Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Assigning names to parenting lifestyles and work/life concepts is a media pastime of late. There's a whole vocabulary of words and acronyms now that didn't exist so long ago - SAHM/D, WAHP, helicopter parent, on-ramp, opt-out, and the like. Most of these need no explanation. But the real lives of parents often don't fit the definitions. What do you call a father who works compressed hours and cares for his kids alone two days a week? He's not a stay-at-home dad, and yet describing him by his worklife alone doesn't cut it.

This leads us to the issue of naming the lifestyle to which this website is devoted. 'Why even give it a name?', we've been asked. Does equal sharing really need its own moniker? It does. When something has a name, it can be explained quickly. It took us 521 words to describe the concept of equal sharing in our essay 'What is Equally Shared Parenting?' and 22 words to define the term. A name grounds something. Or, as friends of ours who practice equally shared parenting told us recently, having a name is a relief; it gives them a starting point for conversations, and an easy way to describe themselves.

Isn't it easier to talk about professional football rules, players, teams and lineups because the term 'pro football' exists? What about 'stock market', 'cable TV' or 'Microsoft Vista'?

In reviewing all the literature written about family models close to this lifestyle, several terms have been used - equal parenting, egalitarian (or egalitarian-leaning) marriage, shared parenting, etc. Until now, there has been no universal term to describe a lifestyle of equally sharing the family breadwinning, childraising, housework and recreation time. So, yes, we did have to name it - Equally Shared Parenting (ESP) will do for now.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Bridge Across the Resume Gap
Harvard Business School has begun to offer a smart new course for its alumnae - specifically HBS women graduates who have stayed home to raise their kids and now want to re-enter the business workforce and restart their careers. The objectives of this $3500-5000 weeklong class are to:
  • Gain new insight into the current business environment and 21st-century business directions
  • Learn about new marketing concepts and trends
  • Brush up on accounting and financial vocabularies and access tools for business analysis, management, and planning
  • Refresh their networks and build career search connections
  • Gain proficiency in using new technology and research techniques
  • Define a new, achievable career vision and techniques for a successful job search
  • Develop an action-oriented plan for finding and negotiating a job that meets career goals and personal objectives

We think this is a great way to help these women try to bridge their resume gaps and overcome the very real obstacles to landing a well-paying and rewarding job in business after dropping out of this world.

But just a thought...if these women had instead stayed in the workforce and equally shared childraising and housework with their husbands, there would be no resume gap to bridge. While they (and their husbands) may have had to scale back from the super fast track, they would have been able to keep up with all of the items on the objectives above and be in a position to network their way to ramped up positions when and if this made sense in their balanced lives.

And while they avoided an awkward full re-entry into their former business lives, their husbands would have developed deep and lasting bonds with their children.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Two Halves Don't Always Make a Couple Whole
There has been a lot of discussion lately about a 3/19/07 article in the Washington Post describing data on the workload of mothers vs fathers from the University of Maryland. One of the more interesting statistics coming out of these data is the following:

"...the total workloads of married mothers and fathers -- when paid work is added to child care and housework -- is roughly equal, at 65 hours a week for mothers and 64 hours for fathers."

On the one hand, it is nice to know that men's and women's overall efforts add up to about the same number of hours weekly. Men aren't, one might presume, the slackers they are often portrayed to be on TV sitcoms - they may not be home with the kids much, but by God at least they are out earning the money.

On the other hand, this statistic says very little about equal sharing. Other statistics in the article point to the continued gap between men's and women's time in any one domain (breadwinning, childraising, housework - the recreation domain is not measured). I think this raises an important point about equal sharing. That is, equal sharing is not about adding up the hours and comparing the grand total. It is about comparing the total hours between parents for each domain. Very simplistically, a situation where the man spends 85 hours at work and on the golf course each week while the woman spends 85 hours with the kids and cleaning the house each week would be equal but untenable for most couples. The real picture of equality emerges only when you dissect the domains and then compare those hours.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Don't Wait for the Government
Wow - there is so much talk just in the past few weeks on gender inequality and what to do about it! There's the treasure trove of Mother Load papers, the Opt-Out Revolution re-mix battles, the commentaries (just a few of the best links here). Statistics and trends are being tossed about, and the mood is a mix of frustration that our country is so behind most European countries in childcare benefits, and excitement that the tide may soon be turning. Solutions are proposed by many writers. These solutions all involve either government intervention or big changes by employers; the results of government or business action would be such 'necessities' as paid maternity leave, paid paternity leave, long parental leaves such as those available in Scandinavian countries, on-site daycare, better paying part-time employment and flexible hours. These are all great ideas that need further analysis to make sure that any laws inacted by our government actually result in real benefits to families, or any business changes actually keep companies profitable enough to stick around to provide income for those families. We are cheering on the political action groups proposing such changes.

