Mom Crush: Jacqueline Grubbs, Our Scandi Cali Dream Girl
when we asked for a bump shot circa 2018
Before decamping to Stockholm, Jacqui designed your favorite Alexander Wang bag while raising her young family in NYC. She dishes on the major differences between mom life in Scandinavia vs the US. Spoiler alert - there are big ones!
Before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us a few details about yourself.
I'm from Los Angeles and went to college in London (where I met the ambitious and inspiring mind behind AU Baby). After spending 5 years as a New Yorker, I found it wasn't conducive to the life my partner and I wanted once we became parents. Now we've been in Stockholm for 3 years. Until my current gig at HM I worked in the highly competitive luxury fashion industry where it was rare to find a healthy work/life balance. I don't think I could have found a better life situation that complements my current stage of motherhood than at HM. It is so nice to be given this opportunity to self-reflect and share my experience with the AU Baby community!
You had your first child, Mars (5) in NYC and your second, Ursula (18 months) in Stockholm. Give us the dish on the differences.
There are so many things to compare! Mainly the huge cultural differences within the pre/postnatal culture. Secondly, the difference between being a first time parent and the second time is considerable irrespective of one's environment. I was 28 when pregnant with my first, regularly working 12 hour days, deep in the NY fashion industry hustle of work martyrdom. Preoccupied with my career and social life, my pregnancy was more of a side story than my main plot line. My husband found our OBGYN through yelp. We didn't take any prenatal classes but I went to two prenatal yoga classes and slept as much as much as possible. I worked until 10.30pm the night before going into labor. Our prenatal care in Brooklyn had more visits, tests, inspections and routine ultrasounds. I found the protocol reassuring especially because it was our first baby.
In Sweden, my career and life situation were in a completely different place. The office is emptied completely by 5.30pm and deadlines are viewed with much more humanity. So, I had time to focus on being pregnant and had access to the knowledge and experience of my co-workers. My delivery experience here was more pleasant because the staff were incredibly sensitive to my needs. Unlike in Brooklyn where I had to adhere to what the staff thought best: not being allowed to eat, drink, or walk around as much as I wanted. Honestly there they made me feel like a child! They were shocked that I didn't want to have an IV. In Stockholm, my doctor and midwives checked with me before taking any actions. Ultimately, the American healthcare system prioritizes profit and avoiding legal liability. In Sweden it is the opposite. Considering I paid almost nothing, I am amazed at the level of service they are able to provide here, to everyone.
In NY I went back to work when my infant was 3 months old and pumped breast milk in a windowless bathroom 3 times a day. At the time I thought I was one of the lucky ones! Now I would advocate that this is completely unacceptable and gives children and parents a terrible start at life together. It made me feel less valued as a member of the workforce and vulnerable to a system already stacked against women. Young babies need their parents and we need to be home for our own health and recovery. In Sweden parents are designated 480 days of paid leave that is split as needed between the parents - useable until the child is 8 years old! I cannot stress enough how different it has been with my 2nd child to have both of us at home until she was 15 months, for her and us. The first year of being a parent is HARD!
Retrospectively, I realize I felt pressured to guarantee my pregnancy did not affect my job performance at great sacrifice to my personal life. While pregnant with my second child and afterward, the tension arising from accommodating my child’s needs to my work life was and continues to be nonexistent.
What is it like to be an expat working mom in Sweden?
It’s impossible not to get political when expressing the difference. Sweden has such a strong societal foundation around childcare and parental support. I found it shocking at first! Of course all structures have their drawbacks but compared to the US - I definitely support the Swedish system. The cultural understanding and acceptance around how much children and parents need is not comparable. This system is built around economic and gender equality, which is a stark contrast to what I grew up thinking was normal. I know the US can offer all these things and maybe more but always with an equivalent price tag and never for everyone. If we were in NY our children’s quality of life depended on what we could provide financially.
My workplace feels like a literal incubator because of the high amount of pregnant women and mothers. Employment is protected and ensured no matter how much time you take for parental leave. It is refreshing to work in a place where you can be proud to be a parent and everyone empathizes, even people without kids, because it is cultural. Swedes pride themselves on their work/life balance and this has been a hugely beneficial shift in my approach to life. My experience in the US proved quite the opposite. I was scared to tell anyone I was pregnant until it was obvious out of the fear that it would affect my job. I attempted to continue my outrageous work schedule after returning to work and had regular emotional breakdowns. In hindsight, maybe I was too immature to declare my needs and expect my employer to accept them. Instead I burned out and left without a job because I thought that was my only choice.
Your husband Andrej is an artist and stays at home with the kids. How has this shaped your work and home life?
