After 4 months of being at home with our little boy, my husband, Iarla, returns to work this week. Being able to give our family the opportunity to have daddy at home full-time, while mummy returned to work, has been one of the real joys of living in Norway.
Here in Norway parents split paternity leave far more freely. The standard way the system works is that the mother takes the first 10 weeks (starting 3 weeks before the due date), the father is also allocated 10 weeks and there are 26 weeks which can be split in any way the parents choose*. As a result, parental leave is a shared benefit.
When we had baby #1 in the UK, Iarla had the typical 2 weeks of leave and I took a full year (which ended up being 18 months with a move to Norway at 12 months!). So, what have we learnt by doing it the Scandic way?
1. “Sorry for being an arse”
I couldn’t help but smile when Iarla uttered these words towards the end of his leave. Being the full-time parent at home has been a real eye opener for him to the realities of running the house and dealing with the kids. When I was off and he was working, he’d sometimes ask me to do certain tasks during the day and he fully admits that it would wind him up when he came home to find they hadn’t been done.
He now realises that there’s not nearly as much spare time as you imagine when you’re the full-time parent at home. His favourite phrase has become “one thing a day” – beyond the daily domestic chores and keeping a small person and dog alive, there is time to do one additional thing; whether that’s meet a friend for coffee, go for a longer hike, go to a baby related activity, etc. His illusions of endless cups of coffee, getting DIY tasks done or having a relaxing time while the baby sleeps have been shattered!! It’s fair to say that he now has a real appreciation for the “job” of being a stay-at-home parent.
2. Our boys are growing up seeing equality
Our three-and-a-half-year-old was mildly confused and entertained the first day mummy went to work, and daddy stayed at home, but now he thinks absolutely nothing of the role reversal that took place. We both love the fact that our boys are exposed to this equal approach to parenting and life.
3. My business is flourishing
Having to take time out of running your own business to have a baby doesn’t exactly help business continuity and growth! I love my business and I love my babies, so splitting paternity leave with Iarla has enabled me to get back to work faster (after 7 months), with no mummy guilt (well, far less!) built into the equation. I’ve been able to work extra hours if required, and really focus on the business because I knew Iarla was taking care of everything at home.
4. It’s brought us closer together
To begin with, I thought Iarla having time off with #2 was going to give them a much stronger bond, which of course it has. But the reality is that it’s also brought us all closer together.
He’s been the one doing barnehagen (nursery) drop off / pick up with #1, and while I always try and make it home for dinner, he’s undoubtedly been the boys’ primary carer for the last 4 months. It means he’s had to face far more of the joys and challenges of our 3-and-a-half year old which has deepened his bond with him, and generally evolved his parenting style and relationship with both boys.
He’s also got a new understanding of what it’s like to “be mum” and take on tasks of the stereotypical mum-role. I couldn’t help but laugh when he came out with “we need to talk about what you’re doing around the house to help”. We can share stories and anecdotes on a new level and, without bringing a soppy factor into this, seeing him take on the role of stay-at-home dad and watching him and the boys together has made me love and appreciate him more (sorry, sop-tastic!).
5. It’s put us on an equal footing going forward
Like most of Norway, we will be a household with two working parents. Before maternity leave, I was working from home, so for the first time we will both be full time in the office and this itself comes with a set of challenges – cooking, cleaning, drop offs, pick ups – all still need to be done and life becomes a strategic juggling act! However, with Iarla now completely aware of the requirements at home, we are starting this next chapter of family life with a shared understanding and appreciation of the needs and demands of both home and work. We are in a stronger place to take this on as a team, together.
Is he a changed man? Well he can still be an arse sometimes! However, it’s fair to say that we’ve all learnt something over the last 4 months. This experience has been special, eye opening and a real privilege for us all. Now it’s time for a new routine, but I think we are all more prepared and stronger thanks to the time with daddy at home.
*For anyone interested, details on the paternal benefit system in Norway can be found here: https://www.nav.no/en/Home/Benefits+and+services/Relatert+informasjon/parental-benefit#chapter-1