The Swedish find it strange if dads don't stay home with the child

The Swedish find it strange if dads don't stay home with the child

In his spare time, Mr Viktor Wallstrom, 29, grabs his hiking boots, windbreaker and hunting gear and sets off for his cabin in the woods north of Stockholm for a week. He also packs lots of diapers for his 14-month-old son Henry.

Bundled in warm clothing, the toddler gets a ride on dad's back, snug in a modified baby seat. Mr Wallstrom packs light for these father-and-son trips: no baby bottles, no baby toys, and no prams.

Though this might seem like a scene out of Survivor: Baby Edition, he is doing what many Swedish fathers do - he is on long parental leave to look after his child while his wife is at work.

"I'm the outdoorsy one, and my wife is the musical one. I like going into the woods, hiking and plucking mushrooms. So I usually take Henry on these expeditions since I'm the one on parental leave now," he says.

He is part of a growing tribe known in Sweden as "latte papas" - men who go on state-funded leave to be their children's primary caregivers, a role still associated mainly with mothers. While their wives or partners are at their jobs, the men do everything for their babies and toddlers, mostly still bottle-fed and in diapers.

Latte papas can be seen everywhere in public, one hand on a stroller and the other holding a mug of coffee. You see them in parks, or chilling with fellow dads and kids in cafes.

Mr Wallstrom, into his fourth month of parental leave, took time off from his public relations job in a telecommunications firm to stay home, look after Henry and handle the cooking, washing and cleaning up.

He plans to stay at home for six months until Christmas. His wife Linnea, 31, stayed home for almost a year after Henry's birth before returning to her job as an international coordinator with the Stockholm police.

"Taking parental leave is good for everyone. My wife gets to go to work, it's a good thing for her career. Henry gets to spend time with two parents who are active in his life. I get to bond with him during this stage of his life, so I think being on parental leave is fantastic," says Mr Wallstrom.

Experts in Sweden say that when fathers take more parental leave, it benefits not only their own families but can also enrich the labour market and reduce gender discrimination.

Forty years ago, Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce parental leave, giving both parents an equal chance to stay at home with the child.

The state grants couples 480 days of paid benefits, with 60 days for each parent that cannot be transferred between them. If either does not take the 60 days of non-transferable leave, it is forfeited. The remaining 360 days can be shared equally or transferred between parents.

Like the Wallstroms, many couples combine their parental leave entitlement with leave benefits from their jobs to extend their combined time off to a total of about 18 months.

Parents on paid leave are entitled to 80 per cent of their monthly salary for the first 390 days, with an earnings cap of 37,083 Swedish krona (about S$6,500). The remaining 90 days are paid out at a flat rate. Those who are unemployed are also given paid parental leave.

The generous benefits given to Swedish parents appear to be working, as more couples are having babies now. According to the World Bank, Sweden's total fertility rate (TFR) edged closer to replacement levels in 2012 to reach 1.91, up from 1.65 in 2002.

In comparison, Singapore's TFR has declined steadily over the years to 1.19 last year, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

According to Statistics Sweden, mothers take an average of 75 per cent of parental leave, while fathers take just 25 per cent. But more fathers are taking more time off, splitting the parental leave more equally with their wives.

As a result, Sweden - a country already well known for its gender-egalitarian policies - is seeing rising expectations that fathers should bear some of the burden of unpaid work at home.

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