life in finland is subtly yet thoughtfully geared toward families^ (aside from the high cost of living), not only are the large, important gestures there from the government but its also the little gestures from society in general. kudos finland.
to start, a recent article rated finland as the top country in the world for mothers in terms of maternal death rates in childbirth and a few others measures. they dont have a super intense medical system here either, they just provide the right structure and it helps everyone have better chances. i like that. equality is a huge cornerstone of finnish society.
in terms of the large gestures from the government, here is what is offered:
-a pregnant woman is given the choice between a maternity package (a bundle with new baby clothes and other items) or a lump sum of 140€.
-a mother can start maternity leave as early as 2 months before the birth of the child, and (from what i can tell) needs to begin maternity leave at least 5 weeks before the estimated delivery date. you are then paid a maternity allowance for 4 months.
-a father (living with the mother) is entitled to 54 working days of paternity leave that can be broken up across 4 different periods (3 week chunks as the maximum length at any one time) while the child is under age 2. it can be taken at the same time that the mother is on maternity leave.
-parental leave. this kicks in after maternity leave. this is 158 paid work days (just over 6 months). it can be taken by either or both parents in various combinations. parental leave ends when the kid is about 9 months old.
-child home care allowance. this kicks in after parental leave and basically pays the parent (or relative) to watch the child, in-home, until the age of 3. a child over 3 may even receive this payment if there is another sibling being cared for at home who is under age 3.
-part-time child care leave allowance. this is something that can even be taken when the kid is in the first and second year of school. it supplements a parent who wants to work less than full-time to be at home when the child comes home from school.
-on top of this, there is also a child benefit paid for each child in the family until age 17.
*of note, no city daycares accept kids under age one (thus, it is quite normal to take your full year of leave without pressure).
other forms of aid for families:
*i dont know all the details, but a womans job is required to be held for her, up to three years post-partum (i think this is per child, though there must be some stipulations). a large percentage of women in finland are employed (but damn if i can find the actual statistic i read a few weeks ago, grrr), so i take that to mean that re-entering the workforce is pretty well supported by all.
*one parent can ride public transit (all forms: bus, metro, tram, local trains) for free when riding with a child in a stroller. all kids under age 7 ride transit for free.
*leikkipuistos (playgrounds with program buildings supported by the city) often have cheap breakfast mornings for kids and families, usually once a week. during the summer, apparently, they have one or more days per week where they offer a basic soup, for free, to all kids who want it. you bring your own spoon and bowl. i think adults can also purchase the soup for a small fee. you can also rent (for free or pay, im not sure) these places for parties/gatherings/etc. its a great resource.
*daycare. if you send your kid to a public/municipal daycare they are guaranteed to be admitted to a nearby daycare within 4 months (not exactly sure the radius of what "nearby" means, but ours is a 5-10 minute walk). also, the maximum that any family (even the wealthiest) pays is something like 254€/month for full-time daycare for one child. families with lower income get a reduced rate. although daves income is quite comfortable, apparently we are still in the bin of people who qualify for a [slightly] reduced rate (and this rate includes 2 meals and a snack at daycare).
other random finnish family notables:
-the city of espoo seems to be the family life area around here. you can get a single family home with a bit of yard for a fairly reasonable rate (or used to be able to)...in exchange for a longer commute to the city.
-most restaurants let kids under 3 or so eat free.
-many (though certainly not all) stores, banks, and restaurants are quite kid-friendly in terms of providing play areas, toys, or generally just being patient with parents and kids. and, many places have little kid potties in their bathrooms.
-the city airport has several lovely and well-equipped kid play areas too.
-just a small summary of popular kids books/characters (and their country of origin) here: moomin (finnish [muumi]), pippi longstocking (swedish [peppi långstrump]), mama moo (swedish [mamma mu]), the mole (czech [krtek])
-if you are interested in a day-in-the-life of a finnish mom on maternity leave, i found this blog entry.
^i do feel singles, older people, and couples without children would still feel that finland offers so much to them too, i just think that families feel, surprisingly, supported here.