Examining the social norms of co-parenting and sharing the load

Examining the social norms of co-parenting and sharing the load

After the birth of her first child, student Pip Bennett found the expectation that as the mum, she´d juggle work, care, and housework, infuriating. In this myView blog, she explains how she’s looking into how social norms influence the division of labour in the home, using a feminist design perspective.

Motherhood has had a profoundly positive effect on me. It has given me clarity on what is important, while allowing me to uncover how I want to contribute to the world through my work. I have decided to focus on helping to improve the experiences of birthing people and whānau, and bringing more feminist theory and practice into what is often considered the personal, private domain of the home. This clarity didn’t appear overnight or without angst.

Master of Design student Pip Bennett with her kids Noah (4 months), and Eleni (3).

I became a mum three and a half years ago. The nature of my husband´s job meant he could only take one day off when the baby was born. It was indicative of what was to come, where all the care fell to me. When support services like Plunket or the doctors called or visited, I was the one they contacted. I was responsible for doing the shopping, the cleaning, and the childcare. While my husband worked outside the home, I took charge of everything else within it. The social expectations seemed to be that I should manage and excel in the home domain. This was constant, even after I went back to work part-time when our child was four months old. This made me mad! Luckily, I was able to channel my anger into research on a topic I was passionate about.

During my pre-parenthood career in international development I had some experience in social design. I reached out to the lovely Nan O´Sullivan, from the School of Design for Social Innovation programme at the University. She was so generous with her time, thoughts, and support. We were in touch for a year before I finally dived in and enrolled in a Master of Design. The programme worked best for me as it allowed me the freedom to pick my research topic and to be able to study by distance—I live in Taupō.

My research is cathartic. It focuses on identifying how social norms influence the division of labour in the home. The division of labour that my husband and I were experiencing was not rare. Many couples work both outside and inside the home. Using a feminist design research framework and participatory methodologies, I´m finding out more about what social norms exist in our homes here in Aotearoa. It´s eye-opening to see that there is so much need, yet so little research has been done in this particular area of the norms that affect the gender divide.

I would love to connect with anyone else doing research on gender, care, work, and family. You can get in touch with me on Instagram @deptfeministfutures.

Pip Bennett is studying for a Master of Design and living in Taupō.

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