I try not to dwell on the virtual non-existence of maternity leave in this country. It just depresses me. But sometimes I see a story like the one in The Guardian, and I just want to weep openly. Did you know there is such a thing as “shared parental leave?” It exists in Sweden – and it’s awesome.
British journalist Richard Orange relocated with his wife to Sweden. They had a child. He was inducted into the Swedish way of shared parental responsibility – a system that has been in place since 1974. It is a system in which mothers and fathers share parental leave and pay. The Swedes call this group of fathers the “Latte Pappas.” I’m assuming the name is derived from actually seeing fathers among the stroller sect, pushing their children around the park with their coffee in hand.
In Orange’s own words for The Guardian:
The system in Sweden is astonishingly generous. For each child, parents get to divide 480 days of leave as they see fit, with the amount set at 80% of salary, up to a maximum of 935 Swedish kronor a day ($134), for 390 days, and 180 kronor a day ($27) for the rest. Then there’s a “gender equality bonus” of about £150 ($239) a month per parent, paid from the third month of the father’s leave.
Wow. Parents get to divide the days. Reading his perspective on sharing parental tasks at that very crucial bonding time of the beginning of a child’s life is pretty eye-opening. He says, “The main qualities required to look after young babies – meticulous preparation and packing of baby-care equipment, a lack of squeamishness, mental resilience, even nurturing – don’t now seem to me intrinsically feminine.” Right. Because they aren’t. Those qualities come with time and practice – like everything else. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing when I first had a child. You figure it out as you go. Women aren’t naturally better equipped to deal with these situations. They just usually have more time with the children and more practice.
Yes, residents pay a whopping 56% of their income in taxes, but as a result, important details like childcare and health care are accounted for. And businesses aren’t bearing the financial brunt of the leave, either. Orange writes, “It’s the state that pays in Sweden, so employers aren’t lumbered with the direct costs. As a result, unlike the UK, where business groups have lobbied to delay the implementation of shared leave until 2015, in Sweden they actually support it.”
With shared responsibility comes a genuine empathy with what stay-home caregivers go through. Orange confesses “when my wife Mia finally gets home, I hand the baby over and drop exhausted on to the sofa. I’m so tired that I’m in bed by nine, about the same time as Eira, and sleep through until 5.30am, when her coughing and crying wakes me to the next day of my six-month stint… I’d hoped to make a start on writing a book, but one month in I’ve barely written a sentence. This article was written with frustrating inefficiency in the disjointed moments when Eira was sleeping or otherwise distracted.”
The shared experience of taking turns being the primary caregiver must aid in parental harmony, right? I have to at least believe it would make parents understand each other better. Also, it’s nice to see a country so invested in keeping women in the workforce. As one of the only developed nations in the world that doesn’t even legislate paid maternity leave yet – we definitely have a long way to go.