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Family portrait in Leysin, Switzerland
Family portrait in Leysin, Switzerland
Rinny Gremaud

LAUSANNE — The idea that young people nowadays are more conservative than previous generations is a common cliché. Girls are said to be dreaming of becoming housewives while boys supposedly behave like old-style alpha-males, reproductive and career-obsessed.

As Switzerland is about to vote on an initiative that aims to use tax breaks to benefit a traditional family model, Le Temps asked a group of young people how they see gender and work roles.

These are students from Lausanne"s business school, aged 19 to 26. We chose this sector of the population because it is cut from the majority of the Swiss population. In May, their part-time training (which they do two days a week) will be over and they will be set to join the workforce, full-time.

Their answers to our first question reinforce the common preconception: "Who thinks that a woman should stay at home to raise the children?" we ask. Almost without hesitation, 10 out of 17 raise their hand. "That's how I was brought up. My mom was at home to take care of us," says Mafalda. "A mother is a role model. She passes on her values to us." After a quick survey, it appears that almost every student of this class was raised by a stay-at-home mother.

"I think it's a good thing," reckons Stefania. "Besides, what's the point in having children if it's only to drop them at daycare every morning at 7, and only see them in the evenings and at the weekends. I'm not saying one must stop working for 10 years, but it's important to be there when the child is still little."

Monica is the only girl who disagrees. "My mother stayed at home too. But I can't picture myself stopping work completely. It's important for mental stability to do other things than just change diapers and feed the baby. Of course, parents should also be there for their children but you can pass on your values without giving up your working life."

The debate is thus launched, and with it, our first impression has already shifted. It turns out that despite the initial show of hands, only one of the girls is considering stopping work altogether when she has a baby. For the rest of them, keeping one foot in the workplace is mostly a way "not to find yourself outdated after 20 years without a job, once the children have left home."

Father, where are you?

What do future dads have to say? And what if they were the ones to set their careers aside? Arthan is not opposed to the idea. "But in the workplace, mentalities still haven't changed," he explains. "We send our applications to employers who think that it's bad for a man to stop working for a few years for his kids. When a woman comes back after a parental leave, it's fine. But if it's a man, it's still perceived as wrong."

Siméon thinks in practical terms: "It's also about the money. Men often earn more than women, so it's better for the family's financial security if he keeps working."

Timothée is uncertain: "It's hard to imagine what it would be like having the father staying at home. We all grew up in the traditional model in which the mother takes care of the children."

Who thinks that a man wouldn't be as good as a woman in taking care of the children? Six of them raise their hands. "Mothers have the instinct more than fathers," says Tiago.

"You know how boys are like … We're less sensitive I think …" Illir adds: "I wouldn't be able to stay at home. I believe I'll be fine just seeing the kids in the evenings. My mother, she's the one who always took care of us and she used to say that it's not always easy. Besides, children are more attached to their mothers, right?"

Thibault disagrees: "I don't think fathers are less able to do it. If my wife has a great career opportunity, I won't hesitate to reduce my working time. As soon as I have children, they will be the priority, not my career. That said, I would like to do both. As we all know, couples break up easily nowadays. If one sacrifices everything to bring up the children, the situation can be terrible when they divorce."

Maxime sums it up this way: "It seems to be that we can have children and keep working at the same time. Most people do it. We were all raised more by our mothers than our fathers. But did I feel less loved and safe with my dad? I don't think so. For our generation, I believe there is no predefined model anymore — no good or bad in absolute terms. We have to make our own choices depending on our possibilities."

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