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Report from Sweden: Bjorns, Dads and Family-Friendly Living

 

A few weeks ago, I went to visit BabyBjorn in Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm is a cool, fascinating city, an intriguing mix of history with a hip, modern vibe. When I was there, the sun set at around 11 pm and rose at 3 am, and the daily herring breakfast buffet was a first, but it was a treat to see Swedish culture firsthand.

I learned much about BabyBjorn that fell into the “Wow! Who knew?” category. Although they are synonymous with baby carriers, their first product in 1973 was a bouncy seat. Their first carriers were crafted to match parent’s clothing. So far, 22 million tots have been carted in “Bjorns.” The company is still run by the husband-and-wife founders, the funny and delightful Bjorn and Lillemor Jakobson.

They were the first to use dads in their ads, which caused a stir in 1983. France, of all countries, refused to run them. And speaking of dads…I learned a lot about them, too, at least as far as their role in Sweden. I interviewed four of them, on paternity leave -- yep, paternity leave! In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave, distributed equally between the mom and dad, and it can be taken between the birth and the eighth birthday of each child. No, that zero after the eight isn’t a typo -- four hundred eighty work days! That is in addition to the 60 days they get to look after a sick kid -- that’s 60 days per child, per year!

I know, this all sounds incredible. And just as amazing, the men actually take paternity leaves. I asked Victor, a 30-ish teacher, if he had any hesitations about taking his leave. He answered, “No. It’s like drinking water when you’re thirsty.” He feels that the more time he spends with his child, the more respect he gains. Jon, a webmaster on hiatus, notes “It’s an opportunity you only get once; you’d be stupid not to take it.” Then added, “You realize it’s a lot of work, though, when you do it yourself.” Both said groups of dads hang out in parks as often as groups of moms. (These daddy groups, I couldn’t help but notice, sported Bjorns in greater numbers than one sees even in Manhattan). Both guys said they do grocery shopping and laundry during the day, in between their junkets to the park.

I also visited a daycare center, where I learned equally unbelievable truths: every baby is guaranteed a spot in a daycare center, for which the parent will pay, at the time I was there, roughly 120 US dollars a month for full time care, even less for older kids and siblings. The cleanliness, amenities, and staff ratio of the center I saw trump those of the center I paid over $1,000 a month for on Long Island.

I’ll close with this little tidbit: employers in Sweden by law can’t refuse a mom’s request to work part-time if they have a child younger than 12.

I don’t even know where to begin to comment on all of this, so I’ll turn it over to you, fellow moms of America.

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