examples of challenges that a parent in a new country might face?
Being a guardian
By law, children must be cared for and protected until they turn 18. A child's guardian or guardians have the right and obligation to look after the child and are legally responsible for the child until the child turns 18. A child's guardians are usually the parents. Guardians are obliged to maintain their children until they turn 21, if the children are studying at the upper secondary level.
Joint custody means that responsibility for a child is shared between the guardians. They have to make decisions together about things that concern the child. Guardians with joint custody have the same rights and obligations even if they do not live together. Both guardians also have the right to receive the same information about their child from preschools, schools, medical care services, the social services, the police and other government agencies.
If two parents are married when their child is born, they will automatically get joint custody of the child. This only applies, however, if the parents are of different legal genders.
If the parents are not married or if both parents are women, the person who gave birth to the child automatically gets sole custody of the child. Sole custody means that only one parent is responsible for the child. Unmarried couples have to fill out a form about who is the child's other parent. This you can do at the Family Law Bureau in the municipality where you live, and at the same time, you can register that you want to have joint custody of the child.
The law that lays down what responsibilities parents and guardians have for their children is known as Föräldrabalken, or the Children and Parents Code. This law came into force in 1950, when almost all families consisted of a mother, a father, and one or more children. That reality in 1950 influenced how the law was written. But nowadays, families come in different forms, and children can be conceived in different ways. For instance, a family can consist of more than two parents, but according to the law, a child can only have one or two legal parents.
What should a good parent be like?
Both parents are responsible for their children
It is important that both parents engage in caring for the child, ensure the child's development and take part in decisions that concern the child. The Child Convention states that children are entitled to both their parents.
This applies throughout the child's upbringing, from birth until the child comes of legal age at 18.
Parents share the responsibility for their children even if they do not live together. When parents take joint responsibility for their child, the child will be healthier, have better development and build a better relationship with each parent than if the parents do not take responsibility.
The relationship between the parents is also important for the well-being of the child and the family as a whole. Moving to a new country can affect that relationship. Discussing everyday life and parenting can be a way for parents in that situation to strengthen their relationship.
In addition to parents, there can be many other adults who are important for a child's health and development. Grandparents, other relatives, teachers, coaches, parents' friends and school staff are all people who can have a considerable influence.
Bringing up a child – the most important task in the world
Being the parent of a child, or another adult who is close to a child, can be the best but also the hardest task in a person's life. There are many things that influence you as a parent. Stress, children's special needs, other people's demands and difficult life events can make any parent feel that they cannot cope. It is perfectly natural to need support. Nobody is perfect, and you do not need to be perfect in order to be a good parent or other adult in a child's life.
Children need to feel support, security and love, and to be respected by their parents and other adults. How a child is brought up is significant for the child's self-confidence, self-esteem and behaviour. Children need much more love than orders and discipline. Children who have a secure and loving upbringing also find school easier than those who do not and often grow into well-adjusted adults.
Giving guidance to a child and saying "yes" and "no" to various things in a child's life is part of being a parent. But parents must never forbid or allow things if that violates the child's rights.
Children need adults' help in understanding and managing their emotions. Adults have to explain to children, for example, why adults say no to certain things.
Additionally, children need to have the opportunity to participate in various activities organised by their school or by others. Both children and parents benefit form being a part of the new society they will be growing up and living in.
Routines in children's lives
Children not only want to be involved in talking about rules and routines with their parents – they have a right to be. This might be about bedtimes, computer gaming, schoolwork, toothbrushing, exercise, food and drink, or limits on alcohol and tobacco. It may be a good idea to talk to other parents about some of these things, so that you can agree on similar routines and rules for your children. But we are all different. Routines, rules and limits have to be adapted to the child's personality, age and maturity.
As a parent, you also have to be supportive of your child's development, of taking responsibility and managing on their own. Children may sometimes need extra support, such as in creating a calm environment for themselves, in doing homework or dealing with relationships. Ask you child about friends and be attentive to signs of loneliness or conflicts with friends.
A ban on violence against children
In Sweden, the view on raising children has changed a lot over the past hundred years. In the early 20th century, many parents were very strict, and it was important that children obeyed their parents. Many people felt that disciplining children by hitting them was a natural part of raising children. But since 1979, there is a ban on all violence against children in Sweden.
Children who are subjected to violence are at a greater risk of developing physical and mental health problems – immediately following the event as well as later in childhood and in adult life. For example, children may develop difficulties in creating trusting relationships with other people, as well as difficulties controlling their feelings. Even very small children are harmed by being subjected to or experiencing violence. Being subjected to violence is always a serious violation of a child's self-esteem.
Parental leave – staying at home with children
Taking out parental leave means being free from studies or work in order to look after your child. When you are on parental leave, you can apply for a parental benefit from Försäkringskassan. Payments of parental benefit are a compensation for your being unable to work or study.
It is common for both men and women to take out parental leave, but it is more common among women. To encourage more men to take out parental leave, there are parental benefit days which cannot be transferred from one guardian to the other. But if you have sole custody of your child, you are entitled to all your parental benefit days yourself.
Activities for children with parents on parental leave
There are various activities you can do during your parental leave if you want to meet other children with parents on parental leave.
How can you find out what activities for children with parents on parental leave are available in your municipality?
Having a teenager
A person's teenage years are those between the ages of 13 and 19. During this period, many young people begin to become more independent. They may begin thinking more about their identity, who they are, and how they want to be. As their parent or other guardian, you have to be supportive of your teenager. It is important to let teenagers make some decisions on their own to encourage their growing independence. Let your teenager be part of making decisions about rules.
