Swedes aren’t really familiar with the American concept of ”soccer moms”. There is, however, a total opposite to the women driving SUV:s and taking care of entire families while decorating their giant homes. It’s a very Swedish phenomenon, so established in the public’s mind that it soon will be included in dictionaries: the “Latte Dads” (latte-pappor in Swedish). Explore West Sweden decided to dig deeper into this breed of urbanized fathers staying home for months and years with their kids. Because, as CNN noted when they last went to Stockholm, you see a lot of men sipping coffee with one hand and rocking strollers with the other.
What’s the deal with that?
Working moms staying home for a long time with state subsidies, and then returning to full time employment, is not exactly a new thing in Sweden. It has been the norm for so many generations that when Solsidan, a tremendously popular TV-show about life in the posh suburbs of Stockholm to which ABC just bought the American rights, tried to depict the everyday life of women on maternity leave, it was painted as a subculture of its own. The leading character was bullied by the other moms at the playground when she couldn’t produce home-made, organic baby food but rather the normal, branded thing from the supermarket. The episode ends with the main character trying to cook a trendy baby dish but, failing epically, she succumbs to pouring the generic baby food into her own TupperWare, in order to score points with the other moms by claiming she made it herself. She longs for the stress-free environment at work and wants to return sooner rather than later.
Indeed, this is nothing new. Every Swedish mom under 50 stayed at home when their kids were small, and the vast majority of them then returned to work, thus the recognizability factor in the Solsidan-episode was strong among Swedish women. Strongly incentivizing legislation has now made it financially feasible for dads to leave work for a while as well and in the latest couple of decades, it has become a rule rather than exception that also the father takes at least six months leave. The normal paid period (during which you generally get around 80% of your salary) is 16 months per child. When the child has two parents, they’re obliged to take two months each and then divide the remaining year between them. In the pursuit of the modern and educated elite, many employers do however provide more generous schemes, since especially younger men now tend to expect more than what the state guarantees.
Explore West Sweden had a fika with three latte-pappor in one of Gothenburg’s many stroller-adapted cafés. We did however only have to squeeze in two strollers, since Anders, a 31-year old accountant, has sent his four year old daughter to “dagis” – a state-funded pre-school system that takes over when you’re out of “pappamånader” (literally “father months”, the Swedish term for the time you spend at home). He wanted to participate in the interview anyway because, as he says, “he feels strongly about this issue”. Anders works for an international accounting firm and says he had no problem taking 8 months leave when his wife had stopped breastfeeding. “Actually, my closest boss, who is a partner in the firm, had just taken five months each with both his sons. I didn’t exactly feel discouraged to ask for some time off myself”. The two stroller-rocking men nod in agreement: Markus, 28, works in Gothenburg’s big shipping industry, and is just enjoying his first months with little Alma. He says his generation of men is fortunate. “Somebody else already fought the fight for us. The male bosses born in the 50’s and 60’s have no problem accepting that we want a balanced family life; many of them took the maximum time off when they had kids, but wanted to do more than what was socially acceptable then. Therefore, it’s natural for them to encourage us to do so”. Markus, who is a lawyer by training, says he knows that many of the bigger firms in Sweden actually help their employees, men and women, to stay home even longer than the 16 months. “I have friends working part-time or from home, with the firm’s support, for over a year after the publicly funded time runs out”, he says. “The more competitive employers have just started to realize that they can attract graduates with promises of a balance between work and home. Even though there’s a lot to say about hours and demands in big consultancies, parental leave is generally something they take seriously; probably because they have to”.
Anton, 34, is the only publicly employed latte-pappa (we are all, by the way, sipping cappuccinos but that doesn’t make the term any less valid, since we’re in the company of strollers and the three dads are all young, well-groomed men in a big city) in our group. He is a nurse and says that if he felt any pressure when Olle was born, it was a sound pressure to stop working. “Maybe it’s because I work with a lot of women, but not taking at least a couple of months off wasn’t even an option. I would have been left in the cold during fika-breaks at work!”. When asked if the same applies to the doctors at his hospital, Anton hesitates for a while. “Probably not, but doctors are very competitive. If you want to be a top-performer, an ever so brief hiatus in your career is unfortunately regarded by some as an obstacle. But many of my friends are doctors and there’s not a chance in the world they wouldn’t take the maximum time off. Our generation is demanding that, it’s not something we think about. And the employers, especially in the public sector, will have to do with that”.
When asked how the image of the Swedish man is affected by this child-focused lifestyle, a concern in many other countries, the three young dads look like Explore West Sweden asked them how their last trip to Mars went.”I don’t think there’s a woman who would expect anything else, actually”, Anders explains. “It’s not like we’re gender pioneers, we’re just doing what we’ve been taught by our society to do”.
To make this point, Anton asks if we remember the classic campaign for paternity leave in the 70’s. Your correspondent has no clue, but the others nod in agreement. Hoa-Hoa Dahlgren, a macho wrestler not unlike Hulk Hogan, agreed to be the front man for a campaign saying “Stay-at-home Dad!”. He smiled and held a baby, and even though he himself actually didn’t stay home with his kids (and the baby in the campaign wasn’t his), it made a difference and launched among the public a notion of dads staying at home permanently. And, as Anton points out, that was almost 40 years ago.
The phenomenon of “latte-pappor” is perhaps something highlighted in the latest decade, but it has deeper roots in Swedish society. And, just a little tip from one of the Swedish dads: “this generous system applies to foreigners living in Sweden as well. If you feel a certain urge to be a “latte-pappa” for a couple of years, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ve done the research and know exactly how to best enjoy life with a stroller and a cappuccino”