I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I had such a lovely childhood in Sweden and couldn't wait to be able to relive it with my own children. Turns out this was easier said than done.
The first time I fell pregnant, I already lived in the UK, but I travelled to Sweden immediately to break the news to my parents and grand parents on a walk on the beach, one of my favourite places in the world.
When choosing the name we considered some Swedish names but in the end settled for giving our first born son my Swedish family name Carl as a middle name.
I was determined to talk only Swedish to him, I really was. But it was much harder than I anticipated.
It was wonderful when it was just us two, I called him 'LILLA GUBBEN' (a nick name meaning little old man). I sang him to sleep with my favourite Swedish lullabies and did Swedish Nursery rhymes with him. My grandparents sent me Swedish baby books and when he was old enough I played Swedish children's programs on dvd.
But of course everyone else, including my own family, was speaking English to him, so this was the language he responded to most. Even I myself obviously spoke English in front of my child with my husband and friends and their children.
Apart from when we were alone together it actually felt wrong to speak Swedish, as if I was showing off and I'd worry that I might alienate others by excluding everyone else from what I was saying to my son. It might seem ridiculous but I felt uncomfortable standing out or even appearing as a foreigner.
If I felt, that I was up against it, my child was really up against it. Learning to talk and finding that not only did he have to learn one word for everything but two!
It soon became clear to me that I had underestimated how difficult it would be to share my treasured Swedish language with my own child. It was becoming a struggle where it should have been fun and being an emotional new mother with sleepless nights and a lot to figure out, it was just making things more complicated. When I spoke English to my boy I felt guilty and upset but it often felt like it was the only way I could be sure he really understood. Communication really is key with a toddler, especially when dealing with behaviour.
Instead of feeling a closer connection with my boy by speaking Swedish together I felt like I was speaking at him and missing out on talking to him in the one language he understood and could comfortably respond in.
Eventually, with a heavy heart I stopped speaking Swedish to my first born. I kept the songs and the books but made things easier, by giving up on the dream of speaking Swedish to my child.
I never even tried with my second son, he never got a Swedish name either. The two boys were less than two years apart and having these two very young children I had my hands full. Having now established everything in English with my first born I saw no way of going back to reintroducing Swedish. I did still sing him to sleep in Swedish like his brother because frankly Swedish lullabies were the only once I really knew and loved.
During my third pregnancy however the family spent the Summer in Sweden. It sounds wonderful but in the end it just meant that I couldn't enjoy all my favourite Swedish treats and food due to morning sickness and I was by far too tired to really enjoy the holiday fully. Despite this, it did rewake the urge to share my 'Swedish heritage' with my next child. I was once more determined. This would be my Swedish baby!
My 'Swedish baby' didn't end up with a Swedish first name but a Swedish second name after my father since it was, yes you guessed it, another son, boy number three.
This time I did not waver, I spoke only Swedish to him being super strict with myself and did not allow myself to slip into English. It was hard! Additionally I went through a spell of proper baby blues, then we almost lost our baby due to a congenital heart decease (fully healthy and recovered now) and I suspect after that I dealt with some PND for quite a while.
But - I persisted. For almost three years I spoke only Swedish to my third son.
In this time we even managed to take the three boys back to Sweden one Summer to experience it all: The Ferry crossing, the beach, Swedish culture and last but not least... Swedish ice cream!
My Swedish baby, although a fierce Heart warrior, was not very quick to develop his speech. I assumed it was quite normal for dual language children to be slightly delayed in this area. When at two years old, he barely spoke 40 words and didn't understand simple instructions in English, our health visitor got concerned. She referred us to the speech therapist, who was much less worried and confirmed it was not too alarming which was a bit reassuring but now my confidence in my choice to speak only Swedish to him, was knocked.
Was I doing the right thing by my boy? Was I doing it for the right reasons? Was I being selfish by clinging onto the Swedish language.
My third son clearly found it hard to learn to speak and wether it was because of the two languages or not, it surely didn't help... when he started preschool, they needed to put coping strategies into place like using very simple sentences and picture cards to help him out. His behaviour was also very difficult, likely connected to his lacking communication skills. So I panicked. At this rate, I worried, that his entry to school might be delayed. My wish to teach him Swedish was not worth risking it, so I capitulated once more and switched to English in order to support him better. It was a huge disappointment for me but thankfully it seemed to have helped him and he went on to start school.
By that time, I had another baby, a girl, who I also spoke Swedish to, at least for a while. We had a Swedish Aupair living with us for a while, who helped. But I knew where this was heading.. as soon as I gave up Swedish for my son I gave up Swedish altogether.
I was just tired of trying against the odds and as much as I love Swedish I didn't know how much benefit the children would derive from all the awkwardness and extra hard work. It's not like we get to travel to Sweden a lot and if we did surely they would learn it much easier that way anyway.
Whilst I was not very successful with passing on the Swedish language, with other things I did better. I managed to keep up some of my beloved Swedish traditions, especially celebrations. Staying up late watching Eurovison is to this day a must in our house, for example.
I would always go out of my way to source Swedish things, for example at Christmas: JULMUST (a Christmas drink) and JULSKUM (Christmas marshmallow type sweets). IKEA was like a home away from home for me and when I once in a blue moon I found a Swedish shop I would be so excited to find my favourite sweets (like salted liquorice) and crisps.
Often I put a lot of effort and time into doing Swedish baking: Cinnamon buns, saffron buns and chocolate balls. My children also regularly got Swedish dishes like ÄRTSOPPA (pea soup), PYTT I PANNAN (fried potatoes and leftover meat) and of course a big favourite - KÖTTBULLAR (meatballs) and grew to love them as much as I do.
Now, with the Swedish Den I have kind of created my own Sweden away from Sweden for both my family, the people of Salisbury and of course myself. I am feeling very lucky to be able to meet other Swedes every day at work and all the food and products I so have been missing in my life, I can now have whenever I want them. Whilst it doesn't quite cure all the homesickness it definitely helps me passing on 'my heritage' to my children.
It makes me happy to know that my children are exposed and involved in the Swedish Den and get to experience so much from my home country.
To hear from other Swedes and Scandinavians who love what we have achieved with the Swedish Den has been fantastic and this has spurred us on to try and build up a bit of a Swedish/Scandi community. We are currently holding our first Scandi Meet-up in the Swedish Den, on Sunday 15th March, so in case you are Swedish/Scandi or a Sweden/Scandi enthusiast feel free to come along. I am very excited about this, it will be amazing to meet like minded people and share our stories and memories about what we love so much about Sweden and Scandinavia.