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

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Efficiency be Damned
OK, it's been less than a month since I was laid off and I can already sense the division of labor shifting in our household. It's not that we've lost our determination or will to equally share it's just more efficient. Yes, I said it; Equally Sharing may be more inefficient. We actually addressed this in our Benefits and Challenges of Sharing Housework essay, but up to this point it has been a theoretical discussion.

Amy and I had a little pow-wow last night addressing the situation. We weren't blaming each other but rather paying attention to how easy it is to assign the necessary tasks to the person who is home more. Sure, I can throw in an extra load of laundry, I'll stop by the grocery store after my bike ride, why don't I get dinner started since I'll be home first. This is all mundane household management stuff and makes perfect sense when we focus on the details of these decisions. However, this might be the classic "can't see the forest for the trees" example. The more distance Amy gets from the daily running of the home the more difficult it is for her to enjoy the time she does have.

For instance, Amy likes to cook. I'm not talking about preparing fancy multi-course meals for the kids but she likes to create a meal when she has the chance. I'm pretty sure Amy has no idea what is in the fridge at the moment. If I were to step back and allow her to make dinner tonight it would be nothing more than a chore. She would have to rush home, take inventory, rush to the store for any needed ingredients, and quickly pull together a meal while carting our daughter along for the ride. I can assure you this would not be fun for Amy.

Just to be clear, I'm not proposing a strict accounting of tasks but rather an equitable division of labor with both parties committed to the lifestyle of being equal partners. I'm happy to pick up the slack when I have the time and will continue to do so, as I'm sure Amy would do as well, but our lifestyle is more important to us than efficiently getting through the day. We both want to enjoy the journey!

One more thing we found interesting after last night's discussion was how Amy's job has apparently gotten more demanding. After years of managing her workload based on the hours she could dedicate to work, all of a sudden she is feeling pressure to work more. We think this is a result of having me available at home. Amy can now accept work assignments on her normally scheduled day off, she can go to early morning meetings while I get the kids off to their activities, and she can bring work home because I'm keeping the household running smoothly.

My plan is to defend against the subtle pressures to cast equality aside just to get through the day. I need to defend my breadwinning time (looking for a job), not against Amy's encroaching but in support of the life I want to live and share. Amy would want nothing less for me.

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Help" is a Four-Letter Word
We recently received an email from a reader who shared with us a letter she wrote to her then-husband (but never sent to him). In the letter, she describes with candor and accuracy just why we abhor the use of the word "helping" when referring to work that either parent does around the house or for the kids. In traditional marriages, help may be all well and good. But in ESP relationships, using the term "help" in this sense can be toxic. We help each other all the time, of course, but not as a way to dump primary housework or childraising responsibilities onto our partner. And so, with permission from our insightful, direct and right-on reader, we give you The Letter You Wouldn't Want to Receive:

"Dear Husband,
I'm done pussyfooting around. The truth is: I do not want your "help" around the house.

Do not "help" me by doing the dishes after dinner. Just DO them because they need doing, and because I'm now busy giving our daughter a bath, and will later be busy putting her to bed while you play on the computer or watch TV.

Do not "help" me by vaccuuming the floors. Just DO it because it needs to be done, and because I've already scrubbed the toilet and bathtub today.

Do not "help" me by taking out the trash. Just DO it because it's stinking up the kitchen, and because I'm busy doing my, our daughter's and YOUR laundry.

Do not "help" me by taking our daughter to the park so I can bake the cake you want to take to work with you. Just DO it because she wants to go and has seen very little of you this week.

Do not "help" me by going grocery shopping. Just go buy the groceries already, because you need to eat, as do your daughter and I, and because I prepare 99.99% of all meals in this house. Oh, and while you're there, please, please pick up whatever necessary food items that you realise I have forgotten to put on the list; part of doing the grocery shopping is looking in the fridge & cupboards to see what we need. The list is supposed to be a tool for you at the grocery store, not do the decision-making for you.

I do not want your "help" because doing all that needs to be done to keep a household running smoothly and clean enough to avoid living in a biohazard area is not my sole responsibility. "Helping" me implies that you are somehow pulling my weight and denies your own responsibilities when it comes to contributing to our household. Just do it because it needs doing - not because I deserve "help getting my work done".

