Readers' verdict: Switzerland is great for kids but bad for parents
That seems to be the general conclusion of our reader survey into raising kids in Switzerland. Read on to find out why.
A recent study by UNICEF suggested Switzerland is the least family-friendly country in Europe.
Assessed according to its policies on parental leave and childcare provision, among other things, Switzerland was ranked last of 31 countries, just below Greece, Cyprus and the UK.
So is it really true? We asked our readers what they thought and the results are fascinating.
Most of our readers were in agreement that there are plenty of benefits for children growing up in Switzerland.
Nature’s on the doorstep
A major plus for families in Switzerland is the abundance of outdoor activities available to everyone, in simply stunning countryside.
“We live close to the mountains, close to the lake, the city is not very far, nature is pure and the Swiss take pride in taking care of their country,” said a reader from canton Schwyz.
“Kids are so free and families have so many activities to enjoy together, especially in nature!” agreed Nadia Mills from the Zurich area.
Your kids are pretty safe
Switzerland is regularly voted one of the safest countries in the world, so what better place to bring up your children?
Kids are encouraged to “embrace freedom”, said one reader, and that’s apparent in the Swiss culture of letting kids walk to school on their own or with their friends.
“We feel safe letting our kindergarten age daughter walk on her own to school, it is important for us that our children feel independent and safe at a young age,” said Paula Jiménez from the canton of St Gallen.
“There are so many good things, but the fact that kids from the age of four plus can walk safely to and from school is probably top of my list,” enthused David Forster from Zurich.
Healthcare is top notch
It doesn’t come cheap, but the healthcare system in Switzerland is one of the best in the world. For mothers, costs related to pregnancy and birth are completed covered by insurance, with no deductible. Though children must be insured from birth, premiums are lower than for adults and there is no deductible for children up to the age of 18.
And, for your money, you get a good quality service.
“The entire pregnancy/birth support here far exceeded what I would have gotten in the US,” said reader Colleen Waiz from Basel.
Your kids grow up multilingual
Many readers were enthusiastic about the school system here, with one saying “Schools are highly organized and of great quality. The children have many opportunities to learn in and out of classroom.”
And, of course, one of the great benefits for foreign residents is that their kids will naturally pick up at least one of Switzerland’s official languages, and potentially learn a second, too.
“The exposure to a multi-lingual environment” is a major plus, said Geneva resident Matthew Snell.
Access to nature is one of the great things about raising children in Switzerland. Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss-image.ch
Kids may benefit from Swiss life, but the same can’t always be said for parents. The majority of the bad points about raising kids in Switzerland relate to how it negatively affects parents, according to readers.
Childcare is expensive
One thing most readers agreed on is that childcare is very expensive here, sometime prohibitively so. Unlike in the UK there are no free nursery hours, and a full-time nursery place can cost up to 20 percent of a family’s income, depending on where you live. What’s more, it can be hard to find a nursery place at all.
“Finding daycare close by and reasonably affordable” is very difficult, said reader Matthew from Lutry in canton Vaud, who says the childcare for his three children under five costs 4-5 times what it would have cost in his home country. “The pricing is insane! And needing to match my vacation days to the three weeks each year the daycare is closed. And being dependent on family schedules if short-term needs arise.”
Daycare is “too expensive, but for working mothers who also want their kids to be early integrated in the country it is a must,” said Liliana da Silva from Zurich.
Maternity leave is short and there’s no paternity leave
With women receiving just 16 weeks maternity leave (less than the six months generally recommended for breast-feeding) and men having no statutory paternity leave, parents in Switzerland often struggle to achieve a work-life balance.
“We have two children, my husband had in both cases one day of parental leave. We do not have any family near, my husband had to use 20 days of his vacations to be with me and our babies,” said reader Paula.
“My partner got one day of parental leave (and that was the day I gave birth), which I think is a real scandal,” said a resident of canton Schwyz. “I really could have used his presence and for him it was also a missed opportunity to live the first couple of days with our newborn. Two weeks should be a minimum.”
Careers may suffer
The result of policies like these? Many parents feel Switzerland doesn’t support modern families. The cost of childcare and the short length of maternity leave means women often feel obliged to stay at home instead of going back to work.
“It is difficult, nearly impossible, to grow financially. If both of us work then we pay for childcare, more taxes, transportation, etc. Which means that the second income will not make a difference other than giving the stay-at-home parent the feeling of individual career growth without any other benefits. We believe that it is not family-friendly because we can only have one income that does not let us save for the future or have vacation,” said reader Paula.
Another reader, Karen Herzog, spoke of the “old fashioned attitude regarding women as bad mothers for working when they have kids”, while Liliana da Silva agreed that “The system relies on woman taking care of kids. Very little support to working mothers in this country”.
“Be prepared that one of you won't be able to have a career unless you can afford huge creche bills...” said Vaud resident Rachel Bailey.
Another contributing factor is nursery holidays and school hours. Many schools send children home to eat their lunch, making it difficult in families where both parents are at work.
“School hours don't work if mothers wish to enter the workforce, these worked well in 1930 but not today anymore” said John from Schaffhausen.
File photo: Depositphotos
Swings and roundabouts?
So, despite Switzerland being recently named ‘the world’s best destination for expats’, it isn’t all rosy when it comes to family life. The answer? Well, it’s different for everyone, but the one thing all parents can try and do when they move here or decide to start a family is do their research and be prepared.
As Zurich resident David puts it: “Kids have much greater freedom here, but it is different for parents and can be more challenging. The key is to accept the challenges and work to figure out how to deal with aspects that might be frustrating (such as kids coming home for lunch). It is definitely not a country that is set up for both parents to work 100 percent.”