In theory it sounds perfect: one parent stays home with the baby and then the other parent takes their turn.
It certainly works in Sweden, where a new generation of dads called ‘latte papas’ are sharing the domestic responsibilities with their partners. Both parents bond with the child, each manages to maintain their career, the child has a close relationship with both parents and – here’s the clincher – society encourages house husbands rather than sees them as an oddity.
So why has the nation that brought us Ikea and Abba managed to share the load so successfully, while we’re still stuck in old stereotypes?
Richard Fletcher, convenor of the Australian Fatherhood Research Network, concurs that it can be difficult for dads to be included and find support.
‘Dads often feel like a bit of a shag on a rock,’ he says, pointing out that mothers form strong networks. ‘There is no doubt that the community values are shifting so that fathers are expected to be more involved in children’s care but this is not the same as accepting that dads will stay home while mums go to work.’
Although the number of stay-at-home dads in Australia has increased to about 40,000, we’re a long way from the Swedish model where new dads clamour to take their leave entitlement.
The first nation to replace ‘maternity leave’ with ‘parental leave’, Swedish couples share 480 days of parental leave for each child. Both mother and father get three months each then split the rest as they choose. Around 90 per cent of dads take at least some leave which is why it’s typical to see them in parks and at play groups.
While the policy is expensive for the government, it is widely supported because of the impact it has on gender equality and increased participation of women in the workforce. Children in Sweden are also entitled to top quality but low-cost childcare.So could we do the same here?
While paid parental leave now applies to both mothers and fathers and the scheme was expanded to include a new two-week payment for working dads or partners, culturally we haven’t widely embraced the practice.
It’s a shame because as Richard Fletcher points out, a father has huge influence on a child’s emotional and social development.‘
Dads usually connect through play and humour. If fathers engage their kids in play it has a big effect on how the kids develop even in academic areas like reading and maths.’