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Anna Dechant and Annika Rinklake

In this chapter we analyse the accounts of 28 parents-to-be in western Germany who were expecting their first child in 2006. We focus on the interviewees’ plans for their division of childcare and paid work to explore how these plans were affected by family policies and cultural models of motherhood and fatherhood. At the time of the interviews, parents-to-be in western Germany found themselves in a conservative welfare state in which the ideal of the male breadwinner and female homemaker was quite prevalent. We find that most interviewed couples decided that the woman should stay at home for an extended period, beyond the mandatory maternity leave of eight weeks, to care for the child. Half of the women planned to return to the labour market within the first year after childbirth whereas some decided to take up to 36 months of parental leave. The women mostly envisioned being the main caregiver and if a return to employment was planned, it was often planned with reduced work hours. Several of the women who planned to return to work quickly reported being criticized and referred to the term ‘Rabenmutter’ to describe the stigma. Breastfeeding was mentioned as being very important for the child’s health and often used as an argument for the division of parental leave and its anticipated length. Most couples planned for the father to stay employed full-time and to spend time with their children in the evenings and on weekends. A few couples had different plans; two couples wanted to share childcare and paid work equally, while one couple planned for the father to stay at home and be the primary caregiver.

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Sonia Bertolini, Rosy Musumeci, Manuela Naldini and Paola Maria Torrioni

This chapter aims to illustrate how the social construction of fatherhood and motherhood are mirrored in the plans of a group of interviewed couples expecting their first child and living in Turin in 2010-2012 (a city in the north-west of Italy). The couples’ perceptions of ‘what’s best for the child’ were used as a lens through which the competing forces of Italian family policy and the dominant gender culture were examined. This at a time when the Italian labour market suffered from the 2007-08 economic crisis. Evaluation of couples’ ideals regarding parenthood and their planned strategies to balance work and family life, necessitated a review of how the transition to motherhood and fatherhood contributed to the ‘doing and undoing’ of gender among the couples. In our analyses, we thus paid particular attention to the role that beliefs, ideals and social representations played in the transition to motherhood and fatherhood among the interviewed couples. Moreover, we analysed the importance couples attributed to their financial resources (income and job-related benefits), social resources (family and social network), social policy and work environments when planning for parental and non-parental childcare arrangements. Our analyses show that traditional ideals about what is the best for the child contributed to constructing distinct roles for the interviewed Italian fathers and mothers-to-be. The couples frequently used these ideals to justify differences in their plans concerning men’s and women’s future career investments, participation in the care of the child and the allocation of domestic work. The accounts of our informants suggested a high level of ambivalence towards the transition to a more traditional division of labour. The more egalitarian couples’ resistance to redefining their own future roles occurred in a context in which public support for shared parenthood is weak and a public debate is lacking.

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Daniela Grunow

This chapter discusses the methodological choices which provide the foundations for this edited volume. The methods applied have been chosen to disentangle the interrelationship between the individual and institutional factors contributing to the gendered division of labour. These factors come together in complex ways to produce and to some extent exaggerate a gendered transition to parenthood, as biological, social and institutional aspects reinforce each other, and thus contribute to gendered constructions of motherhood and fatherhood. The analyses that this book is based on are drawn from semi-structured interviews with working couples expecting their first child in eight European countries. The qualitative approach used allows for an in-depth analysis of men’s and women’s various experiences and struggles during this transition. We first outline the maximum variation design reflected in the selection of countries, then turn to the theory-based homogenous sampling strategy underlying the recruitment of couples and elaborate on the advantages of applying a linked lives perspective. Finally, we describe the central features of the 167 couples analysed in this volume.

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Olga Nešporová and Růžena Horňáková Stuchlá

This chapter is based on the analysis of 32 interviews with Czech parents-to-be, with the sample being formed by 16 dual-earner couples. Compared to the population, they had higher average education and income than their peers in their age group. In this chapter, we attempt to illustrate the ways in which the interviewed parents-to-be interpreted and enacted motherhood and fatherhood. We focus on their plans for reconciling parenthood with their lives and especially their paid work. First, the couples’ plans for utilizing maternity and parental leave are discussed. Second, we describe how the interviewed mothers and fathers-to-be planned to reconcile family and work life. As a related topic, norms regarding the age at which children are considered to benefit (or at least not suffer) from non-parental care or public childcare are discussed. Finally, we present a general conceptualization of mothers’ and fathers’ main parental roles as planned by the interviewed parents-to-be. In the Czech interviews, and in comparison to the other country studies presented in this edited volume, motherhood and fatherhood were constructed in a particularly traditional and essentialist way.