However, today is today. 'Your life is now', as one of my favorite John Mellencamp songs goes. And the statistics say that more and more young parents want egalitarian marriages and balanced lives. How do you create a balanced and sane lifestyle that allows both a father and a mother to pursue their dreams - career, childraising, hobbies? By embracing equally shared parenting!

We firmly believe that equally shared parenting is not a 'someday in utopia' option. It is an option for a huge majority of families right now. Couples are not embracing it, research says, because the barriers are too difficult. That may be truly what stops people, but we say 'baloney'! Overcoming these barriers will take some courage - you may have to approach your boss to ask for the hours you really want, change jobs if your company can't accomodate you, or even change careers if necessary. It may take a few years before you can actually piece together a sustainable life of equal sharing. But if you don't start today, you will have to wait for those 'someday' government or business changes to trickle down to your specific situation. That may never happen.

Penelope Truck's Brazen Careerist blog entry for today is nicely aligned with our philosophies. It says that most people can get a job that fits with the life they want, and we all reap what we sow. I'm not saying it will always be easy. I'm saying it is more than possible, without any government help.

And when one parent, then another, and then another, asks for what he/she wants at work, the effect will eventually snowball and businesses will be courting us equal sharers because we are such good, hard-working, efficient employees.

Still think it is too hard to get the job you want? Well, there is way more to equally shared parenting than the breadwinning domain. In most households, there is a lot of work to be done equilibrating housework, childraising and recreation time (to the degree possible with unequal work situations). This stuff can happen now.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Getting the Men Involved
Okay, so maybe yet another post on the articles in the special Mother Load issue of American Prospect is in order. If you check out the issue online, you'll see that a few new articles (op ed pieces) have been added to the contents. One is written by Linda Hirshman, entitled 'What a Load', and another is by Courtney Martin, entitled 'Fighting Apart for Time Together'. Both pieces grapple with the need to involve men (duh) in the fight for gender equality. Both make some excellent points, but we feel that a few additional points are being missed.

Dr. Hirshman's stance is that women must force men to be involved in childcare and housework or nothing will ever happen. She advocates that women vote in laws requiring fathers to take family leave, for example. This would force them home, and presumably start off a baby's life with two equally involved parents who made equal sacrifices on the job.

Ms. Martin's article stresses the shortsighted approach to gender equality taken by the leading advocacy groups, all of which are fighting from the perspective of mothers. Their names say it all: MomsRising, Mothers Movement Online, etc. These groups are largely forgetting that gender equality equally involves men, and that involved fathers should want all the same things as mothers. By ignoring men, these coalitions are crippling their causes.

We agree with Ms. Martin, and are hopeful that these by-and-large excellent advocacy groups begin to reach out in a meaningful way to fathers. We'd like to see them go so far as to change their names to ParentsRising, Parents Movement Online and the like. I'm not unduly annoyed by their current focus, however, and certainly don't feel unwelcome to join their specific causes.

Regarding Dr. Hirshman.... She makes a life out of pointing fingers and calling people names, which we feel is unfortunate. While she attacks the entire Mother Load issue as a bunch of dangerous fake science, she then goes on to actually agree with much of what is included in the articles. We are aligned with much of her philosophy at its base (which is gender equality), as unpopular as that stance may be, even as we cringe at her approach. Her focus on forcing men to behave the way we want is wishful feminist thinking, however, and will not make anyone happy in the long run.

You can't force men to be good fathers, or even make fathers who take a 'forced' paternity leave actually use their leave to help their wives. Do you know the old joke about the real definition of paternity leave? A golf vacation. Furthermore, there has to be room for all types of families, and in some cases a family counting on the man's (or the woman's) career for stable income can't afford for this parent to take a forced leave (thereby falling behind a childless co-worker).

