Is papadag (daddy day) the reason Dutch families are so darn happy?

 In Baby, Grade-schooler, Parenting Around the World, Preschooler, Toddler

After moving to The Netherlands two years ago from South Africa, I noticed something different when I took my sons to the park during the week. Sometimes the only other people there with kids were dads.

All across the Netherlands on a weekday morning, I’d see dads playing on the playgrounds, dads walking around town with babies strapped to their chests, or dads bicycling the streets with their kids.

My Dutch friends explained why this wasn’t unusual. The guys were on their weekly papadag—“daddy day.”

What is papadag?

It’s simple really: One day a week, dad (and only dad) is in charge of the kids. Mom gets the entire day off and is free to work, relax, sleep, or maybe even go to a movie!

What’s not to like?

Papadag isn’t some random, occasional frill. Most dads do it once a week, beginning when their babies are born until they’re about 8. (Wednesdays are popular, because schools let out at noon.) And companies even encourage their workers to take this time off.

Why it’s so popular:

Three main reasons explain why papadag is a beloved Dutch tradition:

1) One child-free day a week gives moms a break and time to themselves. Recipe for happiness!

2) It lets dads spend special time with their children doing normal everyday things. This allows both sides to bond and build a strong relationship.

3) It creates a better work-life balance for both parents. And children grow up seeing their parents as equals. Maybe that explains why Dutch kids are pretty darn happy—the happiest in the world among developed countries, according to this survey. It’s not just that they eat hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) for breakfast!

Bonus benefit: Dads get to experience firsthand what raising children and keeping ahead of the domestic chores really feels like—hard work!—which leads to a greater sense of appreciation and understanding, whether their partner is a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. (Three-fourths of mothers in The Netherlands work part-time. When moms work full-time, dads still take papadag, reducing the number of paid childcare days per week.)

Some background:

Culturally, papadag works because the Dutch tend to have an extremely strong work ethic. While you’re still struggling to drag yourself from your warm bed, they’ve been at the office for an hour already. The Dutch have one of the highest rates of work productivity in the EU, even though Dutch workers put in fewer hours than their European counterparts. It boils down to more work in less time.

Companies encourage a weekly papadag and use it as a selling point. The custom really took off after 1996, when the government officially gave part-time workers equal status to full-time workers.

How our family adapted the idea:

There are weeks where my husband, Berto (that’s him on the bicycle with our kids in the photo at top), is unable to take a day off, but he can often work from home on that day. If he can’t do that, we make papadag on a Saturday. The children are his responsibility for the day. I either go to my favorite coffee shop to work or take the day for myself—something I very rarely get to do! I feel refreshed and supported, and he gets to spend time with the children.

It’s a win-win situation.

Win-win-win, actually, because our kids, Sawyer (7) and Noah (4), absolutely love having their father home for a day, all to themselves. I think it’s important for them to see that both mom and dad are responsible for the house and taking care of them.

How you can have papadag:

Okay, most companies in the U.S. and elsewhere would balk at the thought of employees taking a whole day off every week. But there are ways to incorporate papadag into your family with a few small changes:

  • Try making Saturday papadag, instead of dad taking time off work midweek.
  • Consider stretching out family leave time this way. (In The Netherlands, all fathers with kids under age 8 get 13 weeks of unpaid leave. But there’s no rule that you have to take your days all in one swoop.)
  • If a whole day is too much, schedule one evening a week where dad takes over—making dinner, reading the bedtime story, and so on.
  • Make Saturday mornings—breakfast and playing with the kids—your papadag.
  • Or, because the ultimate focus is on bringing the family together, if you decide to spend papadag all together, that’s fine too!

—Lucille Abendanon, a contributor to Knocked Up Abroad Again, chronicles her ex-pat life on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Photos: Lucille Abendanon/expitterpattica

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