Hey there. Let’s take a trip to Sweden! If you go I can promise you a blond minimalist coffee table and a bag of frozen Ikea meatballs. You in?
Awesome. Let’s go.
The first thing you’ll notice in Sweden is the large number of dads pushing sleek Eurostrollers or wearing flaxen-haired Hanna-clad infants whose legs resemble gaily-colored dangling Swedish fish strapped to their father’s’ chests in Baby Bjorns. (I live in the Pacific Northwest and daddies pushing strollers are an oddly common sight here, but they’re usually wearing plaid, have a five-day beard growth and look unemployed.) It’s a growing number. Why? Because Swedish daddies stay home.
They have to.
In 1995, the Swedish government made two months of paid parental leave nearly mandatory for fathers when it insisted that fathers use it or lose it. That leaves nearly 11 months for mothers (the entire 390 days can be divided between parents), but it has also changed the social landscape. Old gender traditions have changed. Fathers are engaged with their families. Mothers are paid more in the workplace. Nobody marginalizes the work done by stay-at-home parents. (I know that Swedes also pay hefty taxes to fund their social perks, but there is also evidence that on the whole there’s a greater degree of work-life balance and a greater degree of happiness as a result … I can’t argue with that.)
I can’t help but wonder what my own life — and the lives of my children — would be like with similar encouragement closer to home for fathers to engage with their children. Like the plaid-wearing beard-growing latte-sipping daddies I see in my part of the world, I think that my experience (barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, ahem) is moving out of the norm. Slowly. Like a social revolution snail. Changing the world, one diaper at a time. But is it enough?
I think Sweden’s on to something, and it’s not just furniture packed in flat boxes. This whole working-mother dialog would be different if mothers and fathers were on the same team.
Would you support daddy leave? Do you think it would create social change?