Domestic Dads in Luxembourg
Spring has reached Luxembourg, there’s a soft breeze in the air, the inner city is crowded and three Swedish friends Fredrik, Peter and Björn meet at their favourite lunch bar Konrad for their weekly gathering. These are important – the lunch gatherings. They talk about their professional situations, Swedish politics, interests and their quite rare and unique situations in Luxembourg. They are just ordinary men in their forties, married and dads, having lived in Luxembourg for some time. And to add to this they are all stay-home dads as their wives have expat contracts at different international companies located in Luxembourg.
Fredrik moved to Luxembourg with his wife Arja and their two children roughly two years ago. Arja has an assignment as the manager at a banking company. In Sweden Fredrik worked as manager but actually quit his job to start a completely new life in Luxembourg. He’s taking care of the domestic duties, helping his children with their schooling and walking the family’s beloved dog, Douglas. Fredrik loves to take rides in the beautiful countryside with his MC and has also started two small businesses. “It’s a perfect preoccupation”, he says.
Peter and his wife Helene and their two daughters moved to Luxembourg less than a year ago. Helene had an assignment as the manager at a global company. Peter is a former journalist and is working as independent consultant with internal communication and public relations. Peter has had the opportunity to keep some of his customers in Sweden and is still running his business part-time from Luxembourg. Peter loves to hang around with his family and good friends. He’s also studying French and is totally into sports. “It’s important to stay fit in a country with very tasty beer and a delicate cuisine”, he says with a smile.
Finally, Björn moved to Luxembourg with his wife Eva and their son a little more than a year ago. Eva had gotten an assignment as controller manager also at a global company. In Sweden, Björn was working as youth coordinator, social worker and educator. He was granted a two year leave of absence from his assignment there. In Luxembourg he’s working for the English-speaking voluntary family support organization Passage; picking up his French; exploring the beautiful Luxembourgish nature; doing some photography and editing; and singing in an international choir.
The three of them have very different professional backgrounds and interests. However, what binds them together is the fact that they are doing almost all the domestic duties at home. “We usually call ourselves domestic dads”, Björn says with both a scoop of humor and a scoop of graveness. “That’s the way it is with wives working 24/7. It gives a lot of freedom but isn’t always funny”.
A modern society in an old country
There are a lot of advantages living in Luxembourg. When they bring up this issue, Peter claims he can almost only see advantages so far. It’s a small country with a very mixed population and there seems to be a well-developed integration and a tolerant atmosphere. A good example of this open climate is the public marriage between the homosexual prime minister and his partner. Moreover, and a very important fact, the schools are top notch if you have your children in one of the international schools, which is the case for all three. Geographically, Luxembourg is perfectly located in the middle of Europe and close to many other countries. And they all agree there are plenty of beautiful panoramic spots. The climate is far better than the Scandinavian one with early springs and long autumns. The Luxembourgish cuisine is great and there are many great restaurants to find.
But of course, there are also quite obvious disadvantages. First of all it’s very expensive to live in Luxembourg, for example to buy a house or a car insurances. “When I registered my car here, I got a slight shock at the Axa office”, Björn explains. On the other hand, a huge part of the population holds a high income and the tax is very low. What’s really annoying is the sometimes suffocating bureaucracy in contact with authorities and institutions. “Well, when you’re in the system and know how to manage it might get easier, though”, Peter adds. What they all share is missing the sea!
Carpe diem or lost in translation?
So, which are the biggest changes as an accompanying husband in Luxembourg? For Peter the professional situation hasn’t changed so much as he has the possibility to work with his established costumers. Every second month he has to go to Sweden to meet them face to face, that’s the biggest change. Privately, he has to take the responsibility for domestic duties and the children’s schooling. However, Peter is only regarding this as a positive change.
Fredrik, actually quit his job to be the one taking the domestic responsibility, see to it that things ran smoothly and that the children were having a good time as Third Culture Kids. “Of course, it was a giant step to leave a safe employment permanently and to dive into a completely different situation. It took roughly a year to acclimatize”, he says. And funny enough, it took the children half a year to start yelling “daddy” instead of “mummy” when they came home from school.
For Björn, moving to Luxembourg meant an opportunity to do something else, have a mental rest and develop his hobbies. However, one goal was to seek out if there were any professional entries for him in Luxembourg. After half a year he began to scout the labour market alongside the French studies. Soon he realized there was one huge problem to find employment within the Luxembourgish state authorities; the obligation to speak the three official languages fluently. He applied at the different international schools and worked as a substitute for a short period of time. Even this was hard as he had no formal teachers’ diploma. In comparison to Peter’s balanced work situation and Fredrik’s much laid-back approach to his new situation, Bjorn got a bit frustrated. He wanted to work and be economically independent. Fortunately, he came in contact with Passage and soon became a coordinator responsible for the Professionals Network. Voluntary work, yet with an important purpose.
Being a minority phenomenon
The majority of the accompanying partners in Luxembourg (and worldwide for that matter) are women. The accompanying husband is a whimpering minority, still. “We know we’re a minority. The vast majority of stay home parents are traditionally of course women. But we’re out there and we’ll probably grow in numbers”, Peter says.
