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Sweden baby daddies changing the world

Categories: Wanna Fight About It?


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?

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7 comments so far...

  • It would be interesting to see an unbiased study (if such a thing exists) showing what the positives and negatives of this are.

    I know it sounds like there could be no negatives, but one thing that nags at me is that when you jump into motherhood, you need to learn a whole new way of life. The adjustments are huge. The usual pattern in 2-parent families in the industrialized world is that mom ends up doing most of the parenting (and I don’t mean that negatively, just an observation). So, given that, is it better for the new mom’s adjustment to be based on the reality that will be her life in the coming years? And how about the dad’s career - what are the implications of the forced disruptions? Is putting dads into mom roles setting the family up for a second difficult adjustment later? What are the implications on each individual affected, including the baby? Can we look at this in an objective way and not assume that anything that puts dad to work is necessarily best?

    I understand that most Swedish moms have paying jobs, and daycare starts early as a rule. And as a working single mom myself, I am certainly not advocating the “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” model. I’m just saying, more isn’t always better, whether it’s paternity leave or something else.

    SKL  |  June 16th, 2010 at 8:36 am

  • The preliminary studies are showing that businesses are adjusting to this new fact of life. Generall executives aren’t taking the time but mid-level managers on down are.
    Indications are that husbands are starting to “get it,” that caring for an infant is not as easy as they dreamed it was that it is hard work.
    Obviously there will be several more years before they really know the posities/negatives, to see if the effects are temporary or lasting, but it is an encouraging start.

    Mich  |  June 16th, 2010 at 11:29 am

  • You know our story by now. Of course I would support this.

    My mom texted me the other day to tell me that some latest research she saw stated that 25% of fathers now are stay-at-home. I don’t know where she got that from, but if it’s true, I’d hardly call it a snail’s pace of social change.

    But yes…Daddy Leave would have helped us immensely before I returned to work - and it would have supported us a little better too. The notion that fathers don’t need to spend time with their families and new babies is absurd.

    Phe  |  June 18th, 2010 at 10:21 am

  • Since we don’t even require employers to offer maternity leave, we’re a long, long way from having paternity leave as a matter of course. I’m hugely in support of a system like Sweden’s because it reduces the stigma and long term financial impact that childbearing has on women and their careers. It appears to have an equalizing affect on all facets of life, which I think is a good thing.

    SKL, when men “jump into” fatherhood they need to learn a whole new way of life too. Trust me, it helps a lot to have a partner who is equally invested in the process, and it’s even more helpful when society is structured in such a way that a man is not diminished by helping with childrearing. Just because the pattern of mom doing most of the parenting persists in the US does NOT make it a healthy pattern for all, or even most, families. What exactly do you think the implications of the forced interruptions of careers due to childbirth are for women? Or do these effects not count if we have partners? The Swedish model of parental leave spreads the effects of the disruption more equally across both genders.

    LMJN  |  June 18th, 2010 at 11:13 am

  • I live in Germany and in 2007 government started to encourage fathers to stay at home for at least two months offering additional two months of child benefit. However I don’t think that many fathers are making use of this since employers are not very supportive.

    I hope that this will change in the next years because I am sure that the positive affects are prevailing.

    Emma  |  June 21st, 2010 at 5:28 am

  • See, Ikea is smart, and this is just smarter.

    Hooray for acknowledging the importance of Daddy’s role in baby’s life, even at 1 and 2 months old! The concept of allowing Dad his due time with Junior is lovely, but what I find more noteworthy is this nod to the research that says that DADDY IS IMPORTANT TOO. Beyond the whole “provider” thing. Dad may actually have something to offer a newborn, we better let him stay home and do it.

    Not to mention the relief to those of us (crazy) mommies who stayed up every week night with baby so that our hubbies could get the majority of the sleep - after all, they had to work in the morning! (See how stupid I was?)

    Love it, thanks for sharing.

    Meg  |  June 21st, 2010 at 10:23 am

  • My fiance stays home and I work. I stayed home with the kids for about two years then was forced into the work place. I really liked it so when we ended up pregnant, he opted to be the stay at home parent. Not everyone accepts it or understands, but we don’t really care too much. It works best for us and that is what matters.

    Jessica  |  June 23rd, 2010 at 5:59 am