‘I ditched the US for European country – raising a child is so much better here’

An American mum living in Denmark says the overwhelming change in raising children in Europe makes it "so much better" than her homeland.

Ilana Buhl, from Dallas, Texas, moved to Copenhagen in 2018 to be with her long-distance Danish fiancé, originally entering the country on a family reunification visa. The couple tied the knot right after she moved and three years later welcomed a son.

After four years of living and working in Denmark, the mum-of-one was finally granted permanent residence earlier this year. But it was only after she had her son she realised just how lucky she was.

In an essay for Insider, she explained: "I knew that Denmark was a great place to have kids, thanks to a summer study-abroad program I had attended, in which I learned about the Nordic approach to early childhood. However, I didn't realize how lucky I was to raise my child here until I experienced it."

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The English teacher revealed the first perks start before the baby is even born, with the country's public healthcare system offering free prenatal care. For her, this included three GP checkups, five midwife appointments and two ultrasounds.

"Prenatal care felt much more relaxed in Denmark than I imagined it might be in the US. This is partially because the care is led by midwives, as opposed to OB-GYNs, so it's treated less 'medically' in Denmark than in the US," she said.

Unlike in the US, Ilana was able to give birth to her son, who's now two, for free in Denmark. She recalled how she had a "wonderful team of midwives" around her before a team of doctors and nurses stepped in when complications arose.

"My son was born, and we stayed one night in the hospital before heading home. We also walked out of the hospital without having to pay a big bill," she said. According to Ilana, one of the biggest differences in raising children in Denmark is the amount of maternity leave you get.

New parents in the country are granted a whopping 52 weeks of paid leave to share between them. Ilana and her husband decided it would make sense for her to take a whole school year off so she took 50 weeks while he took two.

The entirety of this leave was paid, with Ilana getting her full salary half the time and then a government stipend called "barselsdagpenge" for the other half. She started her maternity leave in April 2021, six weeks before her due date and when the 50 weeks was over she took five weeks of paid holiday and one month of unpaid leave to reach the end of the school year.

With the summer break, this meant she only returned to teaching in August 2022, giving her a total of 16 months maternity leave, with just one month unpaid. Ilana claimed it would have been a completely different story if she was still in the US.

She said: "If I had still been working as a teacher in the US, I would have likely had to go back to work after just 12 weeks of family leave. I'm so grateful that I could spend a long time at home with my son." After children are born in Denmark, Ilana explained parents are still supported by the government.

During her maternity leave, she had a home nurse who regularly visited and assigned her to two "mødregrupper" – a group of around six new parents living in the same area who meet regularly with their babies while on parental leave.

"New motherhood can be difficult and isolating, and I was so glad to have these groups to socialise and sometimes vent with," Ilana said. As her son got older, Ilana began experiencing more of the Danish parenting perks, including the ease and affordability of getting her son into daycare.

"I've heard that American parents have to tour daycares and are put on wait lists as soon as they find out they're pregnant. I was afraid I would have to go through a similarly competitive process here. Fortunately, that wasn't the case," she said.

In Denmark parents simply have to register for the public childcare system by putting their top two daycare choices into a centralised system. If they don't get one of the daycares they wanted, they're still guaranteed one within four kilometres of their home.

While daycare isn't free, it is subsidised and Ilana revealed it costs $620 a month in Copenhagen. This drops down to $400 a month when the child turns three.

Ilana concluded: "Overall, I feel incredibly lucky that I became a mother in Denmark and that my son will grow up here. I also have so much respect for American parents who do not have the kind of support that we do here in Denmark."

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