Worldwide, every second 2,6 babies see the light of day. Some of these babies help to transform their producers into first-time parents, a transition which involves specific gendered imaginings and manifestations. As a group of family sociologists at the University of Vienna, we are currently looking behind the scenes of these gendered practices and processes at the transition to parenthood in order to shed more light on the (in)equalities between mothers(-to-be) and fathers(-to-be). Against the backdrop of sociological research revealing a (re-)traditionalization of family roles after the birth of the first child, we ask: How does this happen?
Within this project we explain the practices which women and men are part of during the transition to parenthood. We focus on particular circumstances that support or prevent gender inequality during this transition. Furthermore, we are interested in the involvement of mothers(-to-be) and fathers(-to-be) in all upcoming tasks and responsibilities concerning pregnancy- and child-related care work. Based on practice theory, we want to know more about the making of parenthood: How are parents made and figured within the transition to parenthood? How do they transform from being a couple to being (gendered) parents? What are becoming mothers and fathers doing at the transition to parenthood? Which participants are entangled within the process of becoming a parent?
Parents are produced through the manifold assemblages they are embedded in. At the transition to parenthood women and men are entangled with a variety of other participants in activities, as shown below:
As one piece of the puzzle, the Austrian parental leave models acts as an important tool for creating the gendered division of labor between parents. Being embedded in very specific and situated processes with entangled parts/participants like other human subjects, social environments, discourses, non-human objects, structures, bodies, norms and thoughts, it has the potential to become a tool to divide unpaid and paid work equally between the mother and father or to divide it in an unequal way. Therefore, the question of whether a certain structure increases or alleviates inequality within parents’ division of labor cannot be answered without taking numerous other processes and assemblages into consideration. All parts of the assemblages can be seen as small cogs in a big machinery which drive equality and inequality.
Dear readers, now we want to invite you to think about and reflect on the making of parenthood:
- When does the transition to parenthood start, and when does it end?
- At what point can we say: this is a mother or this is a father, e.g. when we see them with their new born child?
- When are they addressed by others as father and mother, be it their friends, their neighbors, be it at the doctor’s or the welfare office?
- How can it happen that women and men do different tasks within this process?
- How different is becoming a mother from becoming a father, or does each just become a parent?
What would be your answers? Please share with us your experiences and sociological knowledge! We are very interested in your associations and reflections on this topic!
The research team is headed by Rudolf Richter. The study is part of the research project FamiliesAndSocieties, funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no: 320116. For further information see our website.
Irene Rieder studied Sociology at the University of Vienna and is now a research assistant in the project on the gendered transition to parenthood. Her research interests are family sociology, in particular first-time parenthood, (in-)equalities between women/mothers and men/fathers as well as transnational families, with a special focus on qualitative methods.
Eva-Maria Schmidt is a pre-doctoral university assistant for family sociology at the University of Vienna. She studied sociology and European ethnology. Her research interests are fatherhood and masculinity, work and organization, gendered transition to parenthood, childrearing in cohabitation and marriage, parental biographies and qualitative methods in social sciences.