I recently interviewed Stefan, a father on paternity leave in Malmö, a city in the south of Sweden. He’ll be off from work for an incredible 9 months!
How many children do you have?
“One daughter, she’s 16 months old.”
How long have you been on paternity leave?
“I’ve been on daddy leave for six months, got three more months before I go back to work.”
What do you do for work?
“I work as a concept artist in the games industry.”
What did your boss say when you said you were taken time off?
“Nothing really, there’s three or four people at work that gets to boss me around and they were all cool with it. Just some minor tounge in cheek whining from one of them as I was taking 9 months off while he had just come back from a much shorter leave with his kid.”
What’s the best part of paternity leave?
“That I get to spend time with my daughter, of course. Not being in an office is nice for a change too. I’m going to miss being outside every day when I get back to work.”
What’s the worst part?
“The lack of sleep is horrible, to get up at five or six in the morning is just wrong.”
What’s the hardest?
“Playing cute pretend games with dolls, plastic horses, teddy bears and so on. I don’t mind doing it as my daughter loves it, but I find it utterly boring. I do my best though.”
What have you learned about your child?
“Many things. That she likes to watch tennis on TV is one of them.”
What have you learned about yourself?
“That I’m actually pretty good at taking care of a kid.”
Has your view of motherhood change now that you’ve been on pappa leave?
“I guess it has changed a little as I’m now doing classical mother things. There’s a lot of work and small sacrifices involved in keeping a kid well fed and happy, but it’s also very rewarding.”
What about fatherhood?
“I’m not sure, perhaps that it’s actually so much fun to be a dad. It’s like having a tiny, cuddly clown at home. Today she tried to force a pacifier up my nose while laughing like a maniac. Stuff like that makes all the early mornings, diapers, and new responsibilities worth it.”
Here’s another story of a modern father on paternity leave in Sweden. Peter, a high school teacher, is home with his daughter for 4.5 months. He talks about the hard, rainy and dark days and the things he has learned.
Any Swedish fathers out there who want to tell their stories, please feel free to do so in the comments. Maybe it could become a post.
When Magnus, an IT consultant from Stockholm, told his boss he was taking off for 7 months to be on paternity leave, he told him it was no problem at all. “They encourage you to leave work to spend time with your children,” he told me.
How’s that for progressive?
I spoke to Magnus at a local Open Daycare. He talks about the ups and downs of paternity leave with his son.
As part of the Swedish daddy project I’m undertaking, I talked to Niklas Löfgren, an insurance analyst at the Family Affairs department of Sweden’s Social Insurance Agency, or Försäkringkassan, to learn more about the system.
How are parental benefits funded in Sweden?
“Employers in Sweden pay a fee to the government that corresponds to 25% of each employees’ salary. The fee covers costs for pension, unemployment, sick leave, widow survival, work injury, and parental benefits. Out of these individual fees, parental benefits account for 2.2% of the 25% fee employers pay to the government.”
How can Sweden afford to pay parents so generously?
“As long as the market is healthy and unemployment is low then we will be able to afford this. We have a high level of transfers in Sweden with high taxes and high insurances and benefits. This in order to redistribute money to individuals in different stages of life or in different situations. If we need to increase or decrease this employers’ fee is more a political discussion, but today it’s financed this way. You can see a rough pattern in Europe where countries with somewhat more generous benefits for families with children also tend to have high fertility rates.
“In order to have a full reproduction rate in a country you have to have a fertility rate of 2.1% and in Sweden today we have approximately 1.9%. That means that we have to rely on immigration in order to have the same or more people living in the country. In order to pay for these insurances, it’s important to have many people out in the labor force, otherwise the financing will be tough to handle.”
Stay tuned for more posts on the daddy project.
Herman, Olivia and I go to Open Daycare almost every week. It’s a life-saver for us.
Open Daycare is free. It’s targeted to small kids who haven’t yet started real daycare. The goal is to create the most stimulating and fun environment for the children, while offering parents a place to connect with their peers. Open Daycare operates on a drop-in basis, with no registering.
We have two Open Daycares within a ten minute walk from our house. So we drop-in whenever we want to go sing some songs, play around, drink some coffee, or paint and draw. In some communities Open Daycares are connected with social services and maternity health clinics.
The first Open Daycare opened in 1972. In 1991, there were over 1,600 Open Daycares in Sweden. The number has come down drastically since then. In 2004, there were less than 500.
We were there yesterday for three hours. There were around 20 parents and their noisy kids.
Each day for the past two months, I have tried to scrape food off of the same spot of floor under my 9-month-old son’s high chair. I’ve tried knives, scissors, chisels, scrapers, and I’m even working on a solution that includes fire. (Don’t do this at home.)
I do dishes. Wash clothes, then fold them. I wake my daughter up for breakfast. Next I wake my son up, change his diaper, and make him breakfast. I get them dressed and out the door. I take my daughter Olivia to daycare and then I have five “free hours” until I pick her up. Oh, and one day a week, I have both of the kids. Their ages are 3 and 9 months.
I could go on, but I don’t care to bore you. What is this post about, you wonder?
A Swedish daddy revolution
Along with 85% of the Swedish fathers who take paid paternity leave, I am a revolutionary daddy. Daddies in Sweden are redefining fatherhood, masculinity, their relationships, and, ultimately, I believe, society as a whole.
