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Things to do on holiday

| Text: Pierre-Henry Deshayes, Photo: Björn Lindahl

"How was your holiday?" they ask me. I think to myself - holiday? What holiday? I've worked harder over the past three months at home than during an entire year in the office.

My experience is that people who call parental leave a holiday are either foreigners or childfree. It's difficult for them to grasp that a state, no matter how wealthy it is, would give so much time off to fresh parents, and it's hard for them to see that this time off is no walk in the park. So I guess they should be forgiven.

In oil-rich Norway, parents enjoy full pay for 10 months or 80 per cent pay for 12 months while staying at home with their child. The system is so generous that you would expect this seemingly worriless country to be among the most populated in Europe, despite its unlikely latitude.

Photo: Björn Lindahl

Its small population is still a mystery to me; a Frenchman who's been trying to hike the numbers over the past ten years. The first chunk of parental leave usually goes to the mother - for natural reasons such as breastfeeding. My role as a full-time father for our little Eva started when she was seven months old. So here I am, five years after my first parental experience. Trying to recall how long the milk has to be heated and on which side of the nappy those funny drawings should be when it's in place, while doing my utmost to gently mute that braying baby. It's not so easy to stay alert after yet another sleepless - or so it feels - night. Not to mention mother's expectation that you must get the shopping done, keep the house tidy, wash pink pajamas without mixing them up with once white and now stained handkerchiefs.

And don't forget Eva's older sister, Lea, who needs to be picked up from kindergarten. If I'm lucky, that's where Eva decides to soil her nappy. To top it off, my wife thought it appropriate to raise the bar even higher:

"Pierre, it's so nice to come home to a clean house but it would be even nicer if dinner was on the table, too.” And they call it holiday?

But in all my misery, I would not have traded my situation for anything in the world. I've enjoyed every single minute of it, witnessing the metamorphosis which turns a tiny, unresponsive creature into a full-scale human being, full of life and personality. The first laugh, the first tooth, the first roll on the floor, the first clap, the first wave goodbye, the look in her eyes when she sees you come back and the yet-to-be-seen first step.

Beyond my personal joy, a father's time at home with his children has a wider social impact. Gender equality starts at home. When men and women share the same obligations they also share the reward that follows - gaining your children's trust, confidence and respect. And when domestic responsibilities are shared pretty much equally between men and women, it shouldn't be impossible to reach the same level of equality in the work life.

A full year of parental leave is a wonderful thing. And to get the desired social effect, it should be shared more equally between mother and father. Only then, I believe, can men and women reach equality in the work life. So, no - the whole thing was not a holiday. But those who do not get the chance or lack the inclination to embark on this small journey miss out big time.




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