When Couples Become Parents

When Couples Become Parents: The Creation of Gender in the Transition to Parenthood

BONNIE FOX
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 334
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442697515
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  • Book Info
    When Couples Become Parents
    Book Description:

    When Couples Become Parentsexamines the ways in which divisions based on gender both evolve and are challenged by heterosexual couples from late pregnancy through early parenthood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9751-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-36)

    Ann Oakley (1980a: 1) once wrote that ‘it is the moment when she becomes a mother that a woman first confronts the full reality of what it means to be a woman in our society.’ Today, the lives of young white women may be remarkably similar to the lives of their male peers. Convergences in women’s and men’s educational attainment, labourforce involvement, social lives, and even sexual behaviour mean that a young woman who avoids falling victim to violence may remain oblivious to ongoing gender inequalities in this society. She may even live with a man who does his share...

  6. 2 Giving Birth: The Dynamics of Support and Agency
    (pp. 37-76)

    Women are initiated into motherhood in a process that is physically demanding, emotionally intense, and symbolically charged.¹ Childbirth often tests their limits: the labour it requires can be exhausting, the uncertainty it involves can be frightening and the pain it entails can be unbearable. The stakes are also high because delivering a healthy baby is never certain. It is not surprising, then, that the stories the women told about their experiences giving birth feature struggles to cope with pain and anxiety and to ensure the well-being of their babies. Their stories also reflect the deep meaning this moment in the...

  7. 3 Becoming Parents: The Challenges of the Postpartum Period
    (pp. 77-116)

    In maternity wards in the 1990s, babies regularly ‘roomed in’ with their mothers for the short time they stayed in the hospital. As a result, women had to make a quick transition from the intensity of childbirth and the excitement of first seeing their baby – in a setting where they were surrounded by supportive adults – to the isolation of a hospital room where they and their partners needed to care for their newborn. The immediacy of the baby’s needs and the absence of experienced adults ready to give instructions on and help with infant care compelled these new mothers to...

  8. 4 Becoming Mothers, Making Fathers: Negotiations in the Economy of Care
    (pp. 117-153)

    Over the course of the year, the mothering practices these women adopted varied from woman to woman, as did the extent to which the men were involved in the care of their babies. Many of the women in the study dedicated themselves to providing an immediate response to their babies’ apparent needs and desires, and this chapter examines the factors necessary to that intensive mothering. In so doing, I ask what is necessary to good mothering, as defined in the 1990s and today. That question raises others about the dynamics in these couple relationships. Examining those dynamics indicates something of...

  9. 5 Taking Care of the Baby: Reproducing Gender Differences and Divisions?
    (pp. 154-184)

    Divisions of work and responsibility based on gender usually intensify when couples become parents (Cowan and Cowan 1992; Walzer 1998), and often persist for years thereafter (Deutsch 1999; Ehrensaft 1987; Hays 1996; Walzer 1998). These gender-based divisions are at the heart of the problems that often strain the relationships of parents with babies or young children (Cowan and Cowan 1992; Feeney et al. 2001). They are also the organizational foundation of gender inequality in families.

    So many factors push heterosexual couples to divide their work and responsibility between them that gender-based divisions seem inevitable. Pervasive ideologies of gender and motherhood,...

  10. 6 Home Making and Making Family
    (pp. 185-219)

    The gender divisions that developed around the care of the baby were mirrored in the way the housework was allocated. Although caring for an infant was extremely demanding, women often took on more of the housework than they had before becoming mothers. Meanwhile, the men were typically even less involved in doing housework than they were in caring for their babies.

    There were material reasons why housework shifted towards the women with parenthood. Primary among them was the fact that caring for a baby entailed doing some household chores. Simply being home, facing the mess, also pressured many of the...

  11. 7 Being Mothers, Being Fathers: The Costs of Privatized Responsibility for Children
    (pp. 220-248)

    Parenthood brought a profoundly intense and contradictory array of experiences and feelings to the lives of the women and men in the study. While many women found motherhood to be so exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and constraining that the joys of having a baby were hard to access, other women found the experience so satisfying that any difficulties that attended it seemed trivial. More commonly, profound meaning and joy, on the one hand, and exhaustion laced with anxiety, on the other hand, coexisted in uneasy tension through the year. Some women talked about motherhood as the most meaningful experience in their lives,...

  12. 8 A New Life and Changed Relationships
    (pp. 249-284)

    The transition to parenthood calls on couples to cooperate and support each other in ways they likely never have before. At the same time, couples have to negotiate their increased interdependence and need for support during a stressful period of change. As the weeks and months passed, heavy daily demands, new-found anxieties, and an absence of time to spend together wore away at the relationships of the couples in the study. The result, for many couples, was increased tension in their relationship. Jeremy commented that what he found hard about the first year of parenthood was ‘not the taking care...

  13. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 285-294)

    Back in 1981, sociologists Doris Entwisle and Susan Doering noted in their book,The First Birth,that ‘early parenting is, for the most part, a period shrouded in mystery.’ The year before, sociologist Ann Oakley (1980a) argued that although childbirth was a joint project that brought partners together, caring for a baby was the woman’s responsibility and therefore parenthood (at least initially) divided partners. Since the early 1980s, an impressive number of studies have verified Oakley’s claim by showing that when heterosexual couples become parents they tend to become more conventional. Oddly, though, the postpartum period and couples’ initial negotiations...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 295-306)
  15. References
    (pp. 307-320)
  16. Author Index
    (pp. 321-324)
  17. Respondent Index
    (pp. 325-328)
  18. Subject Index
    (pp. 329-334)