By Staffan Herrström
Ambassador of Sweden to Thailand
Special to The Nation
I can easily recall those miraculous moments. I stayed for several hours in the hospital after delivery. But finally I had to return home.
I would have wished to stay on.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to be at home for 10 days together with my wife and daughter after they had left the hospital. That’s part of our system with parental leave. I became part of my daughter’s life from the start. It was the three of us.
Still, even more important were the months I eventually stayed at home with my daughter by myself, in January and February 1992. Too short for sure – but still crucial for us, for transforming me from father in theory to father in practice. Hands on, with the whole responsibility.
Forty-three years ago, the Swedish system with maternal leave was reformed to a system with paternal leave. From that year, both fathers and mothers had the right to stay at home with their children for a certain time with compensation for lost income – up to a certain level.
Initially, few fathers made use of this new opportunity. Gender stereotypes were still widespread. Too often shortsighted employers tried to prevent their male employees from exercising their new rights.
It has changed, but not entirely.
Why, and how?
Because more and more men have aligned themselves with the concept of gender equality. It means shared responsibility – also at home. And it benefits society and the economy at large. Women are needed in the labour market as much as men. This represents a huge potential for economic growth.
Swedish companies are well aware of the benefits for their employees of paid leave and also for fathers Therefore, some Swedish companies have started offering paternity leave to their employees even in countries where there is no legislation providing for it.
Secondly, parental leave for fathers has been encouraged by reforms in the system. Now, three months of the parental leave (just over a year in total) are reserved for fathers. You can choose to abstain, but then they are gone. They can’t be transferred. Before the introduction of these “daddy’s months”, only half of the fathers made use of the parental leave. Now it is over 80 per cent – although still for shorter periods than the mothers.
And not the least: More and more men want to be close to their children, be there for them, build a relationship from the start that lasts for life.
Interestingly there is enough research that tells us families where everyone is more equal are also more likely to stick together, avoiding divorce. Equally interesting is that it tells us women experience a rise in income when their husbands stay at home.
Additionally, men who stay at home for some time tend to take better care of themselves, drink less and adapt to a healthier lifestyle. Men benefit from being fathers at home. Women too benefit at work from having men being fathers at home.
Different countries have different social systems, depending on the level of economic development. But my point is not primarily related to the exact design of these systems. It is much simpler than that.
Being a father is a miracle. It takes time – and it must be allowed to take time. Then it is rewarding beyond imagination.
Let dads be dads; on an equal basis with mums.