Paternity inspiration

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Here is an interesting question: Did baby carriers look like they were designed for women (and not both men and woman) because women carry the babies? Or does women carry the babies because baby carriers looked like they were designed for women?

Well, today I met with Lisa Thorén, an energetic and inspiring women who told me the story of how Baby Björn (the world famous baby carrier company, with annual revenues of USD 60 million) changed who carries babies.

Lisa is the right person to tell this story. She has been on the board of Baby Björn for more than 20 years, she is the daughter of the founder and inventor of Baby Björn – and she is actually the reason the Baby Björn bib was invented. And her younger sister Josefin was the child her daddy invented the now world famous baby carrier for. She has also worked actively in the company with PR and marketing for many, many years. (Today she is the founder and CEO of innovative skating company Performance SK8  – thus the skateboard in the picture 🙂

She told me that one time, more than 20 years ago, she, her mother Lillemor and their team at Baby Björn brain stormed about creating a baby carrier in black. (before that almost all baby carriers were designed in pink, purple, flower pattern and other designed that was meant to appeal to women.)

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Many people were extremely hesitant to the idea of a baby carrier in black, and they did not think they would sell a lot.

But Lisa said: “Let’s make it anyway, if nothing else we can tell the journalists that we did it for the fathers and perhaps get some PR around it.”

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Today the black version of the Baby Björn Baby Carrier is the company’s best selling model (!) – in part because families buy it feeling that it will feel equally suitable for the father and the mother to put on.

One idea, from one creative person in one company that challenged the norm and the status quo that changed how children gets carried and by whom.

BabyBjörn was founded by a father who cared about his children. We need more of that.

The more involved fathers we get the more natural fathers caring for their children will become.

 

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I saw on a couple of daddy blogs that Lego has introduced a Lego set where the mother is working and the father is a stay-at-home-dad. Lego is getting a lot of positive respons for being so “progressive” – and I think it is awesome that they have done it.

But I am at the same time surprised how “a dad taking care of the kids” can be such a “groundbreaking” idea.

In a way it would have been cooler if the introduction of the “stay-at-home-dad-Lego-set” had not created any news at all. Like if an active parenting father was the most natural thing in the world. Because I think it is the most natural thing in the world to be an active father. And soon, hopefully, more people will think so too.

The fact that Lego is launching that stay-at-home-dad-set is perhaps a sign of how things are changing, like if the dad-lego-set is a small lego piece in a big puzzle to slowly change the perception of what it means to be a father.

It would not be the first time Lego has tried to push public opinion on gender-related issues.

In a letter to parents published in 1972 LEGO wrote:

“To Parents

The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.

It’s the imagination that counts. Not skill. You build whatever comes into your head, the way you want it. A bed or a truck. A dolls house or a spaceship.

A lot of boys like dolls houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses.

The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.”

 

I would like to propose an alternative text:

“To Parents

The urge to connect with their parents is equally strong in all children. To connect with both Mum – and Dad.

It’s the love that counts. Not skill. You parent whatever way comes into your head, the way you want it. Put your child to bed. Pretend to be a truck. Play with a dolls house, teach them about spaceships.

A lot of dads like to play with doll houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of mums prefer to teach about spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses.

The most important things is to put in the right amount of time with them, to lead, teach and inspire them to believe that they can create what ever appeals to them.”

Lego is a made-up word created by combining the two danish words for “play” and “learn”, and it is really an amazing tool to inspire creativity. I grew up on Lego and spent hundreds and hundreds of hours alone (or with my brothers) building with those small, plastic bricks. I am absolutely sure that Lego helped me develop my creative skills.

But I am equally convinced that playing alone with Lego was not the most important thing that triggered my creativity.

It was things like my dad tying a rope behind the car so that we could hold on to the rope while he would drive on snowy country roads as a make-shift and flat ski-lift. Or my mother teaching us to bake, or our parents letting us pretend to be fire-fighters who would use small water-spray-bottles to put out the egg-cartons that they had set alight in our fire-place.

Children develop their creativity by exploring, being curious and imagining – but this creative development can be multiplied by the right support from their parents. And the number one tool to develop a child in any possible manner is the tool called TIME.

Dads playing with their kids is not “cute”, “sweet” or “endearing” – it is “essential”.

Make sure you put in the time needed to do it.

