Personal challenges expose the core of a company’s culture

My spouse and I had been dating for a few months and had only just decided to consider our relationship official when I received a text message from her: “The pregnancy test is positive.” After the initial shock passed, the road ahead was riddled with difficult questions.

What is the relationship between me and my spouse and how can it be defined? Will I completely lose my autonomy? How will we share the responsibilities of parenting? After this, will we even have a romantic relationship anymore?

Mulling over these questions it became clear to me that life at work and outside of work are not separate entities. While I realized the emotions evoked by the radical changes in my personal life would not be permanent, they also could not be turned off the moment I stepped into work.

Emboldened by previous experiences, I was able to open up about the challenging situation with my closest workmates. For me, it made dealing with the emotions easier. Their reactions were empathetic and soothing. They listened to me. They respected me and offered support. This enabled me to take the time to focus on what mattered to me the most: building a relationship that we could base our parenthood on. No energy was lost trying to appear intact in front of the work community when, in that moment, I felt shattered. The situation began to clear up. My relationship with my spouse held together and our child was born into a loving family.

Stories about modern parenting help reshape norms

As the way we became parents already broke norms, it was easier for us to shape other aspects of life to meet the needs of our particular family as well. One decision we made was to share the Finnish extended parental leave equally.

Afterward, I realized the impact the work community and culture had also in this aspect of life. The decision to become a stay-at-home parent was easy to make partly because among the men at Reaktor, it is more the rule than the exception. I didn’t have to swim against the current, and hearing the experiences of others further strengthened my decision.

My five months as a stay-at-home father was the best summer of my life. At the same time, it was painfully difficult. I began to better understand my spouse. I began to hate grocery shopping. I began to discover unpleasant truths about myself. What stung the most was noticing myself dodging some of the responsibilities of parenting. I noticed that I turned to the easiest possible excuse to explain why being present at home felt difficult and house chores unbearable: I am a man, this isn’t my role. It gave me pause.

When I faced the difficulties brought on by the new responsibilities, the workmate safety net was there to help me again. In discussions no one offered ready-made answers or instructions. Gender roles were not regarded as absolute truths. It made it impossible for me to hide behind them. I also had to face the difficult sides of our choices and learn to deal with them.

“Great to hear men discussing things like that”

Statistics show that parenting in Finland is still strongly gender-divided. By law, it is possible to share the Finnish extended parental leave equally, but over 97% of the time the available parental leave is used by the mother.

I want to open up about my experiences publicly because I believe that sharing stories like this is a concrete action toward equality in parenting. I believe that both fathers and mothers need to talk about how they have experienced sharing responsibility in their relationships and how it has worked for them. Each parent’s situation is more or less unique – so experiences are best shared as stories, not instructions. The experiences of others can then be used as points of comparison for our own decisions.

Last week, a workmate and I sat in the tram discussing how life with their child had been going. After listening in for some time, an older gentleman stood up to comment: “I have to say, it is great to hear that these days men discuss things like that.”

I think we could discuss them even more.