You claim to be a feminist, and to believe in gender equality. So, take the blinders off and see your "help" for what it is: a way for you to avoid household responsibility.

Thank you.

PS I love you anyway, and I know you mean well... but it is high time to put your money where your feminist mouth is and stop "helping"."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Equal Parenting in the News
Among the whoosh of fatherly news that accompanies Father's Day, we noticed that we are not the only equally sharing parents so featured. Check out this article on ABC News about a couple who have shared childraising and breadwinning since their now 6- and 10-year old children were born. As with many ESP couples, they value work-life balance over having top manager positions. Both worked 4 days per week while their children were young.

The article suggests that men may have an easier time than women requesting time off for family reasons. Men, it says, may simply be more able to stand up for what is important to them. Perhaps this is true, although we suspect that men may worry more about the stigma attached to career downsizing than women do. We've also seen plenty of women stand up for what they need when it comes to their families too.

It is refreshing to see equally sharing couples featured in prominent news articles. Amid all the articles simply highlighting the involved dad, or singling out the stay-at-home dad, sometimes the 50:50 solution gets short-changed. But the times they are a-changing!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!
It's your day, Dads - hopefully one of many in which you are cherished and appreciated for all that you do and just for who you are. In our house, it starts with breakfast made by M and myself and served to Marc with a few small gifts and some homemade 'We Love You, Daddy' cards from M and T. I feel grateful for my equal partner husband, and today is set aside to focus on that. For the kids, it feels like Daddy gets an extra birthday - T sings 'Happy Birthday' to him over and over. High fives all around.

Whatever your family's traditions for Father's Day, this is my high five to you.

p.s. ESP.com is featured today in Maggie Jackson's Boston Globe column celebrating hands-on fathers. Check it out! You can also find us in the July issue of Fitness magazine (on sale now - not available online) - page 96. Hooray!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Real Life Stories
Announcing a new section of EquallySharedParenting.com! As you can see on your menu bar to the left, we've added an option called Real Life Stories. It is high time you heard about equally sharing families from more than just Marc and me. In this section, you will meet other couples who practice ESP and read in their own words how they do it, what it means to them, and what challenges they have faced to create a gender equal relationship.

We have seeded the new section with two stories to get it started, and will be adding more stories as they become available. So, don't be shy! If you and your partner have children and feel that you practice equal sharing in breadwinning, housework, childraising and recreation time (or aspire to this lifestyle), we want your story. Send us an email at info@equallysharedparenting.com with a bit about your family arrangement and we'll send you back our short guidelines for essay submission.

We hope you enjoy reading Real Life Stories.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Great News for Dads
The powerhouse advocacy group MomsRising.org has been hard at work improving the lives of American families. I'm a big supporter of their efforts to show our politicians that families matter - and we vote. But until now MomsRising been all about the female parent. Something important has been missing: Dads.

Well, today that changes. MomsRising has announced a spin-off called FamiliesRising.org. The new partner is focused on The Other Parent, and recognition of the masculine version of family advocacy feels good. Amy and I plan to be active partners with FamiliesRising.org. We hope you'll join us by visiting their new website and signing on with them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kidding Ourselves
Several readers have written to us to suggest another book for our Resources section. The book is Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power by Rhona Mahony (1995). This is yet another title I noticed in my quest for literature on equal sharing, but it didn't quite register with me that the book was about gender equality. I must have assumed it was a book on business success tips for women - but that would be wrong. This is a book that definitely belongs in our Resources. So thank you to those of you who let us know!

Kidding Ourselves is a practical and tell-it-like-it-is guide to not getting caught in a traditional marriage. It is written from the woman's point of view, which means that it pays very little attention to the merits of equality for men. But Mahony lays out the facts for women in great detail.

What I like about this book is first off the fact that Mahony challenges the 'fossilized social life' that we live under, where there is a division of labor by gender. The author describes how such a division most likely came to be in the era of cave-dwellers or even pre-Industrial Revolution, but then tosses away each reason as utterly unnecessarily in our time. She also argues at length that this division of labor, in which childcare is weighted heavily on women, is what keeps women from being equals to men in achieving the good things in life - a nice place to live, dignified work with a chance to learn and make a difference, freedom from fear of violence, recreation and relaxation time, respect, political involvement. A weighty argument, but one that Mahony tackles well. I also like that she says it is time for a change, and I agree with her descriptions of why individual couples get into this messed up division of labor in their own homes.

