The Life and Style section of the Wall Street Journal had that most intriguing and refreshing article on an issue that is very much ignored by US companies, paternity-leave. Something often dismissed and treated as a dirty expletive by work-life unbalanced fathers, mothers and employers alike. The aforementioned article questioned whether the current Swedish policy of two months of paternity leave is in fact adequate. Sweden’s paternity benefits are the most generous in the world; with 2 months being the standard and some able to take as many as 240 days paid-leave.
Sweden’s paternity-leave policy began in 1974 as a means to encourage women to join a depleted workforce and is now instrumental in gender equality and home stability. The government will pay 80% of a parent’s salary up to $65,000 for 13 months. One parent can give the other all but the mandated two months required to receive benefits. Statistics show, that unlike the United States, a majority of fathers take off the minimum of two months and 72% of working-age women in the country are employed at least part-time.
This does come at a significant cost to the country, around $3.7 Billion in 2007 alone. With that said, public officials believe the minimum for paternity should be increased to 3 months. With one leading Swedish official commenting: “The fathers of today are not cavemen with clubs in their hand, but men that take an ever increasing responsibility for home and family.”
With this current structure it is actually more beneficial for mothers to work outside the home in some capacity. Considering the cost of child care for a child less than a year old in the United States, I don’t know how my family would have survived had we not had family provided child-care as an option.
With our first child, my husband was downsized at work and for 5 months, learned first hand how laborious being a primary care taker really is. Most days I would return home from work and he would be passed out with the baby napping and a pile of half completed laundry nearby. My husband cherished those moments of bonding with our daughter. With our 2 nd child, I worked from home and my husband took the measly 2 weeks allotted by his company and we experienced the stress of having multiple children in diapers, even with my sister and mother nearby to help.
This expected trend of men being paternal and emotionally responsible fathers is fairly new in mainstream cultures around the world. I recall and incident at church in which our baby was inconsolable, so my husband took him out to waiting area. After service, an elderly woman patted us on the shoulder, smiled, and commented how refreshing it was to see a father taking on roles at home that were expected to be solely a woman’s responsibility.