Table of Contents

Couples' Transitions to Parenthood

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.

Chapter 5: Anticipating motherhood and fatherhood: German couples’ plans for childcare and paid work

Anna Dechant and Annika Rinklake

Subjects: social policy and sociology, family and gender policy


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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