Story | 06/01/2023 09:30:15 | 7 min Read time

I want to get to know you, father

Leena Lukkari

Text

Nina Karlsson

Photos

Ville Strandman, 32, is one of the first Finns to whom the new equality promoting family leave reform is applied to. He is also one of the first UPMers to be a part of UPM’s own parental leave reform.

“I cannot really say what is so strange about fathers being encouraged to stay at home. It should be self-evident as the child is equally on both parents’ responsibility,” Ville says. He is a soon-to-be father and one of the first Finns to whom the long-awaited family leave reform is applied to. 

The family leave reform came into effect on the first of August 2022 and its purpose is to promote equality in the Finnish work and family-life. The law reform gives both of the parents an equal amount of leave for the first time with the opportunity of transferring leave for example to one of the parents or another guardian.

Ville Strandman works as a Business Controller at UPM, and the due date of his first-born child is in the end of October. This makes Strandman one of the first Finns to whom this family leave reform is applied to. He is also one of the first UPM employees to whom the corporation’s family leave reform is applied to. UPM pays a 32 weekdays’ paid leave to all its employees eligible for parental allowance according to the family leave reform regardless of their gender or form of family.
 

 
The new family leave regulation is applied to children with a due date on September 4th 2022, or after. Strandman plans to stay home with his child for over three months, but his turn will most likely be in a year’s time in the fall. Then Strandman would stay home, and his spouse Venla would return to work. The soon-to-be parents would like to first see what kind of a new person is born into the world.

“Things may seem clear on paper, but we know there may be many surprises that may change the plans,” Strandman says. 

Why have fathers not stayed at home?

Before the law reform, mothers used up to 90 % of all parental allowances in Finland, even though fathers have had the legal right to parental allowances as well. In the reform, parental leaves and parental allowances have been divided into halves. Both of the parents get a 160-day allowance quota, from where a parent can give away a maximum of 63 days to another parent, partner or other guardian.

“With this legislation, fathers and employers are being encouraged to seriously consider taking long leaves,” says Eva Ojala, negotiating officer of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

According to the Finnish institute for health and welfare, Finnish fathers take less parental leaves than fathers in other Nordic Countries. A fifth of the fathers do not take any parental leave at all.

With this legislation, fathers and employers are being encouraged to seriously consider taking long leaves.

The uneven distribution of family leaves has been a topic of discussion on different forums and amongst researchers for years already. This unbalance has provoked concern for the career development of women and the rigidity of gender and family roles. According to Ojala there are many reasons for this unbalance, and some of them stem more from beliefs, structures and habits than realistic obstacles.

“The family can have the idea that the father’s job is so important that it is impossible for him to take a leave. On the other hand, it is possible that in the father’s workplace, it is frowned upon to take long family leaves,” she states.

Pregnancy time is an opportunity for the father to prepare for a positive change

Returning to the everyday life of Ville Strandman. Even though the baby has not been born yet, Strandman has already adapted to his role as a father during the pregnancy. Especially the visits to the maternity clinic have felt meaningful to the father-to-be.

“I understand how a father can feel as an outsider, because naturally the focus during the visits is on the child and the mother. I have, however, found it valuable to be present,” Strandman says.

Each child has its own personality. There is the opportunity to get to know this personality thoroughly at home and the one gets to know me as well.

Strandman describes the pregnancy time as a preparation for a positive change in life. Becoming a father is exciting in all the right ways.

“As an Economist I have, of course, done some research and familiarised myself with things, but I have also deliberately tried to avoid any unnecessary stress. I want to trust that I will learn in practice,“   Strandman mentions. Instead, he has been thinking thoroughly what kind of father he wants to be.

“I want to be a loving, trustworthy and close father to my child, just as most fathers probably wish to,” Strandman summarises.

Combining work and parenthood is not a topic of concern

When family leaves are distributed in a more even manner in the future, this will also positively reflect on other aspects, such as salaries, career development and the eventual pension. More important than promotions and career related moves are anyhow parents’ relationships with their children.

“The relationship between father and child is in the center of the reform. A child has the right to both of its parents”, Eva Ojala summarises. Forming a connection with the new family member is the most important factor effecting the decision to stay at home for a longer time also for Strandman.

“Each child has their own personality. There is the opportunity to get to know this personality thoroughly at home and the one gets to know me as well”, he mentions.

Strandman has followed closely the family-life of his sibling as well as the combining of work and home of his colleagues. He thinks he has quite a good understanding of what is to come.

 
 

“Raising children requires a lot of hard work, just as anything meaningful in life. You cannot graduate from university or move forward in your career, if you are not interested in what you do and are not willing to put yourself out there”, Strandman says.

He feels that he and other parents of small children have the full support of their colleagues and employers in their workplaces.

“I believe that parenthood teaches you something universal. When I come back to work, I will at least not be a worse version of myself,” Strandman believes.

 


UPM renewed its family leave practices. “We hope that the paid leave will act as a concrete incentive for fathers.”

With 75 % of its workforce being men, in the name of equality UPM has adjusted its family leave practice. UPM’s Employment relations lawyer Anna Polvenlahti explains why. 

Where did the idea start from?

We followed the family leave reform very closely at UPM and wanted to prepare for it well in advance. Because enhancing equality and diversity is important for UPM in general, we naturally jumped on to the change.

What does the change mean in practice?

Everyone who is eligible according to the family leave reform for parental allowance is eligible to 32 weekdays’ paid leave regardless of gender and form of family. This is not a benefit required by the law, it is a benefit we wish to offer to our employees.

Why was this change necessary?

UPM wants to promote equality in work-life and family-life as an employer. We hope that this paid leave will act as a concrete incentive for fathers. This was a great opportunity to also change our own practices and we wanted to grasp it.

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