Reflecting on Swedish paternity leave

At Slate, Nathan Hegedus discusses his 18-month paternity leave in Sweden. Hegedus has some intriguing thoughts including the observation that “The dads act exactly like the moms” and more broadly, about how Swedish culture has seemed to prepare men for child-rearing:

I had expected great physical comedy in Daddyland—fathers covered with diaper leakage, babies covered with motor oil, men forcing resentful toddlers into soccer matches. I realize now how insensitive to my Swedish brothers this was. Swedish dads of my generation and younger have been raised to feel competent at child-rearing. They simply expect to do it, just as their wives and partners expect it of them (even though women still do far more child-related work in general). It’s eye-opening in a really boring way…

But there are deeper societal processes at work here, a shift of the very notion of Swedish masculinity. In a 2008 article in the journal Fathering, Anna-Lena Almqvist wrote that Swedish men have developed a “child-oriented masculinity.” Almqvist compared the attitudes of a selection of Swedish fathers with their French counterparts and found that, among couples with similar incomes, Swedish men emphasized the importance of parental leave and helping to raise their children. They also negotiated explicitly with their partners on child care issues. The French men did neither of these things.

While these are the observations of one man, Hegedus hints at the cultural socialization that accompanies child-rearing. It sounds like the policy decisions in Sweden have pushed men toward a new kind of masculinity that involves child-rearing, a domain that was traditionally left to women.

It would be interesting to read more about this, particularly about what this means more broadly for fatherhood and masculinity as well as how Hegedus’ experience is viewed by his American counterparts.

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