Here's what we think should be considered in the good fight for gender equality: Workplaces should focus on high-quality flexible work arrangements - be they reduced hours, alternate hours, or compressed workweeks. These cost companies way less than actual paid employee leaves, subsidized childcare, etc. If women and men could find meaningful work at a schedule that fit their families' needs, there would be almost no need for parental leaves. Parents would have balanced lives, maintain their career paths (albeit still at a slightly slower pace than before they had children), and have plenty of time with their children. Yes, women could dominate the workforce choosing these jobs, but if we really do start to involve fathers in the politics, we can start to bust down the stereotypes that make men balk at these arrangements.

I think that it takes the ideas of many to reach gender equality. No one has the answer all wrapped up, but together we might hit on it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sharing is Marital Bliss
I hope you don't mind one more summary of an article from the great special March issue of American Prospect magazine. This one is entitled 'What About Fathers?' and is written by Scott Coltrane, author of Family Man (recommended reading in our Resources section) and associate director of the Center for Family Studies at the University of California-Riverside. Dr. Coltrane says "opinion polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans think of marriage as an equal partnership and endorse the ideals of sharing decision making, housework, child care, and paid work." Interestingly, he says that this current thinking shifted from a more traditional view decades ago, not just within the last few years.

Dr. Coltrane also says "recent studies show that marriages with more equal sharing are, in fact, the most successful. For example, couples in which only the man -- or the woman -- is the breadwinner are more likely to divorce." And "men who do more housework are also more likely than others to avoid divorce".

As you know, we still have a way to go before the average US family has an equal division of housework and childraising responsibilities between parents. But Dr. Coltrane reminds us that the trend is definitely in the right direction - both here in the US and across Europe.

And here's an interesting (but somewhat sad) idea: In some Scandinavian countries, both parents are eligible for paid parental leave but fathers are entitled to special use-or-lose 'daddy days'. This policy has increased fathers' leave-taking dramatically, per Dr. Coltrane. So, even in these progressive countries where both genders have equal access to time off work to be with the kids, it takes a use-or-lose policy to get the men home? Why do you think this is?

NOTE: Some readers are experiencing problems with the links on this blog page. We are working on this! Click here to link to our homepage and here to link to our blog page with full graphics/links.

Monday, March 12, 2007

How Clean is Clean Enough?
As more women become primary or co-primary breadwinners, you would think that their male partners would be doing more of the housework. Think again. Most data point to a slight overall rise in men's housework time per week, but that isn't necessarily correlated within the homes where Mom is earning more or spending more time at work. The norm, unfortunately, is for the mother to work all day and then clean the house all night until she drops, while the father relaxes after a full day at work or with the kids.

Why are these supermoms doing this? Because they can't let go, according to this interesting article in the Boston Globe. The article explains that women usually care more about how the house looks because a dirty or messy house reflects far more on the woman than on the man in our society. The solution proposed in the article is for women to lower their standards and accept a less-than-perfect house, and to go on strike from housework while demanding that their husbands step up.

I can go along with the lowering of standards (to a point, of course), but when was the last time you put your heart into a task that someone demanded you do? You may do it once, maybe even twice, but sooner or later you'll stop doing it because you never actually owned it.

We propose an alternate solution to this dilemma. The answer lies in are communication and courage. Couples need to have the hard, seemingly petty (but really not) discussions that iron out what exactly constitutes a clean house. They need to negotiate and come to agreement on what needs to be done to achieve this level of cleanliness, how much time it takes each week or day, and then divide up who will do what or how they will share a specific task. The discussions need to come not from the vantage of complaining or anger, but from the team approach to what's best for the family. Solutions need to be truly negotiations rather than the typical man deferring to his wife's standards.

Here's an example from our life: Amy likes the laundry done as soon as there is enough dirty stuff for a load. I like the option of waiting until we will actually need the clothes cleaned. Although we both agreed to split doing the laundry early on, Amy soon found herself doing 90% of it because of her standards. When she noticed this, she pointed it out to me. We figured out what was going on and renegotiated the deal. Now, I do 'darks' and she does 'whites'. It is now a 50:50 split and we can each work at our own pace. Amy likes to joke that if the darks pile up, she might need to buy more jeans and dark socks. But neither of us is demanding anything with regards to laundry, and peace reigns.