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Couples' Transitions to Parenthood

Analysing Gender and Work in Europe

Edited by Daniela Grunow and Marie Evertsson

It is common for European couples living fairly egalitarian lives to adopt a traditional division of labour at the transition to parenthood. Based on in-depth interviews with 334 parents-to-be in eight European countries, this book explores the implications of family policies and gender culture from the perspective of couples who are expecting their first child. Couples’ Transitions to Parenthood: Analysing Gender and Work in Europe is the first comparative, qualitative study that explicitly locates couples’ parenting ideals and plans in the wider context of national institutions.
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Jenny Alsarve, Katarina Boye and Christine Roman

Gender equality has been an important policy goal for more than four decades in Sweden and is commonly seen as an integral part of the Swedish welfare state. However, the gender division of work is still reproduced both in and out of paid work. In this chapter, we analyse interviews with 40 Swedish women and men (20 couples) to explore how norms regarding what is in the child’s best interest enter into decisions concerning parental care, childcare and paid work, and links to social construction of motherhood and fatherhood. A key notion in the interviews was shared parenting. It was seen as highly important that the child gets close, strong ties to both its mother and father. A second, and related, notion was that it is in the interest of the child to have an engaged and caring father, implying a new kind of fatherhood. The ideas on shared parenting and the engaged father were sometimes linked to ideas on gender equality, but sometimes they went hand in hand with more traditional notions of motherhood and fatherhood. Motherhood was, on the one hand, constructed as distinct from fatherhood and closely related to female biology. On the other hand, motherhood was constructed to fit with women’s identities as independent and work-oriented. The interviews seem to reflect a recent political and cultural development where major changes have occurred regarding fatherhood norms but where less has happened regarding motherhood norms. Gender equality was, however, one central factor that the couples took into account in their plans for the future. About half of the interviewed couples planned to share parental leave equally or wanted to share equally but were open to being flexible, for instance in regard to possible changes in their employment or financial situation. Licensed childcare was the obvious childcare arrangement after the parental leave period was over and was perceived as beneficial to the child’s development. Unlike parents in many other countries, parents in Sweden can rely on a system of social policies that are developed and adjusted to facilitate the lives of dual-earner/dual-carer families.

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Marie Evertsson

This chapter provides an institutional and contextual background to the plans, expectations and ideals that the interviewed parents-to-be expressed in the country chapters. Organized in two sections, the first is devoted to a description of the welfare states and the gender regimes where the interviewed couples lived. When trying to make informed decisions regarding, for example, the division of family leave or when to introduce the child to non-parental care, parents-to-be consider factors such as employment security, the availability and affordability of childcare and mothers’, and less often fathers’, ability to work part-time. We therefore discuss employment and unemployment rates, the incidence of part-time work and the proportion of children in formal childcare in the countries studied in the first part of the chapter. In the second part, the focus shifts to the micro-level and the couples’ everyday lives at the time of the interviews. Here, the discussion departs from the stories of one couple from each country, in order to give the reader a sense of the context and the family policy setting that framed these couples’ plans and decisions. The latter part of this section includes a description of the maternity, paternity and parental leave policies in place at the time of the interviews in each country. The summaries of the plans and expectations expressed by the interviewed couples indicate that the norms, ideals and strategies for how to practice ‘good’ – or good enough – mothering and fathering vary, not only between couples within a country, but also between countries. As the first part of this chapter indicates, variation between countries is strengthened by differences in welfare state regimes, family policy frameworks and labour market institutions.

