Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Letters from Vacation 3: The Male Nannies of Scandinavia

That title is a joke, reflecting the surprise of some outside observer a while ago  about the much greater participation of Nordic fathers on hands-on care of their children than is common in the Anglo-Saxon world, say, and probably in most other places.

I observed that participation in Finland.  Now, July is the vacation month there, so it could be that all those young dads were out alone with their children because they were doing vacation parenting only. 

But I seriously doubt that, given the great competency of so many young men loading (and unloading) two or three toddlers into and out of the family car while expertly assembling (and disassembling) the stroller and also negotiating with a crying child, all simultaneously.  Indeed, the parental skills most demonstrated were first class and clearly reflected long practice.

It's not that dads in the US aren't competent carers; it's that seeing them out alone with the children is much less common than what I recently observed, and that difference is probably a cultural one.  What drives it is unclear, but one guess is the generally greater gender equality in the Nordic cultures and another is the effect of the parental leave policies which make it desirable for the dads to take some part of the total parental leave, because that gives the fathers both time for bonding and time for learning how to care for the child, on their own.

I've written about this difference after my past travels to Finland, too, but as far as I can tell the trend is getting stronger over time, and the few dads I spoke with both love it and are surprised that the same wouldn't be true elsewhere.