Over the three years that I spent on maternity leave - one year to care for each of my children - I was so thankful to have had a support system. Through parenting groups and Facebook chat communities, I was able to find solace, surrounded by like-minded parents who were equally as excited and exhausted as I was as a new mom.
What was missing, though, was the presence of men. The playgroups, chat communities, and parent and tot activities were packed with moms, and rarely attended by dads, often even labelled with mom-focused names like “Mommy and me” activity classes.
The same sort of support network was lacking for dads who were looking to connect with like-minded men.
Looking to shine a spotlight on the dads who opt to stay at home with their kids, Johan Bävman launched a world touring exhibition called Swedish Dads, which features photographs and interviews with real Swedish dads who took 6 months or more of parental leave.
In a video on the purpose behind his exhibit, Johan shares his personal journey as a father after reviewing a study conducted on a group of children in his region. In the study, the children were asked, “Who do you go to for comfort?” An overwhelming number of respondents chose their mother as the first choice, and fathers didn’t appear on the list until the fifth choice - placing lower than the alternative of not going to anyone at all.
In response to his findings, Johan started his project, sharing the benefits of staying home and taking full responsibility for the household - not only providing for children, but being an equal part of their emotional space.
He wanted to plant a seed, challenging dads to consider the positive impact that it would have on their families if they stayed home with their children for an extended period of time. “It is not about creating superheroes, it’s about creating role models that we can all actually relate to,” he shares on his display.
In Stockholm, “Latte Dads” are emerging - groups of men who carry their babies in slings or hang out with their toddlers as a group, a direct result of Sweden’s parental leave policy - one of the most progressive in the world.
Highlights of the policy include 480 days (16 months) of paid leave (80 per cent of salary with a cap), with the caveat that both parents must share the allocated leave. An extended period of time is granted to parents of twins or multiples. The days also don’t expire until the child is eight years old, providing parents with more flexibility on when and who will take the leave depending on their familial needs.
As a result, most dads take three to nine months, a staggering increase compared to that time taken by dads in the U.S. and Canada.
Last December the Government of Canada extended parental leave, allowing parents to take up to 18 months; however, a longer leave does not equate to more money from the government. Currently, new parents that fit the requirements are eligible to receive up to a maximum of $537 per week - 55 per cent of their regular salary, capped at just over $51k per year.
This means that parents who are earning more than the salary cap are receiving significantly less than 50 per cent of their salary, and low-earning parents are receiving only a fraction of that weekly amount to support their families during their first year of parenthood.
Swedish parents - both moms and dads - are working towards putting their families first, and it’s time we do the same.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor and marketing consultant. Find her online at @bitsofbee.