Why Paternity Leave Is Actually a Women's Issue

Sweden shows us what can happen when both parents take time off to take care of a new baby

“Mom? Mom?? MOM!!!” I am upstairs. My children are downstairs, their dad just in the kitchen. They want a glass of milk/to show me a magic trick/find their missing stuffie. I am barely even within shouting distance, but the call for me is like a reflex. I have even had them interrupt me in the shower to ask me for something when their father is RIGHT THERE.

My husband is wonderful, involved dad, and there’s no parenting job he won’t do (his specialty is tuck-ins). But somehow I am the default parent anyway, the assumed first responder to any kid query whether I want to be or not. I don’t know how we got here but I know I’m not alone.

Looking at Sweden might shed some light on the roots of this disparity between the loads Mom and Dad carry at home, even when both parents work, according to a fascinating excerpt from Katrina Alcorn’s Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink via Business Insider. The key, she says, could just be paternity leave. Think it affects just your family life in the first few months of life? Think again.

As Alcorn summarizes, Sweden has seen a sea change in the culture of parenting through just one brilliant government program. In 1995, men were offered financial incentives to take paternity leave. While the idea of taking time off had previously been derided, no one wants to leave money on the table, and the percentage of men who took time off jumped from 6 percent to around 80 percent. The comfort level with the idea of time off for family made workplace flextime for common for both men and women, and the gender pay gap started to close. Divorce rates went down. A new masculine ideal emerged: the involved family man. In short, mothers’ -- and fathers’ -- lives were transformed.

We have a ways to go in the US. The government doesn’t even mandate paid leave for mothers, much less fathers. Even when companies do offer paternity leave, which is uncommon, there’s an implicit understanding that few who are truly serious about their career will take it. However, there are signs of hope. According to ABC News, a journalist at CNN is fighting for the same 10 weeks of paid paternity leave for biological dads that adoptive dads now receive, and experts say these kinds of work-leave requests are on the rise.

In the mean time, anyone know of a house for rent in Sweden?

Mom of two Sasha Emmons is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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