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Against the Grain

Against the Grain: Couples, Gender, and the Reframing of Parenting

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Against the Grain
    Book Description:

    "An exciting, fresh, and timely look at the experiences of mothers and fathers who challenge dominant cultural expectations in their efforts to care for their children. Ranson's analysis offers a new way of thinking about parenting." - Glenda Wall, Wilfrid Laurier University

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8702-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VII)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. VIII-IX)
  4. Part I Setting the Scene

    • Introduction
      (pp. 1-8)

      The arrival of a child turns a couple into a new kind of family. Indeed, for many couples in permanent, long-term relationships, it is the signal that family life has officially begun. When it is taken seriously, as an event with consequences beyond the purely biological facts of reproduction, the transition to parenthood is one of the most significant milestones of adult life. It ushers in a whole new set of responsibilities, interests, joys, worries, and time demands in a complex web of relationships that will last for each parent’s lifetime.

      All the daily details of life — the paid...

    • Chapter One Establishing the Context
      (pp. 9-28)

      In this chapter, I take up some of the ideas raised in the introduction to Part I, as I outline the context for my study of couples going against the grain of conventional family life. These couples, as I suggested earlier, are at the forefront of change — change that has been taking place slowly and incrementally towards a reduction in the gendered allocation of responsibility for earning and caring work. As I also noted, they represent the change that can get missed when the focus is on the big picture of macro-level events and demographic trends. But they are...

    • Chapter Two The Study
      (pp. 29-37)

      The couples who participated in this study were those who were “going against the grain” of dominant expectations about mothering and fathering. In the last chapter, I described them as couples whom I thought would be “undoing gender” because of the way they organized earning and caring responsibilities in their families. What distinguishes this study from other Canadian research is its specific focus on an unconventional division of labour, across a variety of family forms and specific household arrangements.¹

      Decisions about who to include in the research were made, and remade, at several points during the four years (from 2003...

  5. Part II Getting Started:: Caring for Children in the Preschool Years

    • Introduction
      (pp. 39-44)

      Organizing family life with preschoolers poses many challenges. The demands of at least one job have to be negotiated around children needing care that somebody has to provide around the clock. What will work best depends on a wide array of circumstances, including parents’ earning power and interests, their perception of children’s needs, the number of children in the family, and other family and community resources. Here and in the two chapters to follow, I introduce the couples in the study who were in these early years of caregiving. The nature of their earning and caring arrangements and how they...

    • Chapter Three The ʺCrossoversʺ: Breadwinner Mothers with Partners at Home
      (pp. 45-78)

      Tanya and Adam were the classic crossover couple. When I met them, Tanya was 42 and an established university professor. Adam was 36 and the full-time stay-at-home caregiver to their two children, Joel, aged five, and Lucy, aged eight months. Tanya and Adam first met when she was finishing her undergraduate degree. He had a technical college diploma and was working at a sales job. From early in their relationship, with Tanya’s decision to pursue graduate training and an academic appointment, her career path was clearly delineated, and she followed it without interruption. Adam’s situation was different. He interspersed periods...

    • Chapter Four ʺShift-Workersʺ and ʺDual-Dividersʺ: Sharing Earning, Sharing Caring
      (pp. 79-119)

      The couples described in the previous chapter were unusual not only in terms of their unconventional positioning of fathers at home and mothers as breadwinners but also because single-earner households are a diminishing minority of Canadian families. What does “going against the grain” look like in families when both partners are also sharing the earning work? Among the parents of preschool children in the study, ten couples were in this category: dual-earner pairs trying for a fairly shared division of labour across the whole range of earning and caring activities. There was one key difference between them: the extent to...

  6. Part III The Longer View:: Couples with School-Age Children

    • Introduction
      (pp. 121-124)

      Children’s transition from preschool to school is a major transition for parents as well. It signals the end of a particular form of caregiving labour — the hands-on, physical, intensive kind that they had been responsible for delivering, either directly or indirectly. It means the opening up of time during the day that does not have to be organized around the supervision of young children (Silver 2000). Usually, that means time that can now be used for paid employment. This is also the transition to another form of family labour, as parents embark on what will be more than a...

    • Chapter Five Challenges on the Path to Change
      (pp. 125-144)

      Valerie and Charles, aged 48 and 50 respectively when I met them, were among the oldest couples in the study and the parents of 13-year-old Melanie. When Melanie was 13 months old, she had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. This meant she would be insulin dependent and her condition would have to be carefully monitored and managed. It was also going to be an expensive process. When Valerie and Charles got this news, Valerie had returned to her receptionist job after a six-month maternity leave. Charles, meanwhile, was out of work; he had taken over the caregiving while applying...

    • Chapter Six Parents as Peers
      (pp. 145-169)

      In this chapter, I continue the discussion of the more seasoned parents of older children begun in the previous chapter. The focus here, though, is on the couples whose relationships as parents over the years offered the most persuasive evidence of transformation in family life along balanced and, in most cases, degendered lines.

      For these couples, like all the couples in the study, earning and caring “against the grain” had a common denominator: father involvement in caregiving that approximated and occasionally exceeded the involvement of the mother and that far exceeded conventional expectations of fathers. Going against the grain required...

  7. Part IV Review and Reflection

    • Introduction
      (pp. 171-172)

      This book has been built on the accounts of 32 couples (31 mothers and 33 fathers) who, in a variety of ways, broke with more conventional divisions of labour in their families and often, in the process, with traditional understandings of mothering and fathering as well. Differently placed in terms of social and economic circumstances and caring for children of different ages and with different needs, these couples shed light on a variety of family structures, contexts, and practices that are both under-researched and critically important.

      In going “against the grain” of ideologically dominant models of family life, the mothers...

    • Chapter Seven Parenting and the Undoing of Gender
      (pp. 173-182)

      In this chapter, I pull together the threads of an argument laid out in the scene-setting early pages of this book. The argument, grounded in social constructionist gender scholarship and taking up the work of Sullivan (2004, 2006), Risman (1998, 2004), Deutsch (2007), and others, begins with the claim that couples who in their daily practices as parents explicitly contravene dominant expectations of mothering and fathering have the potential to change, over time, the nature of those expectations. They do this as they contribute to slow and incremental change in household relations on a broad scale. My extension of this...

  8. Appendix The Study Participants
    (pp. 183-186)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 187-195)
  10. References
    (pp. 196-208)
  11. Index
    (pp. 209-214)