What impact does the new situation have on them as persons, men and fathers? Fredrik is very clear he’s become an epicurean who lives more in the here and now. Seizing the day has suddenly becomes a reality. “However, it’s important to meet other men in the same situation”, he says. ”The Friday gatherings are very important to brief everyday life, politics in our home country and other trivial issues”. Peter thinks he’s changed for the better because he really enjoys the new situation. Björn agrees with the other two but isn’t entirely comfortable with the fact that he’s economically dependent. He wants to work and contribute to the household. “It’s in the family, the importance of being economically independent and to manage on your own” he adds.
Due to cultural and traditional structures still dominating most European countries, it’s probably more difficult for men to acclimatize to the role as “stay-home parent” than for women. On the other hand, women’s professional careers seem to become a more and more common reason for a family to move to another country. Generally, all three agree it’s a good thing for the equality between men and women. If we can have a small impact on our children the future generations will probably see equality between the sexes as something totally normal.
Newcomers and leavers
So, what would the three friends tell a newly arrived accompanying husband? “Take the once in a life time chance and enjoy”, is Fredrik’s immediate reply. “Even though it might be difficult for a man to let go of work and the responsibility as wage earner it’s important not to get paralyzed and really see the opportunity to enjoy the new role as domestic dad. Björn agrees with the both of them but adds that it’s important not to let go of your own personal identity, professional integrity and future goals. On the whole, it’s difficult to give advice. “They have to find out by themselves”, Peter concludes.
Well, how long will the status as domestic dad in Luxembourg last for the three friends at Konrad’s? For Fredrik there will be a quite drastic change as his wife has signed up for another company in the UK. She’s already moved there whereas Fredrik and their children will stay in Luxembourg another year. “It’s important our elder son has the opportunity to finish school”. Björn will most likely go back to Sweden in the beginning of 2016 as his leave of absence ends. His wife will stay another half year to finish her contract and their son will finish grade 7 before heading back to Sweden. And for Peter? “Well, we don’t know yet, however we’re not planning to leave for another couple of years. There’s actually no reason to, anyway”, he says. But he will most certainly miss his two domestic dad friends, he adds.
Keeping or losing attachment and self-esteem
In his book “Safe Passage”, psychologist Dr. Douglas Ota, describes how mobility affects people in general. Starting from the theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs he invites the reader to a journey of statements and solutions. The Maslow’s hierarchy, or pyramid, pinpoints our fundamental needs as human beings. In the base of the pyramid there are the physiological and physical safety needs, such as oxygen, water, food, heat and shelter. Higher up in the hierarchy there are the need of attachment, such as love, affection and belonging, and self-esteem, the sense of having a value and meaning. On top, we find the self-actualization and “achieving your potential”. In the case of a life in mobility, the fundamental needs might be hard or easy to maintain, but are needs we never let go of, we simply need them to survive. However, Dr. Ota claims that the two segments attachment and self-esteem are the most affected and vulnerable needs in case of moving around. Moreover, people even tend to leave those needs out and aim for the self-actualization right away. This can actually be the typical case in Luxembourg, a wealthy country with a mostly wealthy foreign population where the fundamental needs are easily maintained. Moreover, when the purpose of mobility is primary the one of career and high standard living and education, the tendency to jump over the needs of attachment and self-esteem is easily done.
How can this theory on mobility match with the situation of our three Swedish dads? In his book, Dr. Ota compiles six so called “laws of transitions”. One of them states that there must be a clear “goodbye” in order to say a clear “hello” or “You have to grieve well to leave well”. It’s very obvious, Fredrik is the one who has had the ability to say a clear goodbye to Sweden and his employment and an equally clear hello to Luxembourg and his new situation as accompanying parent. He’s totally satisfied with the new role as head chief of domestic issues and the children’s education and well-being, the situation as economically dependent of his wife and, of course, the freedom to do whatever he likes to do, in his spare time. Fredrik can easily maintain the attachment and self-esteem in his new situation.
For Björn, on the other hand, the situation looks different. For sure, he’s enjoying the opportunity to try out new things in life, such as studying French, singing in a choir and spending time in the beautiful Luxembourgish nature and doing photography. However, he’s a working man who cannot avoid being involved in different social issues and commits himself in several activities. He’s suffering from not having a stable employment and being economically dependent. The attachment and self-esteem rest too much in his employment and social network in Sweden, he simply has a hard time to say a clear goodbye and, thus, lacks the full capability to say a clear hello.
Finally, Peter’s situation is totally different from those of Fredrik and Björn. Professionally, he’s still working part time from Sweden, earning his own income, and privately he’s living part-time as stay-home dad in Luxembourg, not entirely economically dependent on his wife. When it comes to the law of transition, Peter doesn’t have to say a clear goodbye and a clear hello, actually, it isn’t even possible for him to do so. He doesn’t live in Sweden or Luxembourg, he’s living in both countries at the same time. However, for Peter, this is an ideal situation, a perfect balance in life. The possibility to both keep his professional role and embrace the new role as domestic dad allows him to keep both attachment and self-esteem.
Of course, there are no rights and wrongs in how the three friends feel about their situations in Luxembourg. Just facts and the truth that we’re all different and that mobility has different impact on us. The situations discussed above must have been the ambivalent situation for women during thousands of years in their involuntary role as home wives. Fredrik, Peter and Björn are modern men, trying to change old cultural traditions. Hopefully, in highlighting this issue, they can make a difference for the benefits of both men, women and their children in a world of mobility.
Article by: Björn Callmar who is a coordinator for Passage.
Last updated: Monday 5th October, 2015