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 10: Searching for egalitarian divisions of care: Polish couples at the life-course transition to parenthood

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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