Navigating parenting in Switzerland

von Laura Preissler, MA

Parents in Switzerland are confronted with many questions and decisions about the conception, birth, and upbringing of their children. Where will the baby be born? Should the vaccine schedule be followed? Should the baby be signed up for daycare? Apart from attending to a child’s basic needs, parents engage in its socialization. Some parents may favour a certain ‘parenting style’ or support gender neutral upbringing. Child care demands the acquisition of new skills, such as breastfeeding and changing diapers.

The care of newborns is mostly invisible in post-industrialised countries. Confined to maternity wards in the first few days and after the discharge from hospital mostly to the home of the parents, daily routines of care are not easily observable. While it may seem that child care is a rather private affair, it has become a concern of the state and thereby a public issue. Today, mediating child rearing knowledge is the domain of various experts, rooted in disciplines assigned the cultural capital of science. However, science competes with alternative medical models, religious rules, cultural practices and experiential knowledge from family members or friends. Some parents thus choose between various options and may find themselves trying to combine several – sometimes contradictory – prescriptions for parenting. 

 Considering the wealth of decision-making child care involves, its invisibility in the public realm and in turn, the politicization of daily routines families engage in at home, the question arises how parents make particular decisions or devise strategies for navigating this terrain. To whom do parents turn for knowledge on childrearing and how do they act on it?

My research is informed by my understanding of parenting as a crucial point for biopolitical interventions. Understanding how the mechanisms of biopower work in Swiss parenting, and documenting some of their effects, should provide important insights into broader social issues and trends in civil society and state institutions.

How parents negotiate the different co-existing forms of knowledge, and how they interact with those who have the authority to speak knowledgeably, remains unstudied in Switzerland. The investigation of the (power) relationships between parents, relatives, friends, and experts in which childrearing is embedded will contribute to the emerging field of Parenting Culture Studies which explores the globalizing tendencies of expert-led child rearing and its potential to transform local child rearing cultures.

I will address these questions through ethnographic fieldwork in the German speaking part of Switzerland with parents and child care experts, such as midwives, lactation consultants, mother’s and father’s advisors, paediatricians, daycare personnel, children’s rights activists, and policy makers.