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Swedish expat misses generous paternal leave
Swedish father of two Jonas Medin. Photo: Handout

Swedish expat misses generous paternal leave

The Local · 10 Nov 2015, 11:57

Published: 10 Nov 2015 11:57 GMT+01:00

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A year ago we left our safe suburban life in Sweden and moved to Switzerland after my wife was recruited there during her maternity leave.

After careful consideration I quit my job as market analyst and our eldest daughter, 9, transferred to an international bilingual school in Basel.

Having stayed at home to look after our youngest daughter, aged one-and-a-half, throughout the spring, I'm currently spending three days a week at home while she is getting introduced to pre school.

When our first daughter was younger my wife and I split our 480 days of parental leave, paid for by the Swedish state, equally from the moment of her birth until she started pre-school.

We didn't count each and every day to make sure it was equal down to the minute, but it was roughly half and half.

I think I got a couple of weeks less initially. But I made up for it whenever there was an opportunity to take time off in connection with school holidays throughout her childhood, and at the end I had actually claimed a couple of weeks more than my wife.

I loved those months we had together, from the first week when she began to crawl to the final week when she went off to pre-school.

When my younger male friends become dads, I make sure I congratulate and urge them to claim a hefty chunk of paternity leave.

Claim it full-time for a long continuous period, when your partner is not at home.

Give yourself enough time to form a relationship with the child, cultivate it and let it grow. And enough time to create your own routines based on your own experiences and not just do what your partner tells you.

In my world, none of this is controversial. Only in exceptional cases do I find that our opinions and our approach differ from how most people around us plan their parental leave, in theory.

But in practice, things often turn out differently.

When the baby is born, that major life-changing moment, your entire life and daily routines slowly turn into a new life, new routines.

Judging from my observations, looking at my surroundings, it is then harder than you thought to change your life yet again. And somehow, after some kind of consensus, the mother stays at home longer than planned and the father gets less time than intended with the children.

Switzerland is a country very similar and at the same time very different to Sweden, something I regularly write about in my blog. But you could say that Switzerland is a significantly more conservative country than Sweden.

Not least when it comes to gender equality and family politics. For example, Swiss public schools close for lunch so that every day "someone" needs to cook for the children at home.

When my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and I are out and about, you realize how much we stick out around here.

Glances are shot our way, we get comments such as "where's the mother?" and I'm usually the only dad in playgrounds, at the public daycare, and at the language course I'm taking, which is being offered to partners of foreign professionals who have been relocated to Switzerland.

It's when you see these contrasts that you realize how privileged we are in Sweden.

Our parental leave, offered to mums and dads alike, is amazing. And for that reason it is pathetic how few men actually take advantage of the opportunity to cultivate an early and good relationship with their children.

Because it's in the early years you build this foundation.

Story continues below…

I wish that Sweden would not have to legislate about this. I think personal responsibility is more important that more rules. But let us celebrate all dads who do stay at home to look after their young children.

I don't do it for feminism, not based on some kind of financial calculation and not for statistics. I do it for myself, for my children, and I do it for our relationship.

Jonas Medin moved from Sweden to Switzerland in January with his wife and two daughters. He blogs about his expat life at Baselpappa. This is a translated version of an opinion piece originally published in Swedish by SVT Opinion.

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