In New York with our first child we decided he would stay home because he always felt confident as a dad and we wanted to be responsible for our baby’s early development. I was quite absent once I went back to work, often I would come home after our baby had gone to sleep for the night. Now I rarely work past 5pm and daycare/preschool is provided for, so we try our best to split the domestic responsibilities tailored to our personal strengths. He dedicates more of his time to the unpredictability of their daily lives because of the flexibility of his schedule. Our situation is surprisingly Swedish. All families we know seem to share domestic responsibilities equally between parents and society provides the time and space to encourage that. If we stayed in New York we would have been forced to assume the more traditionally American roles of breadwinner and homemaker. I don’t think either of us would have been able to happily sustain that lifestyle.
What has been the most inspiring part of your motherhood journey?
All of it is utterly shocking and astonishing in its ups and downs from one minute to the next. From imagining what they will be like before they are born to watching our babies grow into children that look like us, act like us but are still mostly unpredictable is mind boggling. The weight of knowing how much we are responsible for makes me want to be better at everything. It makes me want to learn, expose and explain the world as best as possible.
Honestly, my answer could change from one week to the next. Right now seeing the two of them interact with one another and the affection they share reinforces our affection for them and it is satisfying to see them express this independently.
What has been the most unexpected or difficult?
I think how much you have to change and question was unexpected and difficult. We changed our habits, expectations, routines, relationship and friendships. We sacrifice most of our time and energy to enrich their lives.
The constant sleep deprivation was difficult for the first few years, now we are used to it. Before we had kids I don't think we could imagine the friends we would make just because our children like each other. We spend so much time in playgrounds or wandering around outside, it is weird feeling tired from doing nothing.
The daily struggle to find patience is real as well as the constant search for a balance of how we were each individually raised. I find myself questioning if I am best handling a situation while either trying to listen to or to suppress my instinct. I think becoming parents made us understand how important our parents are and the support that a village provides. We have been relatively isolated from family except for the occasional visit. We video call one set of grandparents daily, which is something I did far less frequently before becoming a parent.
How has motherhood changed your day to day approach to your work?
Planning everything, I reserve spontaneity for specific things! Having kids taught me I need to reduce the amount of unpredictability in my daily life because there are always so many surprises, good and bad. I didn't previously consider myself an organized person but I have been forced to be and it has become a valuable life skill.
Recently I realized that as I become a better manager, I become a better mother. I found that managing, like parenting, share the same principles. Encouragement, clarity, setting clear goals, and delegating responsibilities are integral to cultivating personal growth and development. I could see my assistants sometimes didn’t realize their potential because I was lazy or vague in communication or didn’t feed their independence. Before this I would not have imagined there could be a correlation.
Most grounding daily rituals?
Before children I was someone who thrived with regular human contact and was consistently socially active. Now, everything I do when my children are sleeping becomes meditative. I have to consciously remind myself to make the most of every moment, everyday - when I'm with the kids or when I’m not. It is important for me to be present and have found it important to leave one day of the weekend without any plans.
New normal (COVID) routine?
With the amount of change it brought to so many lives, ours have been minimally affected in comparison. Swedes have controversially handled the virus by not enforcing a strict lockdown and an even more lax attitude is prevalent among people. There has been little domestic criticism and seemingly near universal blind trust in their leadership, which has been confusing for us as expats. The virus continues to spread but the need for intensive care and daily death rate has steadily declined since April 15th , which is slightly reassuring but it still feels far from controlled or safe. Most things remain open including our children’s daycare. When we imagine what life must be like in our former cities, despite some skepticism we are nevertheless full of gratitude for our current situation.
We practice social distancing - we isolate ourselves as much as possible, we stay in our neighborhood, only socialize with a couple of other families and I only go into the office one day per week. Our eldest was anxious at first but our new habits have become normalized.
What advice would you share with new moms?
Breastfeeding was really hard for me and for most women I know. If it is something that is important to you make sure you get help and don't give up. I think accepting that it is not easy is part of mastering it.
Preferably you should work on this before you have children, but make sure you and your partner know how to communicate and resolve conflicts before they grow out of reach. If you don't have a strong relationship, having kids will break it. You are tested in all ways and you need to be good at talking about your problems and helping each other focus on solutions. I still have trouble with this but see it as integral to a healthy family dynamic that's beneficial for our children to witness.
We sleep trained both of our kids. It was heartbreaking and difficult for me on a primal level but it was essential. We sleep better giving us more energy and patience and our kids are better at comforting themselves and are tangibly more confident. I wouldn’t recommend this if it conflicts deeply with your instinct. I think it’s important to savor their infancy and whether they sleep with you or on their own ultimately won’t make a huge difference in a few years.
Our American approach and expectations to pre/postnatal care and childcare is sexist, economically discriminating and short-sighted. Without living and experiencing what parenthood is like in Sweden, I couldn’t say with more confidence, that we need to do better.