Talking about the medium chill and leaving work early … but still paying the bills

I am always tempted to complain, because it is hard to admit that you have it almost perfect, but my work/life balance is almost perfect.  I work short days, with fairly interesting projects at my day job, and hours with my wife and kids and time to write at night.  Oh, and I get paid enough not to worry about repo men and foreclosure.

Thank you Sweden.  Now if only you would learn how to smile …

The medium chill: This is a story from Grist last year, and I love it.  It goes into all the difficulties humans have with stepping off the fast track, eliminating possibilities and walking away from prestige and money.  And it praises relationships and time with family, while being realistic about the annoyances of being a little short of cash.  Even here in Sweden, E and I reach for the medium chill – small apartment, summer cottage with no water, no car, old stroller, not working 100 percent.  And we gain so much.  A quote:

That’s what consumer culture forever tells us: more money/stuff/status means fewer constraints, more freedom, more choices, thus more happiness. The entire economy runs on spending and debt, and for that to work everyone needs to think they’re not happy but could be happy if they just had more sh*t or a better job or a better house. Every “consumer” needs to be running on the treadmill, working toward the next thing.

But social psychologists tell a different story. They point out that there’s very little evidence that, once a certain base level of material security is achieved, more money and stuff make us happier. Gilbert offers one explanation: having fewer choices is often more conducive to synthetic happiness.

Her Key to Efficiency, Arrive Late, Leave Early:  This story tells an expat tale from Paris of a woman who discovered that she was more efficient with shorter work days.  Yes!  Having only six hours to get my job done means I leave very little time for screwing around.  Of course, it puts the pressure on too, but I’ll take that if I can unwind in the sun with my kids every afternoon.  Plus, there was this interesting tidbit about Dads. Once again, I find I am not unique:

More interestingly, she found a third category of men, who were successful in terms of performance evaluations and compensation, but who actually worked fewer hours and were unavailable for the office on evenings, weekends and vacations. These men subtly and skillfully chose the projects and clients that would allow more flexibility – and surrounded themselves with kindred spirits who would cover for one another. But they had also learned that it was better for their careers to remain discreet about their strategy, and so they weren’t role models for the rest.

Bring Back the 40-Hour Workweek:  From Alternet, via Salon, this is a look at why we had the 40-hour workweek to begin with.  And guess what? It was not just labor being lazy.  It was business figuring out that workers work best when they have shorter days.  In the short run, we only get a little more done in hours 40-60, and over the long run, it’s a disaster. :

American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

Money Is the Root of All Parenting:  But don’t get poor!  Which seems obvious, but is perhaps a good message in the face of all these earthy work less links.  Lisa Belkin at the Huffington Post talks about reports that show that parents lose it more when they are stressed and angry (of course).  And how to avoid that?  Don’t lose sleep about the car repair bill.  Don’t get frantic about bank overdraft fees.

Hard to pull that off if you are poor.  So how to help the poor, or more specifically, their children?

What, then, is the alternative? They start with a few suggestions: “stabilize incomes, provide low-income credit alternatives to deal with the ups and downs of life, or ensure stable housing. These may not be “parenting” programs in the conventional sense of the term. But by freeing up psychic resources they allow people to be the parents they want to be, they allow more traditional parental skills programs to be more successful.”

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In praise of the dude teaching at my son’s preschool

I turned to close the preschool gate the other day and looked back to see what my three-year-old son was up to.

And this is what I saw: his teacher in a laughing jog, leading a pack of toddlers in a full sprint. A few weeks ago I saw this teacher sliding on the ice (safely) with the kids. And somewhere in there, I came to pick up my son to find the same teacher lost in a mountain of pillows, laughing kids all around piling on.

Good teacher, huh? Oh, yeah, one other thing. The teacher’s name is Sven (not really, but he is a guy).

There have been three male teachers at the preschool in the past 18 months, and all three were great, even if not so energetic as Sven.

The last thing I want to do is say that my son needs Sven because he is a man, because only men would skate on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. That’s ridiculous. It’s probably a function of youth as much as anything else.

However, most of the other teachers – even the young ones – do not slide on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. Sven does.

We live in Sweden, and before you think this is some paean to socialism and progressive Scandinavian values, it’s not. Sweden is pretty bad at recruiting male preschool teachers, at least compared to neighbors Norway and Denmark.

And this isn’t about male role models either. Well, it is, though not so much. See, I was home with my son paternity leave for more than half of his life before he started preschool. He knows lots of dads. His grandpa baby sits him when we are home in California. He doesn’t need guys.

But it’s nice.

And it’s good for society. I push paternity leave pretty hard because I think it’s important for mom, dad and baby. But challenging gender roles should not stop at the preschool door, and it should not just be about getting my daughter to see princesses in a different way or letting my son wear pink mittens.

This is from a Gloria Steinham interview in 1995:

 The way we get divided into our false notions of masculine and feminine is what we see as children. And, if, as children, whether we’re boys or girls, we’re raised mainly by women, then we deeply believe that only women can be loving, nurturing, flexible, patient, compassionate, all those things one needs to be to raise little children, and that men cannot do that, which is a libel on men. Of course men can do that. On the other end of it, they mainly see men in the world outside the home, or being assertive, aggressive, so they come to believe that women can’t be assertive, achieving, aggressive, intellectual. And that’s how we get our humanity? We’re deprived of our full humanity

This won’t change easily, I know, but it should change (and here is an excellent report for deep reading on how to make it change.  The report includes the best ever description I’ve read of why boys and girls and not driven by their sex, but by their gender roles:

Gender and sex are closely linked, in so far as one’s biological sex will determine which gender role (male or female) society will expect one to play (Dejonckheere, 2001).

Oh, and about the whole sexual predator thing, that overarching fear seems to be missing here in Sweden when it comes to guy teachers. I couldn’t tell you if the crime rates are lower here, or whether Swedes have more or less missed the crazy, anxious panic that American parents have been whipped into the past couple decades.

Nope, here men don’t become preschool teachers just because men don’t become preschool teachers.  But I’m sure glad the dude running my son’s class chose differently.

The top five regrets of the dying

This is from a book by an Australian nurse who spent years working with people in the last 12 weeks of their life.  I like to think my time in Daddyland means I will be less likely to have these regrets.  I’m sure I’ll have them, but I am really, really happy that I won’t say #2.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

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.