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.”


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.

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?

parental leave as human rights issue, Obama weak on workplace flexibility

Here are two more reasons that I bless the day I moved to Daddyland.

Human Rights Watch is actually doing a report on the lack of US parental leave.  Yes, it is a human rights issue.  From the MomsRising blog:

Research shows that paid parental leave can reduce infant mortality, improve immunization rates and health outcomes for mothers and babies, increase fathers’ participation in child care, improve breastfeeding initiation and duration, strengthen women’s connection to the workplace, avoid family poverty spells, and reduce businesses’ recruitment and training costs.

Paid parental leave is considered a human right under several international treaties (not ratified by the US), and 177 countries now have laws guaranteeing paid parental leave. Only a few, including the United States, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Australia, do not have national laws on paid parental leave. Australia will offer 18 paid weeks starting in 2011.

Swaziland and Papua New Guineau.  Sigh.

Why Americans do not demand better family benefits, I do not know.  I read the parenting/family blogs at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and the comments are filled with people who have internalized a business-first ethic that is the dream of any uncaring corporation.  It seems like the average American actually thinks paid parental leave is not worth the fight.

Double sigh.

To emphasize this point, the President held a Forum on Workplace Flexibility yesterday (the press coverage of it was pathetic).  Here is RebelDad’s take on it.  But I like better what he wrote before it happened:

In short, I don’t expect high-quality, state-run childcare to suddenly emerge. I don’t expect European-style paid parental leave policies to get floated. I don’t even expect Obama to make good on his campaign promises to expand FMLA. All I want is a serious effort to get paid sick leave instituted. That’s all. It would be one small — one tiny — step for flexibility. And it’s not going to happen. Not in this Washington, not in this economy.

You can host all of the flexibility summits you want, but words only get you so far.

Paid sick leave as a huge unattainable goal.  Triple sigh.

the long-lasting impacts of paternity leave in Sweden

A father only lives in Daddyland for a short while – a couple weeks to maybe a year.  But the impact of that sojourn echoes through the ensuing years of parenthood.

For example, E threw out her back this weekend.  Badly.

And we all did fine.  There was no dread.  No, “Oh my god, Daddy is in charge, what will become of us!?!?” fear in the children.  And apartment is no more of a wreck than it usually is after a weekend, the kids did not live on old food dropped under the table.

Now, I am on paternity leave now.   So this would be expected, as I am the one at home.  But it will be the same next year or the year after, when I am back at work, when E is back at work.

I have proven myself to everyone.  I have built up a homemaking, stay at home dad competence.

So Mommy can go away.  Mommy can get hurt.  And the world will not end.

I would like to think this would have been true if I had never spent time in Daddyland.  I had full faith in my capabilities when I was a “normal” working Dad, both in the U.S. and in Sweden.

But it is different.  Then it was potential or spot duty.  There is an adjustment.  Now there is not.

That said, do I hope her back gets better by next weekend …