Sharing housework in peace succeeds because of the details. Once the couple agrees on a reasonable level of cleanliness for each task, the person who cares more about a sparkling house has no grounds to complain unless that level has not been met by his/her partner. Say your wife wants the kitchen floor scrubbed twice a week but you've negotiated together at once a month. If she presses for additional scrubbing, she can scrub away herself - and count the time toward her recreation domain instead! There is no pay-off gotten by complaining that her husband doesn't pull his weight, so the choice is hers - scrub or read a book or play tennis or have lunch with a friend. Hmmm...what will it be?

Want more info? Check out our Housework Equality Scale and our essays on Housework equality benefits/challenges and tips/tricks.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Business Case for Equal Sharing
We've blogged before about the idea that equally sharing parents make great employees, but we've not had such a solid backer to our theories until now. Jodie Levin-Epstein, deputy director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, wrote another one of the articles in the American Prospect's special March issue. Her essay is entitled 'Responsive Workplaces: The Business Case for Employment that Values Fairness and Families'.

Her business case goes like this:

Workplace flexibility improves companies' bottom line finances due to fewer employee absences, lower healthcare costs, and higher rates of worker retention. Employees with flexible schedules are less stressed (and therefore use less healthcare dollars fixing their stress-related ailments). Productivity is higher when employees have flexible hours because they can use their time to optimal effectiveness. Companies save in hiring costs by higher retention rates (and it can cost 150% of a salaried worker's pay to find, hire and train a new employee). And best yet, all of this can be had for next to no cost to the company.

I believe that workplaces are soon going to notice these facts and put them into action. Our job is to ask for the work schedules we want, and to make our pitch with our companies' best interests in mind.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What Women and Men Want
A series of important essays on work/family dynamics was posted in a special issue of American Prospect this week. The essays cover the contributions and aspirations of fathers, the struggle for parity in women's wages and the 'mommy penalty', fallacies of the 'opt-out' revolution, and a great business case for flextime benefits.

Today, however, I want to draw your attention to one of the essays entitled 'What Do Women and Men Want?' by Kathleen Gerson (author of Hard Choices, No Man's Land and The Time Divide, and professor of sociology at New York University).

Dr. Gerson paints a picture of today's young adults based on extensive interviews she conducted in 1998 to 2003. These individuals want equally sharing marriages. They do not, by and large, want traditional 'opt-out' arrangements. Both men and women want equality in breadwinning and childraising, and they want lifelong committed relationships.

But, she says, they can't get it so easily (ah...the challenges of equally shared parenting). Workplaces are not ready just yet to offer the flexible hours that make equal sharing easy, part-time jobs don't pay well or offer decent benefits to many people, etc. So, most young parents give up and settle for their fall-back option. It turns out, however, that the fall-back option most women want is different than the one most men would choose.

Women's fall-back option is independence or bust. They don't want to be financially dependent on their husbands while raising the kids. Men's fall-back option is a 'neo-traditional' arrangement, where the man is the breadwinning specialist and the woman gets to 'choose' if she wants a career or not but retains the homemaker specialist title. The result, Dr. Gerson warns, is that a new gender divide is forming that can undermine marriage itself.

The solution, per Dr. Gerson, is to make it easier to equally share. This would involve "creating flexible workplaces, ensuring equal economic opportunity for women, outlawing discrimination against all parents, and building child-friendly communities with plentiful, affordable, and high-quality child care".

All I can say to this is 'right on'. Let's not settle for our fall-back options. Let's push against the barriers at work and in society to get to what we really want for our family models. Some of us can do this today, and for others it may take larger efforts to get jobs that support this. The heart of EquallySharedParenting.com is about helping more people get there. Sacrifices will need to be made, no doubt. Someday, I hope these sacrifices will be minimal, but today I can tell you that they are worth the reward.

Monday, March 05, 2007

How NOT to Treat an Equally Sharing Dad
If you want an equal partner, you've got to treat him (or her) that way. You can guilt, ridicule or baby him into 'helping' with housework or childraising responsibilities, but the result won't be a happy one and it won't last. One sure-fire way to annoy him is to treat him like he's stupid. I usually read essays in this tone that are written by women, but here's one that purports to relay an expert father's advice. The expert is Armin Brott, author and speaker on fatherhood; and in all fairness, he's probably full of lots of great advice for fathers.

