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‘I do it for my children, not for feminism’

Dads should take more advantage of Sweden's generous paternity leave, writes Jonas Medin, a Swedish expat who left the world's most gender equal nation to follow his wife to Switzerland.

'I do it for my children, not for feminism'
Swedish dad-of-two Jonas Medin. Photo: Private

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.

READ MORE: What benefits do dads get in Sweden?

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.

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

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
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