Helen Russell wrote The Year of Living Danishly after leaving London and moving to Denmark for her husband's job at Lego. Her life transformed in more than a few ways (she's now a mother) and her new book, Leap Year, is out on 15th December. She tells us how we can all learn a little from the Scandinavian attitude...
Tell us about your family
I’m married to Lego Man, my other half, and we have one son, Little Red, aged 2, as well a very scruffy dog.
When and why did you decide to write 'The Year of Living Danishly'?
I was commissioned to write The Year of Living Danishly when I was seven months pregnant off the back of my columns on living Danishly for the Telegraph.
How has motherhood affected your career?
It’s made me more efficient – I have limited time to work so there’s less mucking about. I’m also more confident. I know what I’m good - and compared to growing then pushing out an actual human being, work’s a breeze. I also enjoy it more. Of course, there are still sacrifices - I can’t work on into the evening if I’m feeling inspired because I have to stop at 4pm, latest, to do the daycare run. But it’s all worth it.
What's your top tip for mums on maternity leave in London? Is there anything we can learn from the European way of doing things?
There’s less pressure to snap back into shape in Denmark and parents get 52 weeks leave to split between them so the business of childrearing is shared more equally. For me that was really important – for Lego Man to know how to do all the hands on stuff as soon as possible so I didn’t feel so isolated and as though parenting was all on me. In Denmark, caregiving is considered just as important as breadwinning and both sexes do a bit of both.
Are there any other writers out there you absolutely love?
I’ve just read Shappi Khorsandi’s fabulous first novel and love Chris Cleave, Bill Bryson, Rose Tremain, Nick Hornby
Make us feel better about ourselves. What's your biggest mum fail?
It took me a long time to recover after the birth of my son – I was in hospital for a week and then my stitches didn’t heal for three months. With a new baby and a dog in tow, life was (‘is’) often chaotic. We watched a lot of Mr Selfridge and had communal howling sessions while one of us mainlined Cadbury’s Fingers.
Wine o’clock also moved to an earlier slot, where it has – happily – remained.
I’ve also been responsible for some pretty experimental weaning combinations – like the day I couldn’t be bothered to cook so pureed pancakes, tuna and carrots to feed my son (all major food groups = covered).
Are there any other mums who help to inspire you?
I have a great network of mums in Denmark as well as a dedicated WhatsApp group of friends from school and University in the UK who are on hand day and night for everything from poo dilemmas to those ‘oh god, I’m drowning!’ moments
Where do you hang out with the family?
We see friends, walk on the beach, picnic in the forests, or go island hopping of a weekend – and then of course there’s always Legoland…!
What's next for you?
My new book, Leap Year, is out on 15th December and I’m busy writing features on change and working on a couple of exciting new projects. Watch this space.
Helen Russell is the author of The Year of Living Danishly – Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (Icon, £8.99) [http://www.iconbooks.com/blog/title/the-year-of-living-danishly-2/]. Her new book, Leap Year - How to make big decisions, be more resilient and change your life for good, is out 15th December (Two Roads, £16.99) [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Leap-Year-decisions-resilient-change/dp/1473634970]. She tweets @MsHelenRussell