The pursuit of parenting happiness

25 January 2017

Dear friend,

What makes you happy?  It seems like the pursuit of happiness is big business at the moment. You can't go anywhere without happiness being thrown in your face by someone. From quotes on IG to pretty graphic plaques for your home, to best selling books adored by bloggers  and even a happiness institute.

It feels like everyone is in pursuit of this magical element that will make our lives better. Everyone wants to be happy. Don't get me wrong, I do too. I love a good quote, attempt to live mindfully, read the little book of Hygge and when asked what I want my boys to be, my reply is... happy!

Over the last few weeks the attention seems to have shifted. Instead of general happiness we have seen a movement towards the pursuit of parenting happiness.

Dutch children have twice been top of the league table when it comes to happiness so naturally researchers and writers have looked towards Holland for parenting inspiration. As an EXPAT who has lived in Holland for eleven years and who is married to a dutch man, these articles always catch my eye. I have also written about how living in Holland has changed my parenting style, here and here...

Over the last two weeks I have read several articles telling me that Papadag could be the reason Dutch kids are so happy.

...the parenting trend that could make your family happier.

One article prompted a thread on the UK Parent Bloggers Facebook Page. In this article Papadag was quoted as:

In basic terms, it’s a regular day, once a week, where dads take responsibility for looking after their children. And we don’t mean playing half an hour of Mario Kart with the kids before flicking over to the football and letting Mum take over. 

The tone of the post prompted a backlash as people came out to defend Dad's and fight the stereotypical undercurrents. It prompted me to respond as in my opinion this was not only stereotypical hogwash it was actually factually incorrect.

What is papadag?

The Dutch government recognises that father's naturally want to spend time with their newborn children too and that some fathers may want more time with their little ones than just evenings or weekends? Dutch fathers can make use of parental leave (Ouderschapsverlof) also known as Papadag.  
Translated from the Dutch  Ouderschapsverlof site

Papadag allows fathers to spend more time with their (newborn) child and to work less.
  • You are entitled to at least three months unpaid leave until the child is eight years old
  • You are entitled to parental leave when your child lives with you
  • You have 26 times your weekly working hours for parental leave
  • You are entitled to parental leave when you have spent a year or more working for the same boss.
  • Parental leave, does not have to be taken when the little one is born but may be taken later (up to the age of 8)
  • You do not get paid for the hours less you work so this is unpaid leave

On Papadag fathers are the primary care givers for their children. Most fathers tend to take this as a set day per week. Whilst it has been sold in some articles as giving mums '...time for themselves' in the families I know it has been used as an alternative to paying for expensive childcare. Instead of the kids going to the opvang (nursery) they spend the day with dad whilst mum is at work. But to be honest, I do not know many families who have used this time! In the Netherlands, only 23 percent of fathers who are entitled to have parental leave take that leave (according to a 2014 study by the Social and Cultural Planning Office).

Fathers taking parental leave is still not widely accepted in all professions despite the backing of the Dutch government. Some fathers are restrained by the fear of losing income and men often think that the nature of their work does not permit fewer working hours and therefore leave will not be accepted by their boss. That was certainly true for my husband who works in the flower business.

How can something that only actually affects 23% of fathers be attributed to the happiness of children and parents in Holland? 

The happiness of Dutch parents and children has more to do with the whole attitude of the Dutch towards parenting.  Papadag is recognition from the Dutch Government that parents want to share responsibility for raising their children. The thing that struck me when I first moved to Holland is that Dad's are everywhere; at the Park, the Dr, the playgroup, the school trips. Quite simply parents have an equal role in raising children!

It is also interesting to note that the Dutch are very proud of the fact they have the shortest working week in the world and one of the best work/life balances! A fact left out of these previous articles. In simple terms Dutch families spend more time together. Perhaps the real post should be...

Flexibility of working hours makes a big difference to the happiness of parents.
Click to tweet.

Now that I would read!

Is the secret to parenting happiness time? What do you think?

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Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

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