Sometime between the ages of 8 and 14 most children reach puberty, though this can happen both earlier and later. Puberty is the period in life when a child's body changes into that of an adult. Girls usually reach puberty before boys. It is normal for teenagers to start thinking about their sexuality and body. Tell your teenager about UMO.se and YOUMO.se, which are websites with information about the body, sex and health for anyone aged between 13 and 20. Your teenager can also speak to school health services or a youth centre.
If you need parenting support or feel worried about your teenager, help is available. You can speak to other adults in the same situation, for example, by joining parent groups, or you can contact school health services, a youth centre or your local medical care centre.
How should parents talk to their teenager about emotions and relationships?
Different ways of life and of starting a family
Our norms and preconceptions suggest that a family should have certain characteristics. It is easy to imagine a family as consisting of a mother and a father and one or more children. But there are many different ways that people make a life together. Not all couples choose to have children, for example, and a family can also have two parents of the same gender.
The most common type of household in Sweden is a single-person household, which means that only one person lives in the household (the home). Forty per cent of all households in Sweden are of this type.
If you are the only adult in a household, you are referred to as a single person. If you have a child or children, you are referred to as a single parent.
If adults who have children together separate or divorce, their child or children can either live with one of the parents all the time, or with each parent alternately – every second week is a common arrangement. This latter option is known as shared residence.
If one of the parents meets a new partner who also has children and they move in together, the result is a large family with children who have different parents. Such families are often referred to as "bonus families", since the family has received a "bonus" of additional members. The members of a bonus family are consequently referred to as bonus children, bonus siblings and bonus parents.
Everyone in Sweden must be 18 years old to get married. This is the law. The law applies to all people in Sweden, even if they are not Swedish citizens. There may be other rules in other countries, but Swedish authorities only approve foreign marriages if they comply with Swedish law.
Marriage in Sweden is gender neutral. This means that two people of the same gender can get married in the same way as a woman and a man. A registrar may not say no if two people of the same gender want to get married. However, an officiant from a religious faith, e.g. a priest from the Church of Sweden, can choose whether to say yes or no. If a priest says no, you can ask a different priest.
Marrying a child is forbidden in Sweden. Marrying more than one person is also forbidden.
A law known as Äktenskapsbalken (the Marriage Code) applies for married couples. The Marriage Code includes rules about inheritance in which the surviving spouse is usually entitled to an inheritance. Any children are always entitled to an inheritance.
When two people live together as a couple without being married, this is called cohabiting.
Cohabitation without marriage is common in Sweden and the other Nordic countries. It is also common that people have children without being married. Sweden has a special law for such relationships, the Cohabitation Act (known as Sambolagen in Swedish). The Cohabitation Act contains rules about things, such as the home that the cohabitants live in and the things that they own. If one of them dies, the surviving cohabitant is entitled to continue living in the home they had together. The survivor also inherits the couple's shared things in the home. In order for the survivor to inherit other assets, such as money deposited in a bank, there has to be a will.
Two people can have a relationship that in many ways resembles cohabitation or a marriage, but without the two of them living together. This is known as living apart together (sometimes abbreviated LAT), or "särbo" in Swedish.
What are some of the variations on the traditional family in Sweden?
Separating from another person can be difficult – even for people who are not married but who are living together as cohabitants, for example. Life suddenly changes, and many practical decisions have to be made, particularly if there are children in the family.
Divorces and separations where there are children involved can sometimes lead to conflicts about where they should live and how much time they should spend with each parent. If they cannot agree in this situation, parents can turn to the municipality's Family Law Bureau. They can provide support before as well as during the separation.
If you want to get divorced you have to contact the District Court in the municipality where you are registered as resident. The District Court is a court of law to which you make an application for divorce.
You and your partner can fill in the application together. In Sweden, you can divorce the person you are married to even if they do not want to get divorced. In that case, you can fill in the application alone. The Family Law Bureau can help you.
If you and your partner apply for a divorce together and you do not have any children, the District Court can issue a ruling (a decision) as soon as possible. If you have children under the age of 16 or if one of you does not want to get divorced, you will be given a period for consideration. This means that you are given time to think about whether you really want to get divorced. The consideration period is at least six months and at most one year. There is no requirement that you live together during the consideration period.
If you still want to get divorced after six months, you have to contact the District Court yourself. This is known as finalising your divorce. If you do not submit a letter stating that you want to finalise your divorce, the District Court will discontinue your application. This means that your divorce application is no longer valid. If the District Court suspects that either of you has been forced into the marriage, it can grant you a divorce immediately, without a consideration period.
Why do you think people who want to get divorced are given a period for consideration?
The Family Law Bureau
If you are getting divorced and you cannot agree on where the children should live or how often each of you should see them, you can contact the Family Law Bureau. This is a department within the municipality that helps parents to cooperate when they divorce. It is not a court of law. The Family Law Bureau makes sure that the focus is on the best interests of the children. It helps parents to find good solutions for the children when it comes to where the children should live and who should make decisions about them. The help is provided during what are known as cooperation talks. The Family Law Bureau is bound by professional secrecy.
If you cannot come to an agreement with the help of the Family Law Bureau, you can go to the District Court. The court will then issue a ruling on where the child or children will live and which one of you will be responsible for making decisions regarding the child or children. The District Court will ask the Family Law Bureau in your municipality to carry out an investigation before it comes to a decision.