American mothers have long had Sweden to remind us of everything we don’t have: paid maternity leave, high breast-feeding rates, excellent medical care for all, highly subsidized childcare and preschool, and paid maternity leave. Also, did I mention paid maternity leave?
Today, the New York Times is rubbing American fathers’ noses in the glory that is Swedish parenthood in an article headlined, “In Sweden, Men Can Have it All.”
Some 85 percent of all Swedish father’s take their government-given right to parental leave. Those who don’t get tsk-tsked and grilled by parents, friends and (non-bitter?) co-workers. What’s even better is that the governments attention over the past few decades has begun to change the way they automatically look at gender roles — and not just in terms of parenting. The country, which still has manly men hunters (who, PS, take paternity leave … paid paternity leave!), is positioning itself as feminist and equal.
In this land of Viking lore, men are at the heart of the gender-equality debate. The ponytailed center-right finance minister calls himself a feminist, ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers, and preschools vet books for gender stereotypes in animal characters. For nearly four decades, governments of all political hues have legislated to give women equal rights at work — and men equal rights at home.
By law, two months of the 390-day (paid!) leave for mother or father (or both) is there just for the father. Lawmakers are considering doubling it to four months, incidentally. The leave set aside for fathers is use-it-or-lose it. If they don’t take the time off, it can’t be transferred to the mother. Also, men aren’t penalized when it comes to promotions, etc.
Everybody’s’ winning, the piece reports. Divorce rates are down, women’s paychecks are up, joint custody is more common, and, as a society, men are identifying more with their parental status than singularly focusing their identity on their jobs. Plus? They’re scoring — like, yeah, I mean getting some for all their daddying.
Sofia Karlsson, a police officer and the wife of Mikael Karlsson, said she found her husband most attractive “when he is in the forest with his rifle over his shoulder and the baby on his back.”
It hasn’t been easy, the fascinating article explains. And it has taken decades to even get where they are. It wasn’t until they introduced “daddy leave” that maternity leave (even paid) stopped penalizing women. Sweden seems to have figured out what many other countries are just now cluing into — issues of maternity are actually family issues and bringing men into the picture will benefit everyone — mother, father and child. To get equity in society, as one former lawmaker tells the Times, there has to be equity in the home.
I know, I know … taxes! But let’s skip that discussion for now and just admit: this setup in Sweden sounds incredibly fabulous, doesn’t it?
[Also, here's an interesting read about War on Moms]
Photo: Casper Hedberg for the International Herald Tribune [view more Swedish dads here]