Daddyland does not fade in February when Sweden gets sick

I finished my ”real” parental leave about 17 months ago now, which makes me melancholy to even express out loud. I still work part-time, and I take lots of parental leave days – all those long winter and summer breaks, all those long spring weekends up in the country – but I am far into the typical Swedish working parent path.

Note: this is the library, not our house

But it still pays off, those 18 months home with the kids.  They still echo through our daily life, and I hope they always will, even when the whole family gets sick for a week with a high fever then interminable ache and illness, like happened two weeks ago.  No, especially when the whole family gets sick for a week (or when your never-sick daughter gets four separate illnesses in a month – February is rough in Sweden).

It is wonderful as a dad to be able to stay home and care for two sick kids and a sick wife and still get my work done (I could get paid to stay home with the kids but I find the process so bureaucratic that I would rather work – plus I kept thinking that they would get better the next day … they didn’t.) It is wonderful that after the apartment descended into chaos for three days, that it actually got cleaner the last three days, as I turned back into the midday tidying machine. It is wonderful that my wife and I can share household burdens, that we can switch kids and switch doctor trips and switch swim class pickup.

In very basic ways, I still feel like I am on parental leave. My priorities are unaltered, and I spend as much time with my children each day as I do at work. Like always, I know this is the reality of American moms, and I know more and more American dads are staying at home.  But I am a working dad.  And I still feel like this.  And this still seems like the way forward into the digital age – with everyone home at least sometime instead of no one home anytime.

“You’ll have to explain why you don’t spend time with your child.”

A very cool Radio Sweden story on changing notions of masculinity and a rise in paternity leave.  It is made all the cooler because I met the reporter, Gabe Stein, a former dad blogger, on paternity leave and we have playdates with our kids.

I can’t get the sound file to embed properly in the post, so here is the link to the story.

And here is the blurb:

Swedish men are taking out more paternity leave days than ever before. Experts say the development is having a major impact on the nature of the Swedish family.
“To be a father is now part of the masculinity in Sweden,” says Ann-Zofie Duvander, associate professor of Sociology at the University of Stockholm. “If you’re a man and you have a child, you’ll have to explain why you don’t spend time with your child.”

Paternity days now account for more than a quarter of the parental leave days taken out, according to the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. The agency predicts that if the pace continues, men and women will share parental leave equally by 2035.

It’s nice when the world catches up with you. I wasn’t hearing this stuff even here in Sweden when I started this blog.  And I noticed last week how many dads were home with sick kids.

It’s all good.

the welfare state giveth, the welfare state taketh away

My son was sick yesterday, so the Swedish state paid me to stay home with him, a one day trip back to Daddyland.

It was one of those good sick days.  He was much too sick for daycare but healthy enough to run and play and laugh.  He is the same age now as his big sister was when I was home on paternity leave with her.  And our children do hit some sweet spot about 21 months, both standing up in their chairs at the table and shouting, “HAPPY!”  And then kissing me over and over.

It was such a relaxing day of puzzles and rolling around on the bed, that it made me realize how slightly chaotic and slightly stressful my last paternity leave actually was.   My first leave with NK was slower paced, with a sunny spring and a friend to hang out with, and, to be honest, with no blog and no writing assignments.  I just read mythology books and napped.

This last leave was about getting up at 4am with Baby B, who was a more frustrated and shy child.  It was about two kids, about daycare dropoffs and pickups, about a very long morning nap that kept us from big outings.  It was about my own writing and my own exploration of Daddyland.  It was perfect in its way, but yesterday was perfect in the old way, and I’m happy I get days like this with my son here and there.

It was actually too good.  Because I hated work today.   I’ve been broken out of a work rhythm in which I looked forward to the office a bit, got my fill of my kids and thought I had a balance.  But now I just want back.  I wrote a few days back about the hard edge of the Swedish system, where the kids all go to daycare at the same time, no breaking out of the box.

And I hate that his daycare teachers -who are wonderful – get to be with my son during this beautiful stage.  I see it in their eyes when I pick them up and ask how his day was.  They just beam.  I want to beam.

But Sweden giveth, Sweden taketh away, Sweden giveth again.  We’ve got more than four weeks off around Christmas.

Makes me want to stand on the table and shout, “HAPPY!”

Canadians are nicer about paternity leave in Sweden

And yet another take on Swedish parental leave, with a focus on Dads on paternity leave.  This one comes from the Globe and Mail in Toronto, Canada:

Leave time can be diced in just about any permutation imaginable – as days, half-days and even quarter-days. What can’t be finessed is the gender dictum: Fathers must use the two months or they’re lost.

As a result, “the working culture is changing,” says Fredrik Rydahl, an engineer at truck manufacturer Scania who took more than six months off with both of his daughters, now 4 and 7. “When we hire a young guy, we count it as a given that this guy is going to be home with small children at some point.”

According to his wife Maria, also an engineer, “You change so much when you’re home and you’re a parent. If only one of you does this journey, you risk going in different directions.”

It is a fine story that hits the right marks.  I was particularly taken by this figure:  only 18 percent of Swedes feel they have trouble balancing work and family.

That is a sign of a system that works on some level.

However, what most caught my attention was the contrast of Canada and the US.  Here you have a straight down the middle story that could be in any American paper.  And there are 368 comments and … most of them are nice.

Yep, most of them laud the Swedes.  Very little bashing of socialism, of high taxes.  Of course, Canada has a healthy safety net.  It has parental leave, if not as generous as Sweden’s.  And maybe the stereotype is true – Canadians are just nicer.

