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Maria Reimann

Poland is a country in transition, and so are Polish ideals of parenthood. Most of the interviewed couples seemed to lack a consistent ideal of what good mothers and fathers should be like. Instead, they were somewhere between believing in the special role of the mother and the ‘natural mother-child bond’, and the emerging ideal of the ‘new father’ as a capable carer. Another conflicting ideal was the fulfilled career woman, constructed in opposition to the overburdened woman combining paid employment with doing all the housework and childcare, i.e. the “Matka Polka” (“Polish-mother”). The interviewed Polish couples found themselves in a situation where the institutional context did not satisfy the parents’ needs. Mothers were entitled to six months of maternity leave and fathers were entitled to two weeks of “daddy leave”, while the three year-long parental leave was unpaid. This meant that neither the full-time mother-care ideal, nor the career women ideal could be easily fulfilled. In particular, the lack of institutional trustworthy childcare facilities and a normative reluctance towards sending children under the age of three to childcare centres lead to conflicts for the mothers who wanted or had to go back to work. At the same time, the situation in the labour market and the lack of part-time jobs made it difficult for men to be equally involved carers. Couples in this study were trying their best to navigate in these circumstances. Their plans for the period after the maternity leave included reducing paid work hours, relying on grandparents’ help with the childcare and hiring babysitters. Even though salaries in Poland were comparatively low and job competition fierce at the time of the interviews, the couples did not explicitly refer to economic reasoning when motivating their plans concerning the mothers’ comparatively quick return to employment. Rather, they spoke about values and ideals and emphasized that the women should go back to work because they considered their jobs important and satisfying.

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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.