Couples' Transitions to Parenthood
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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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Chapter 7: The transition to parenthood in Switzerland: between institutional constraints and gender ideologies

Nadia Girardin, Felix Bühlmann, Doris Hanappi, Jean-Marie Le Goff and Isabel Valarino


The transition to parenthood in Switzerland is shaped by different trends of modernization and traditionalism. The predominant family organisation is one where men work full-time while women work part-time and take on the majority of the childcare and housework. Institutional structures are characterised by limited leave policies (Switzerland has maternity leave but neither paternity nor parental leave) and complex, scarce and expensive childcare solutions. These structures are intertwined and partly influenced by rather traditional gender norms. The study is based on qualitative interviews conducted with 36 parents-to-be between 2006 and 2007 within the project ‘Devenir Parent’ (Becoming a Parent). Results show that parenting roles were often seen as divided into maternal nurturing and paternal educational roles. This also led to the interviewees having difficulties picturing the fathers as carers of the new-born child. Instead the father’s role was viewed as transmitting values and principles after early childhood and fathering was much more discussed as a role of transmission between generations. Interviewees, for example, highlighted the importance of the male lineage. These results reveal the lack of a blueprint for caring fathers in the Swiss context and the taken-for-granted dominance of the maternal role during the early stages of parenthood. In the interviews, we found a general agreement among the mothers-to-be that breastfeeding was part of their future role and that it was perceived as desirable to breastfeed the child for several months and up to one year. However, the length of maternity leave (14 weeks) was considered an obstacle to fulfilling this ideal and interviewees had doubts about the practical possibilities of breastfeeding after returning to work. More generally, the analyses indicate the creation of tensions for women between their identities as workers and as mothers. To decrease this tension, a reduction of work hours was often envisaged. Similar tensions were not observed among men. They were still attributed the provider role and rarely envisaged reducing their work hours.

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