Over the course of the next month, I will interview a number of these revolutionary Swedish daddies. How do they feel about their stay-at-home status? Are they happy? What challenges do they face? What advice can they offer? How have their relationships with their children and spouses been affected? What do their colleagues say? And their bosses?
With this project, I hope to demolish some of the stereotypes around fatherhood, masculinity, and child rearing. Maybe it will inspire fathers in other parts of the world. Perhaps they will want to share their stories as well.
I don’t want to romanticize paternity leave on this project. Believe me it’s tough; it can be painfully monotonous and non-stop work. But it’s also the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I have relished the opportunity, for months on end, to build lasting bonds with my kids, and found places in my heart, that I never even knew existed.
This post will convince you to move to Sweden, even if you fear high taxes, hate the cold and dark, detest Abba and herring, and tremble with the thought of “Swedish socialism“.
10 reasons why you should move to Sweden.
1. Swedish benefits are the best in the world.
Five weeks paid vacation to start. More if you’re older or work for the government.
480 days of paid parental leave = Happy Kids = Good society
Parents get a total of 480 parental days for each child. For most of those days you’ll earn 80% of a salary of up to roughly $45,000 per year, which in Sweden is very good money. Parents have time to bond with their children — one reason why Sweden was recently ranked the best place in the world to grow up.
Cheap daycare, unlimited sick days and free healthcare, need I go on?
2. High taxes aren’t high if you are getting your money’s worth.
I don’t think taxes are too high in Sweden. Yes, if you are a billionaire, like IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, then you are going to pay a lot of taxes, which is why he moved to Switzerland in 1976.
Even Americans agree the progressive tax system in Sweden is just. A recent poll shows Americans prefer the Swedish system, they just don’t know it.
My income tax is 30%, which is normal by Swedish standards.
Sweden does have a 25% value added tax or consumption tax. That’s high, which is why Swedes go shopping like crazy when they are in the US.
But look at how much I get.
There is universal healthcare in Sweden. You don’t pay anything unless you have to go to the doctor. In that case, you pay a small amount per visit. Last year, I went to see a back surgeon and I paid around $40. For a normal visit to a clinic if you get sick, you’ll pay around $20. For kids under 18, you pay nothing. That’s right, nothing!
Daycare is heavily subsidized. It costs about $120 a month, but you get a monthly child benefit from the government which covers those costs. So basically daycare is free.
And, oh yeah, University is free.
Overall, I am happy with the taxes I pay in Sweden because I get a lot back. I’d rather skip paying the middle man for the essential services, which in the US tends to be huge corporations like insurance and pharmaceutical companies. No thanks, leave them out, I’d rather pay direct to the government.
Want more details on all the Swedish benefits? Check out Sweden.se, an invaluable website that describes all the Swedish benefits in detail.
3. It is cold and dark and then sunny and perfect
Honestly, I didn’t like the cold and dark when I moved here, and I’m not sure I like it now. But the extreme weather doesn’t slow Swedes down at all.
They’re out and about all winter long. They cross-country and downhill ski, ice skate, play hockey, take walks, run, sled, drink coffee, and even put their babies outside to sleep in their carriages. I was amazed the first time I saw it, but it’s true. They say it’s good for them. My kids do it too.
The summer is incredible.
The sun rises before you wake up and sets after you go to bed. If you work until 5 pm, you’ll have 5-6 hours of sun after work. That’s quality time for swimming, kayaking, walking, or picknicking — practically a professional sport here.
Celebrations like Midsummer’s Eve and the August Crayfish party (Even Will Ferrell loves crayfish parties…and Swedish sex habits) are the perfect way to salute the sun.
4. The people are beautiful and they dress well.
OK, this statement is subjective, but I’ve yet to hear anyone challenge it. Do you dare?
5. Sweden is a great place for women
If it’s good for women, it’s good for everyone. This Marie Claire article, reports that women thrive in Sweden, citing a 2005 report from the World Economic Forum that named Sweden the “most advanced country” for women.
6. Get green
If one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the world sound good to you, move to Sweden. Trains and buses go everywhere, from the big cities to small skiing villages like Åre in the Swedish mountains.
Take my family as an example. We are a family of four, with two children, and we don’t have a car, even though we live in a suburb. Can you do that where you live?
Stockholm was named Europe’s first Green Capital in 2010. Among the reasons cited by the European Union are the city’s successful 25% cut in emissions since 1990, large number of green areas, and the city’s ambitious goal to be independent of fossil fuels by 2050.
All throughout Sweden the air is clean, there is tons of nature and the water is perfect for drinking and swimming.
7. Transparent politics
Sweden always ranks among the top countries in the world in transparency with low levels of corruption. Yes, politicians are still politicians, but in Sweden they are less shady.
8. Strong, independent media
This is the main factor ensuring reason #7 remains on the list. I’ve seen TV shows, both investigative reporting and documentaries, on Swedish public TV that never in a million years would be shown on American public or network TV — maybe not even on cable.
The Swedish media does its job. Journalists cover the important stories, know they should and aren’t afraid to. This, in turn, creates an educated population and a transparent government.
9. You are in Europe
Close to all the other European countries. That means weekend trips, skiing in the Alps, drinking Pinot Noir and savoring fresh mozzarella in Italy, touring the museums of Paris, and anything else you can think of.
10. Will Ferrell is practically a Swede
He is married to one and comes to Sweden for a good part of the summer. Watch the film.
Did I miss any?