In Finland, if a child under 10 years old gets sick with a minor illness, a working parent can stay up to 4 days home to care for her. Nowadays, many employers in Finland work with childcare companies like Stella or Hoivanet to grant childcare benefits to the their employees. It works as follows: if your child gets sick, you can contact the childcare company on the same day or the night before. If they have a babysitter available, she may come in the following day to be with the child and allow you to go to work. While the logic works great on paper, I think it taps into the usual productivity obsession that populates Finland. My husband and I tried using this service multiple times, until we concluded it didn't work for us. This is why and how we changed our approach.
#1. Low availability
This was the most striking aspect. We live far from Helsinki city center and the company had few babysitters available to serve our area. In practice, this meant we couldn't really count on the service and some times we failed to cancel our work appointments in time because we were waiting for the company's response that came in negative. At some point, it became easier not to rely on the possibility and simply take turns to be home when flu season stroke.
#2. You are leaving your child with a stranger
While most child carers we met seemed thoroughly vetted and very competent, in the end they were nothing short of a stranger. The company sends the name of the babysitter who can come and you are free to refuse, but you don't get a chance to interview or met her beforehand. You don't get references. She shows up in the morning and you leave, that's it. I never felt peace of mind being at work while my child was home with someone I didn't know. And think how horrifying this is from the child's perspective, seeing mom and dad leave like that and have to be with a total stranger for 8 or 9 hours! I am not overstating when I say this taps into a young child's survival mode.
We hired babysitters in the past years, but we interviewed and carefully selected them, had a chance to discuss our parenting values, our kids' needs and personalities, and we introduced them to our children gradually.
#3. A sick child doesn't need to be supervised, she needs to be cared for
A sick child is a vulnerable child. They want, need, a parent, not simply an adult to attend them. I honestly don't know how the pressure of going to work blinded us on this and I regret leaving my daughter many times in her moment of need.
I think overall, my regret is giving in to the pressure of being productive over anything else and forgetting what really mattered in the process. I am very motivated to work, my job is part of my identity, and I am ambitious. But my family does and will always come first. My children matter over any meeting or task. Truth is, I never had much of a conflict there. Being home with my daughter would have meant rescheduling meetings: annoying but doable. Neither I or my husband weren't expected to speak at a UN convention or Nobel Prize award ceremony. It never meant giving up once in a lifetime opportunities: we simply did not have our priorities straight.
I have been reflecting if there could be a better way to use those childcare services. I don't think so. Even if one would select one babysitter and stick with and only her, the following issues would arise:
A. childcare companies have a high turnover. There's little chance she'll work there for long;
B. kids don't get sick frequently enough to develop a relationship with the carer;
C. a full day with someone who is not a parent is simply too long for a sick child.
In other words, I think both employers and employees should reflect very well if this benefit is worth offering. What is the motivation behind it, really?
While on paper this goes to support work-life balance, in truth it undermines it.
Luckily, we didn't mess up our girl. If I could advise my younger self, I would tell her to be clearer on her values and goals, and benefit from what's her given right in Finland to be home and care for her ill children. After all, work-life balance was the top of the list reason why we even moved to Finland.
I don't even remember what those "important" work commitments were, but I have a clear picture of my girl crying or looking at me scared when I left her with a stranger for a full day. Maybe those meetings weren't so meaningful after all.