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What Finnish dads are doing right—and how we can all learn from them

Out of all the developed countries in the world, there is only one where dads surpass moms in terms of average time spent with their school-aged kids: Finland. According to a recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Finnish dads spend eight more minutes with their older kiddos on the typical days than moms.

What that says about the societal structure in Finland that supports such an enviable co-parenting relationship is significant. That’s because this isn’t just about seeing dads play more equal roles, but also about how that empowers moms and benefits kids.

“This is not about the mother’s right or the father’s right—but the child’s right to spend time with both parents,” said Finland’s minister of family affairs and social services, Annika Saarikko, in an interview with The Guardian.

So, how did Finland come to be what the Global Gender Gap called the second most equal county in the world?

1. Families in Finland are supported

In Finland, it’s the norm for moms to continue working full-time, says Saarikko. And that return to work is supported from the start: Finnish women get four months of paid maternity leave, which she can begin even before baby’s arrival. Afterward, they aren’t left with the kind of post-delivery medical bills that are common in the United States.

In fact, they are given some beneficial freebies in the form of Finland’s famous baby box, which includes newborn essentials that are practical and promote safe baby practices. In order to receive the box, expectant mothers must seek prenatal care before the end of their fourth month of pregnancy—which experts tie to Finland’s low infant mortality rate.

2. Dads get impressive paternity leave benefits

Not only do Finnish fathers get nine weeks of paid paternity leave, but couples also get an additional five months of paid parental leave to split. And—with the country’s new “It’s Daddy Time” campaign—fathers are publicly encouraged to take full advantage of it. As Saarikko told The Guardian, this is with the interests of children in mind.

“We are quite sure if we look at the research that the connection between the baby and the father is really important,” she said. “The early years are vital and we believe in investing in that.”

Science backs that up, with parental leave tied to boosted brain development for babies.

3. There is easily accessible, high-quality childcare

When both parents go back to work, they can do so with the confidence their kids are well cared for through quality, universal daycare. Not only does that help parents, but it lays the foundation for superior education as the kids age—with Finnish students outperforming U.S. peers in math, reading and science assessments. (And that’s even with kids in Finland spending far fewer hours sitting at desks.)

4. They take the “life” part of work-life balance seriously

There are few workaholics to be found in Finland, where most people begin their workdays around 8 a.m. and punch out by 4 or 5 in the afternoon. And, at home, moms aren’t as prone to maternal gatekeeping.

“When I am at home, I’m really involved–that’s normal,” one dad told The Guardian. “Dads participate in their kids’ life and kids have a lot of hobbies, in my experience it’s often the dad who takes them.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean moms are on their way out in Finland. Even there, they spend an average 71 more minutes each day with kids preschool-aged and younger. And, outside the home, the work isn’t done with Saarikko saying her country is still far from total gender equality.

But it is a start that most of us elsewhere would feel lucky to have.

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