I was surprised at the number of people who sent me the NY Times article (In Sweden, the Men Can Have it All) regarding the generous parental leave for men in Sweden. I usually don't miss relevant articles from this site but this one would have escaped my eyeballs if not for my caring friends.
It's a good article although it speaks in general terms and doesn't give a true picture of statistics or what it's actually like to take parental leave. For instance, read the following paragraph:
From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.
While the statistic of 85 percent is true, what they don't tell you is that the majority of that high percentage comes from the law that gives men the right to take the first two weeks off after the baby's birth. For many men, that is the only parental leave they take. Two weeks off with a new baby and the family is a wonderful opportunity but unless a man takes 3 months to 1 year (or more) for parental leave, he has no idea about the challenges of caring for a child or what a beautiful experience it is. The number that constitutes "real" parental leave (3 months or more in my opinion) is probably around 15-20%.
I understand that some men can't take parental leave for financial reasons although I know several men who could take at least 3 months off but choose not to, primarily because they don't want to deal with the difficulties and challenges. It's a shame as they would gain so much from the experience and the bond with their child would be much stronger.
The article does touch on some of the experiences of men in Sweden but nothing in great detail. I like to read about people's stories and have done so on many occasions regarding men and parental leave. In addition, I was so inspired by my lovely experiences (5-6 months off from my job twice - first with my son, then with my daughter), that I put pen to paper and crafted an article I am proud of. I believe it was interesting to a wide range of people as it was one of my most popular articles.
A paragraph from, "A Father's Parental Leave, Swedish Style" is below followed by the link to my entire article.
I have always loved kids and especially seeing the joy in their faces for the simplest of things. Having a chance to witness that with my own son and now daughter sometimes brings me to tears. Never one to cry much, the tears flow much easier now (which is a good thing). The picture isn't always rosy. When I was home with Lennart, there were days when it was hard, with crappy (rain and clouds it seemed daily) Swedish winter weather and the sometimes endless changing of clothes and diapers! That feeling never lasts long as having the time to not work and focus solely on a child and his/her development is a wonderful thing.
I am grateful for the many blessings in my life including the time spent with my children when they were so young. I am reminded every day of how important it was as I know the bond we share wouldn't be as strong if I didn't take those 5-6 months off from my job.
For men in Sweden who may be undecided about what to do regarding parental leave, I implore you to embrace this unique privilege. Remember, your children are only young once and if you have the chance to spend quality time with them, reach out and grab it! While it may be tough or even draining on a daily basis, the heartfelt and precious moments will also shine through daily.
At the end of your parental leave and for the rest of your life, that quality time you put in will come back to you in more ways than you can imagine.
Not only am I a better father because of the precious time with my children but it has also helped me to appreciate what mothers go through - therefore I am also a better man, son and husband.
Happy Gswede Sunday!
A unique statue in the city of Boras, Sweden