But listen to the tone of this infomercial gratingly entitled 'Uh-oh! Let's go find Mommy' on how to get fathers to change more diapers:

"Brott suggested that moms help dads by setting them up for success and giving them the right tools to help them make the most of everyday moments like diaper changes [this is followed by a pitch for 'quality' diapers like Pampers brand]. Another way to increase dad's comfort zone with diapering is to prepare a diaper bag just for dad, or even a backpack that fits his style. Stock dad's bag with all the essentials - diapers, wipes, toys, change of clothes and other items - so that it's packed and ready to go whenever dad is."

We wonder why guys don't want to step up? Brott means well, but fathers are smart, grown men - not preschoolers. Men will not be our childraising equals if we instruct them, prepare them, and hover; this is demeaning. Changing a diaper or stocking a diaper bag is not rocket science.

And maybe, just maybe, our way is not the best way. A happily-diapering man may simply throw a discount store diaper and some wipes in his back pocket and head off to the playground.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spain, Anyone?
A rather unusual event is scheduled for this Thursday in Valencia, Spain - an honest-to-God equally shared parenting political demonstration! The demonstration honors International Women's Day and has the theme "sharing attention and affection, we share life". The event sponsor is the Feminist Platform for Shared Parenting, which says that equal sharing 'rescues women from their traditional role of child-raising and involves men in the care of the children'.

The invitation, as posted in Mens News Daily, goes on to say that 'we request that the public authorities take a new direction in both feminist and family policy that goes beyond stereotypes of maternal gatekeeping, which envisages shared care as a means of reconciling family and work-life balance, that rewards (and does not punish) those men who love to dedicate themselves to the raising of their children, with the object of favouring (instead of obstructing) masculine transformation'.

The sponsor makes it clear that the message applies to both married and divorced parents. Focusing on the married ones, I enjoy seeing equal sharing as an international topic worth demonstrating for - sponsored by a feminist group and reported on by a men's website. I love it when we're all on the same page!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Finishing What We Started
Thanks to the sacrifices and outspokenness of countless women before us, Americans of both genders can vote, hold jobs, and pursue happiness. But amazingly, most women do not enjoy egalitarian marriages/partnerships. I still find this absolutely nutty - am I the only one?

When I was pregnant with M, I was curious, happy, anxious and terrified about becoming a mother. I knew I'd love her infinitely, and figured Marc and I would make a decent set of parents. My biggest worry was how M's permanent place in our lives would affect our marriage and my career. I talked and talked with Marc about what parenthood would mean to us, and we cemented our plans for equal sharing.

By the time T came along, I wasn't so scared about how motherhood would be my undoing. But I had begun to notice that this equal sharing thing wasn't happening in very many other families around me. Why, I pondered? I started to read. Breastfeeding, at least for me, is great for reading. Around the clock, T ate while I read. We'd stop to burp, change sides, and reposition. Then back to the reading. I started with novels, then graduated to books about raising boys (I know, it was a little early to be absorbing these when my boy was only 2 weeks old), and then started in on books about motherhood itself. T's early outings were trips to the library with his Mommy for yet more books.

I read about such anger and anxiety, such an outcry for political and cultural change. Several of the books I read are now in the ESP Resources section, as they became dear to me. Next, I got on the web and read blogs, newspaper articles, and countless other media pieces about motherhood. What was going on? I was incredulous. It was from this place that I realized I had something to share with others. My life wasn't out of balance. I wasn't angry with my husband for the crushing burdens I alone carried. But most other women, it seems, were suffering.

The Nation just published this piece entitled The Care Crisis that summarizes much of what I was reading. Organizations like MomsRising are hard at work convincing this country that change is necessary. And Equally Shared Parenting is now here to help individual parents - both mothers and fathers - gather the courage to share in all of this on a personal level.

As The Nation's article emphasizes, fixing the out-of-balance lives of mothers is not going to be about teaching them techniques to keep their sanity - yoga classes, pampering, etc. Equal sharing isn't about such quick-fix techniques either. It is a whole new, egalitarian mindset that benefits men as much as it benefits women. After voting and working, it is the rest of our story.

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