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?
“Two-thirds of parental benefits are funded through an employers’ fee and one-third is funded by taxes.
“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.”
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.