Mr. Mom

Stay-at-home Swedish dads can in­spire un­in­volved Chi­nese fathers

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Qi Xi­jia

Stay-at-home dads might not be a com­mon sight in China, but for Swedish fam­i­lies, where many fathers take parental leave and are seen on the streets push­ing strollers, it is par­ent­ing as usual.

The Con­sulate Gen­eral of Swe­den in Shang­hai will launch a new pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion, Swedish

Dads, in or­der to pro­voke Chi­nese par­ents into giv­ing a sec­ond thought to their tra­di­tional roles in so­ci­ety.

Taken by pho­tog­ra­pher Jo­han Bäv­man, a new fa­ther him­self, the pho­tos fea­ture sev­eral Swedish fathers who chose to stay at home with their child for at least six months after be­ing born.

With this project, Bäv­man aimed to find out why th­ese men opted to put their ca­reers on hold, how their fam­ily struc­tures and re­la­tion­ships changed, and their ex­pec­ta­tions prior to tak­ing leave.

In 1974, Swe­den be­came the first coun­try in the world to re­place ma­ter­nity leave with parental leave. With in­sti­tu­tional sup­port from the gov­ern­ment, both par­ents be­came en­ti­tled to 480 days of paid leave, in­clud­ing 90 days re­served ex­clu­sively for fathers.

While on parental leave, Swedish par­ents can re­ceive an al­lowance of nearly 80 per­cent of their salary for 390 days with the re­main­ing 90 days paid at a flat rate.

Forty years later, many Swedish fathers feel “em­bar­rassed” if they do not take parental leave after hav­ing a baby, said Lisette Lin­dahl, the Con­sul Gen­eral of Swe­den in Shang­hai.

Lin­dahl be­lieves the big­gest change the pol­icy has brought to Swedish so­ci­ety is that it has se­cured women’s place in the na­tion’s work­force, al­low­ing more women to pur­sue a ca­reer. It has also re­shaped the next gen­er­a­tion’s view of gen­der while al­low­ing fathers to bet­ter bond with their chil­dren.

“In Swe­den we be­lieve women and men have the same opportunities, rights and obli­ga­tions in all walks of life,” said Lin­dahl. “We be­lieve what­ever men can do women can do as well and vice versa.”

To com­pel more Chi­nese fathers to be­come en­gaged in child rear­ing, the Con­sulate Gen­eral of Swe­den in Shang­hai will also or­ga­nize a pho­tog­ra­phy con­test fea­tur­ing Chi­nese dads with their chil­dren, which comes just in time for the cur­rent pub­lic de­bate about the van­ish­ing role of fathers in China.

In 2015, China amended its Law on Pop­u­la­tion and Fam­ily Plan­ning to al­low cou­ples two chil­dren. A new parental leave reg­u­la­tion in Shang­hai al­lows women who give birth to their sec­ond child to take 128 days ma­ter­nity leave and has ex­tended pa­ter­nity leave from three to 10 days.

But ex­tended leave still hasn’t kept Chi­nese fathers will­ingly at home to raise their own kids. China has a long tra­di­tion of ex­pect­ing women to take full re­spon­si­bil­ity in child rear­ing. Even with the new sec­ond chil­dren pol­icy, over 53 per­cent of women said they are not yet will­ing to give birth to a sec­ond child, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by All China Women’s Fed­er­a­tion.

Among their big­gest con­cerns are the tremen­dous ef­forts to take care of chil­dren un­der three, which in­hibits ca­reer de­vel­op­ment. But if more fathers took over such re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, ex­perts be­lieve it will be mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial to both moth­ers and chil­dren.

“Take the op­por­tu­nity, stay as much as you can with your chil­dren, be­cause it is worth it,” said Lin­dahl as a mes­sage to Chi­nese fathers.

Se­lected works from the pho­tog­ra­phy con­test will be co-ex­hib­ited dur­ing the Swedish Na­tional Day re­cep­tion held by the con­sulate and toured at many pub­lic spa­ces in Shang­hai. Par­tic­i­pants can sub­mit their work from March 8 to April 30 and fol­low the con­sulate’s WeChat ac­count for more in­for­ma­tion.

Photo: Cour­tesy of Jo­han Bäv­man

Mu­rat Saglam­oglu holds his baby.

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