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Daniela Grunow and Gerlieke Veltkamp

All over Europe, the social conditions under which couples become parents in the early twenty-first century differ markedly from those of their parents’ generation. Unlike earlier cohorts, today’s women and men tend to have quite similar life experiences and skills when they form a couple and decide to start a family. Yet, research shows that couples still appear to be giving up gender equal divisions of labour in favour of more traditional family arrangements upon entering parenthood. This chapter presents the theoretical and analytical framework used in this book to assess the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of these transitions in eight European countries. It explicitly locates couples’ beliefs and negotiations in the wider context of national institutions, such as national family policies, employment protection, care provision and gender ideologies about motherhood and fatherhood. In particular, the chapter introduces the notion of policy-culture gaps as a tool to analyse varying degrees of fit between national family policies and key dimensions of dominant gender culture.

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Marie Evertsson and Daniela Grunow

The research question spurring this edited volume was why European couples living fairly egalitarian lives adopt traditional gender practices at the transition to parenthood. Based on in-depth interviews with 167 couples in eight European countries, this chapter pulls the findings from the different country studies together and draws conclusions in light of the conceptual framework and the guiding research question. The interviews illustrate how parents-to-be enacted agency in diverse institutional and social contexts. The chapter highlights the role of family policies in the couples’ struggle to adapt to, or resist, socially desired paths and patterns of change during the transition to parenthood. We discuss the findings concerning these macro-micro links in comparative perspective, focusing on mothering and fathering ideals, the dominant gender culture, family policies and the policy-culture gaps that arise when the gender culture does not correspond with existing family policies. Our findings suggest that gendered preferences of work-care divisions partly result from country-specific interplays of the dominant gender culture and family policies. Dominant ideas about ‘naturally becoming’ a mother were followed by a perceived need to actively socially construct fatherhood. Institutions further shaped ideas about working mothers and the extent to which mothers-to-be – but not fathers-to-be – had resigned to the idea that their career would have to suffer as they became parents. The ways in which institutional structures limited possible choices and beliefs about ‘how to do things right’ were linked in ways that often went unnoticed by the couples themselves. As a result, those struggling to live up to the dominant gender culture not only experienced uncertainty about the future, they also often blamed themselves for not being the kind of parents (often mothers) that they desired to be. Contrary to the construction that these are individual or individuals’ issues, the comparative evidence suggests that many of the gendered choices and resulting problems encountered by parents-to-be have an institutional foundation. In essence, our comparative findings highlight the need for family policies to offer working mothers a minimum of six months of financially compensated leave, in line with World Health Organization breastfeeding advice, the need for reliable childcare following the period of paid care leave for parents, and a combination of income related compensation and legally enforced job guarantees as a precondition for fathers to consider claiming care leave. Given the high number of self-employed in some countries, we find it important that job guarantees apply to all women and men irrespective of the type of employment contract, as suggested by the EU directive on parental leave (Council directive 2010/18/EU). Elucidating these links between gendered processes of identity construction, couples’ work-care plans and the policy-culture gap is thus the main contribution of this book.

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Mirjam Verweij and Maria Reimann

Over the past three decades the division of work and care in the Netherlands shows a turn from the male breadwinner model to a one-and-a-half-earner model in which the father works full or almost full-time, the mother works part-time and after work-hours childcare is shared between the parents. Dutch parents-to-be interviewed for this study considered both parents to be equally well equipped to care for a baby, while at the same time being able to provide different kinds of care. However, although parental sharing seems to be the ideal, it is not understood by the interviewed couples as an equal sharing of care work. The couples emphasized that the mothers plan to do slightly more childcare, which was usually framed either as a preference or as resulting from demands in favour of the men’s career. The planned period of exclusive maternal homemaking was limited to the three months of paid maternity leave. Paid work and motherhood were seen as absolutely compatible. Most of the couples in this study planned for both parents to take part-time unpaid parental leave. Most of the interviewed women already worked part-time at the time of pregnancy, while the men reported that they were planning to take one day off per week to take care of the child. For the remaining two or three days the parents planned to send the baby to a childcare centre, which are generally available on a part time basis. Hence, Dutch couples construct ‘good’ parenthood in terms of doing ‘most’ of the childcare at home, while allowing for the baby to attend part-time childcare as early as three to four months after birth. There, according to the parents, children learn early-on how to be social with others.