 

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There are a few things that you will never know until you come to that phase in life.
Like how you will never fully appreciate what your parents did for you until you yourself have a child.

And I think another of these things is that you will never fully appreciate how you should have behaved towards your children until you become a grandparent.

I, of course, will not know this for sure until I myself have grandchildren, but it seems to hold true when I look at how amazing my own mother and my own mother in law, for example, are with their grandchildren.

On a website I visited recently they had asked 8-years old the question: “What is your grandparents’ role in your life?”

The answers were, as you could expect, adorable.

They said things like:

When they take us for walks, they slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars.”

“They don’t say, “Hurry up”.”

“When they read to us, they don’t skip. They don’t mind if we ask for the same story over again.”

Adorable – yet serious.

One said: “Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don’t have television, because they are the only grown ups who like to spend time with us.”

It’s like grandparents have understood that the one thing that kids should be given is time.

An advantage of having kids late in life is that you somehow get a little of that “grandparent wisdom” into you already as a parent.

(My mum just told me that when she was the age I am now (47) all of her three children had already moved out of the house (In comparison my oldest child is 5 and my youngest is just born… It was a realisation that made us both feel very, very old…)

When I see the patience, presence and commitment grandparent approach children with I get inspired.
Inspired to try to get some of that attitude towards my own parenting.

And I think this is extra true for fathers who tend to spend shorter time periods with their kids than mothers. (You can say “it’s easy for grand parents to do, they are usually retired.” But that is why it is so important for fathers to take paternity leave. To get more time with the children.)

The word “Grand” literally means: “magnificent in appearance” or “denoting the largest or most important item of its kind.’
The synonyms are: “magnificent, impressive, awe-inspiring, splendid and superb.”

That is what we should aim for as parents: To be magnificent, impressive, awe-inspiring, splendid and superb.

We should be grand.
Grand parents.

We should slow down and spend more time with our kids.
They deserve it.
After all, our children are grand children.

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I once heard a story that went like this:

Foreign woman: “You are from Sweden? I love Sweden! Especially all those gay Swedish nannies!”

Swedish woman: “??? … Oh, you mean the dads…!”

Turns out that the non-Swedish woman had mistaken all the Swedish paternity dads taking care of their kids as being hired nannies. And she could not imagine a straight man working with kids, she had assumed that all the “nannies” where gay…

 

Fathers spending a lot of time off with their children might be exotic outside Sweden still, and in many ways Sweden (and other Nordic countries) are leading the way for society where children grow up with a more equal amount of male and female role models.

In Sweden parents get 480 days paid paternity leave.

90 of those days are exclusively for the father (so if the father doesn’t use them the mother can not use them)

About 12% of Swedish couples have a setup where the mother and father split the days 50/50.

Gender equality is important in Sweden, and according to Wikipedia and the official website Sweden.se Sweden is in the forefront on this issues.

In 2006, the World Economic Forum introduced its annual Global Gender Gap Report, which measures equality in the areas of economics, politics, education and health. Since the report’s inception, Sweden has never finished lower than fourth in the Gender Gap rankings.

That does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that Sweden is a truly gender equal society. Far from it. Or that Swedish dads do as much of the work at home as the mothers do. They do not.

Mothers just work more than dads if you add up paid work and domestic work. But at least in Sweden the difference is much smaller than in other countries where the mothers work.

What it does mean is that Sweden there is a strong movement of dads stepping up and saying “I want to take a bigger responsibility in brining up my children too.”

 

Today the notion of a father staying home to take care of the kids may seem odd, strange, exotic – or even unmanly – in many parts of the world.

But times change.

Women get more and more role models showing how they can step up and be equal to men in the workforce (Latest example: the national airline of Ethiopia announcing a flight with an all-female crew.)

And the more examples fathers get of other men choosing to stay home and raise their kids the bigger the chance that they too will see the opportunities and advantages that it could bring to have the father stay home.

I guess the conclusion is: The more we raise the awareness of fathers raising their kids the higher the chance that the percentage of fathers taking paternity leave will raise. 

And that is why I am writing this blog.

 

The pictures in this post is from the book “Swedish Dads” by Johan Bävman who followed a number of Swedish dads on paternity leave. Another amazing project to raise awareness of  paternity leave. Read more about the book and get your own copy here.

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