Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Being a Traditional Dad or Being More like a Mum? Clashing Mod1els of Fatherhood According to Swedish and Polish Fathers 1

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Being a Traditional Dad or Being More like a Mum? Clashing Mod1els of Fatherhood According to Swedish and Polish Fathers 1

Article excerpt


In Western countries during the 20th century important changes occurred in family life, models of masculinity and femininity and in the gender order of both public and private spheres. One of these changes was an emergence in 1970 of the involved fatherhood model. This model was to replace the traditional fatherhood model, in which the main obligation of men in family life was breadwinning. The new fatherhood model emphasized nurturing of children, which had previously been a core element of motherhood. According to the new model, men were expected to cross the traditional gender divide and take on some traditionally maternal obligations; fathering was encouraged to become more like mothering with less emphasis upon being breadwinners (see: Dowd, 2000; Johansson & Klinth, 2008; Wall and Arnold, 2007).

The focus of this paper will be on the links between three elements: (1) the institutional context, in particular the family policy systems, (2) a conflict resulting from the coexistence of two different models of fatherhood, and (3) men's parenting behaviour. Poland and Sweden are two very different societies with distinct family policy systems. The comparison of Polish and Swedish societies provides an opportunity to analyse the links between family policy systems and individual parenting. A society's family policy system is always based on a particular discourse defining gender and parental roles, and through this discourse a particular gender order is preserved or rebuilt. On the one hand, it can support the traditional, patriarchal model of family, and on the other hand, it can promote gender equality, for example by promoting men's equal involvement in parenting (see: Saxonberg, 2013; Vuori, 2007). The particular discourse accepted within the welfare state policy impacts how men deal with conflicting models of fatherhood, and consequently, how they engage in parenting. This paper aims to document how contemporary Swedish and Polish fathers understand and fulfill their parental roles and how men deal with the conflicting models of fatherhood prevailing in their societies.


The research study is based on 52 interviews with Swedish and Polish fathers.2 The data was collected through in-depth interviews conducted between July 2012 and April 2013 with middle-class fathers living in big cities. Since my aim was to examine how men engage in fatherhood in the context of traditional parental roles, all interviewees were heterosexual, lived with their children and shared a common household with the mother of their children. Choosing such a homogenous group permitted a comparison of the impact of two different institutional and social contexts. In the middle-class heterosexual families, the traditional gender roles have been the most viable and visible. At the same time the middle class are most aware of gender equality issues and most likely to espouse equality compared to other social classes (Gottzen and Kremer-Sadlik, 2012).

There were 32 interviews conducted with Polish fathers and 20 with Swedish fathers. Ages of the men ranged from 21 to 49, generally Swedish parents were slightly older, which can be explained by the fact that the average age of having the first child for women is higher in Sweden than in Poland, in 2011: 28.5 and 25.5 years old accordingly (Central Statistical Office of Poland, 2012a, Socialstyrelsen, 2013). Sample selection started with the participants who responded to announcements about the research and a call for eligible volunteers posted in day care institutions, on playgrounds, and in social networks on the Internet. Initial volunteers were asked for further contacts (snowballing). Among the eligible volunteers efforts were made to select diverse fathers on several criteria. Consequently, the interviewed men varied in their occupations and type of employment (self-employment, public or private sectors, unemployment), level of education, number of children and also the way they divided parental leave with mothers (this mostly concerned Swedish men). …

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