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Modern Parenthood

Norway's stroller mafia empowered by generous parental leave

Parent power: Norway's generous parental leave creates a social space for the stroller mafia that clogs cafes and stops traffic. It's a perfect place to be as a new parent.

By Guest Blogger / December 26, 2012

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Oslo

There is a mafia in Oslo.

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Saleha Mohsin is an American journalist living in Norway with her British husband, Faisal, and their two-year-old son, Mazen. She grew up in Ohio and worked in London, where she wrote for the popular British tabloid The Daily Mirror and Businessweek. Her experiences as an expat living in Oslo are the basis of her Edge of the Arctic blog.

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Members of the clan are fearless and prefer to do their work in broad daylight. They’re easy to spot, often travel in packs and can be aggressive when on the streets, yet no one dare respond to an “inadvertent” bump with anything but an apology. These mafia operatives don’t use traditional weapons but are harshly trained through methods of sleep deprivation and are not to be crossed.

They’re called the barnevognmafia.

Translated literally: child wagon mafia. The “operatives” I’m referring to are parents, mostly mothers enjoying their nearly year-long, fully paid maternity leave. I am a proud member of this clan.

Barnevogn is Norwegian for stroller and the ones here need a big name like that because they are enormous. Hefty tires for the snow, big seats with bulky canopies to keep kids warm in sub-zero temperatures, and they morph into mini-beds for their sleeping cargo. Mothers walk with an assumed ownership of the footpaths in Oslo because it’s the only way anyone will let you through with a hulking stroller that takes up half the sidewalk.

And yes, these super-colossal kid carriers work as weapons too – one quick turn and we’ll skin your shins with the front spoke of the stroller.

Our fashion of organized crime is to clog cafes with our baby bags and “child wagons.” Our kids whimper, whine and scream while we gab on with our fellow operatives because, like Sicilian mafiosi  desensitized to violence, we can tune out our crying children. There’s always something wrong and we might as well talk a little louder and find out who is up to what.

We also part-take in another activity that makes onlookers, particularly of the male variety, uncomfortable. But hey, when a baby is hungry he’s hungry so nursing while sipping a latte at United Bakeries is part of the deal. It’s a useful method of (comical) intimidation that comes in handy if someone rolls their eyes when they see a mother stroll into a public space with a noise-polluting baby.

The barnevognmafia isn’t a real organization in Oslo but the existence of the term in the zeitgeist reflects the camaraderie that forms among parents. There is an inherent understanding of the trials of early parenthood: sleepless nights, tantrums, potty training…

The power parents have in Norway is what makes this place perfect for me at this time in my life. The amount of help the government provides young families has effectively set high social expectations for the community to do their part.

If a driver sees someone with a pram about to cross the street they come to a halting stop as if royalty is being carried through. Public transportation was built with oversized strollers in mind and locals are always on standby to help, whether it’s lifting it onto the tram or holding open a door. I’ve never been able to thank anyone because they run off before you even realize that you’ve been helped.

You can take your kids anywhere here and not only are they welcomed, but restaurants and museums have thought about how best to adapt to what kids need. I think this star treatment of young families is well deserved. Parenthood, while rewarding, is challenging and if society can do anything to help, it should.

And if you don’t agree: watch out. The barnevognmafia is everywhere and a clan member could unleash a screaming toddler during your romantic dinner just for the fun of it.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Saleha Mohsin blogs at Edge of the Arctic.

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