I was also struck by the story’s placement.  It came as part 5 in a six-part series on the work/life balance.  This is one of Canada’s premier papers.  This kind of focus means something.  I can’t remember any type of commitment on this from any big American outlet in recent memory, even with work/life balance the major focus of Michelle Obama in the White House.

Just imagine that, a debate about the place of work in American society.  Oh, wait, work is American society.  Sorry, I forgot.

Radio Sweden takes an english-language look at Daddyland

There is one question about Daddyland that I never really have the guts to ask.

Is it enough? Are 480 days enough parental leave? Should we get more? How unfair is it that all parents and all children have to fit in the welfare state’s very generous but fairly rigid little box?

I mean, I come from America, which essentially has no system. Sweden gave me the gift of 18 months of time with my kids.

Yet still, the question does linger …

Well, a former colleague of mine, Christine Demsteader didn’t shy away from the issue in a story for Radio Sweden. Pregnant herself, Christine gives us a great audio tour of the parental leave system. And I do not say that only because she interview some American Dad who just happens to write this blog.

Her story begins at 14:40 below. You can just pull the arrow over the bar to move to the right time. And my moment of Swedish radio glory starts about 22:00.

You can also download the program as an mp3 file here.  It is the November 8 show.

Continue reading

masculinity, feminism and the new york times magazine in daddyland

I know that I am biased and on the lookout for this – hoping for this – but I sense a momentum to this whole Daddyland thing, specifically the need for both men and women to redefine masculinity to, at the very least, include child raising as a core value.

Now, I know the topic is not new.  It goes back to the roots of feminism for sure, at least in academia.  And there have been a bunch of books and documentaries and daddy blogs devoted to the changing father.   But I’m talking about a certain mass media uptake, a certain capturing of the American zeitgeist.

The New York Times story in June.  The Newsweek cover.  The acceptance of my Slate essay.  A Chicago Tribune column (more on that another day).  Now the New York Times Magazine.

Lisa Belkin writes the Motherlode parenting blog at the Times and certainly has focused her fair share on dads.  But here is she in a more concentrated magazine essay – one that includes a book from 2008 that I will have to check out:

In her new book, “Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter,” Joan C. Williams describes how men find themselves caught between meeting cultural expectations and a growing dissatisfaction with the constricted roles shaped by those expectations. “You have to ask why, if women are asking men to change, and if men say they want change, it hasn’t happened,” she says. “Either they are all lazy, or they are under tremendous gender pressures of their own.”

The life-work dilemma for women has long been that “the workplace has changed in their favor, but home hasn’t,” she says. Men, however, “have the opposite problem. More is expected of them at home, but expectations have not shifted at work.” Which explains why the percentage of fathers in dual-income households who say they suffer work-family conflict has risen to 59 percent from 35 percent since 1977.

Younger couples say they want and expect parity in their relationships. But many women still carry a chip on their shoulders, chiseled in part by years of keeping all those to-do lists in their heads. And if men can find no relief from the pressures of work, they are not going to be able to fit into the revamped economy of home.

There is a lot in there that I’ve tried to articulate in this blog – that men are not lazy, that men need to fight for change, and that women need to let them in.

And because Sweden and Daddyland are so forward on this, here is Belkin’s almost obligatory Sweden paragraph:

By steering men toward a particular path, Sweden redefined the nature of choice. Parental leave was transformed from a way to escape the world of work into a way to maximize the benefits available to families; from an emotional decision to a financial one; from something mothers do to something every parent does. Would that same kind of redefinition — of the relationship between work and home, of the roles of men and women — work on this side of the Atlantic?

the united states could pay for daddyland, no problem

I always assumed that the cost of parental leave in the US would be too high, that it would take some massive overhaul of our entire system to make Swedish-style parental leave a reality.  So I always talk about how we have to find an American way, a way that I can’t come up with myself, but there has to be some way – American ingenuity and all that.

Then in the recent Newsweek cover story on masculinity, a Columbia professor – Jane Waldfogel – is quoted saying that giving every working parent a full year of paid parental leave would cost about 25 billion dollars a year.

Oooh, that sounds like a lot, right?

It’s nothing.  If true, people should be knocking down their politicians’ doors to get this done.

Here are some numbers.  In nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has spent 1.1 trillion dollars.

That equals about 44 years of paid parental leave.

Citizens Against Government Waste says that congress earmarked 16.9 billion dollars worth of projects in 2010.  That takes care of a lot of the parental leave.  I know that pork projects serve as a kind of local stimulus, but, believe me, paying parents is a better way.

The conservative Hogue News listed a whole lot of wasteful federal projects, including references:

  1. The federal government made at least $72 billion in improper payments in 2008.
  2. Washington spends $92 billion on corporate welfare (excluding TARP) versus $71 billion on homeland security.
  3. Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
  4. Government auditors spent the past five years examining all federal programs and found that 22 percent of them–costing taxpayers a total of $123 billion annually–fail to show any positive impact on the populations they serve.
  5. The Congressional Budget Office published a “Budget Options” series identifying more than $100 billion in potential spending cuts.

I’m sure the Hogue people wouldn’t the savings to go the safety net, but tough luck.  I’m seeing the future of an American Daddyland in that list.

We wouldn’t even notice 25 billion a year, a drop in the bucket.  Start taxing corporations right and we can even let the hypocritical Tea Party folks have a tax cut or two …