What I don't love about this book is how the author urges women to basically trick their husbands into doing more around the home or with the kids. She never uses the word 'trick', but her underlying message is that if a woman wants a more equitable marriage, she has to plan and plot so that she has the upper hand in the relationship. When a woman owns more than 50% of the power in a relationship (for example, because she earns more money or because she cares less about having kids than her husband does), she can negotiate a better arrangement for housework, childraising, etc. All of this is true, of course, but we want something different for our ESP couples than hostage-pseudoequality.

Something that made me really think is the vision that Mahony has for a gender equal society. It is a lovely vision - a world where an equal number of men and women outearn their spouses and where it is just as likely that a man is home with the kids as a woman is. I share that vision too. But Mahony's vision is for society at large. She sees the vision taking shape in a way that doesn't produce equality within an individual home. She mentions individual equality, and thinks it is a good thing, but she affectionately calls 50:50 equally sharing couples 'oddballs'. We ESP couples will always be unusual, believes Mahony, and it is more likely that stay-at-home dads will become more prevalent than that couples will actually figure out how to share equally.

The problem with Mahony's vision is that, while the likelihood of having the good things in life is now not linked to gender, it still remains lopsided in each home. We would like to challenge Mahony that true equally shared parenting can be done, and not, as she suggests, only in wealthy families who can hire out extra childcare. It can be done in families with very moderate incomes, and in ways that give parents and children lots of time together.

I do recommend Kidding Ourselves. It is loaded with great descriptions of how inequality takes root in families and how to keep it from happening. I would simply alter Mahony's grand plan to focus on true equality that stems from respect, love and each parent's desire for a balanced life.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hymn of Equality
This belongs in the 'just have to share' category. Recently, Amy and I were at a worship service in a local church. A hymn was begun, and the whole congregation sang the following words:

"For woman and man,
a place at the table,
revising the roles,
deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace,
dividing the power,
for woman and man,
a system that's fair."
We looked at each other. How did equally shared parenting find us here? Is this some message from above? It certainly made us smile. Credit to text author Shirley Erena Murray.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Talking with Pepper Schwartz
After reading Pepper Schwartz's inspiring book Love Between Equals, I started to wonder what the author thinks of equally shared parenting in 2007 as compared to the mid-90s when the book was published. What has changed? Is she still a believer?

So I reached out to her to find out. Dr. Schwartz quickly and graciously shared her thoughts with me, and I'd like to pass them on to you. Pepper Schwartz is a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, and renowned author/speaker/columnist on issues of gender and sexuality. Her most recent book, Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love and the Sensual Years, will be released in July.

Q. Since you wrote Love Between Equals, what do you think has changed about American society's interest/acceptance of peer marriages with children? Are these marriages more or less likely now?

A. I think they are more likely. More women are earning bigger salaries, and sometimes the woman's job will be the most important income to a couple. Therefore more couples now have a flexible approach to childcare - often assigning it to the person with the more flexible career or to the lower earner - but switching back and forth as circumstances permit.

Q. What are the main barriers to true gender-equal marriages (with children) today? Are they primarily external things (such as lack of flexible work, poor paternity leave policies) or internal issues (such as the stigma of a male who steps off the fast track to be a parent, or gatekeeping by mothers)?

A. I think there still are multiple barriers. First, an interior one is the idea that the major breadwinning role is by design male, and that when push comes to shove, women should be the primary parent. Certainly women are not socialized to imperil male income by sharing domestic duties, and parents on both sides would exert pressure against it. Second, there are practicalities because of custom. Most men do not babysit or know a lot about children - having women raise them is the default position. Third, there are inadequate public policies - few give enough leave to mothers, even fewer, to fathers. When fathers take available leaves they are usually thought of as "not serious" contenders in the work force.

Q. Do you think that couples can take a traditional marriage and change it to a peer one? Would a man agree to such a move mostly because it is the 'fair' thing to do, or could he come to understand instead that it actually gives him a fun and balanced life?

A. I think people are adaptable. When circumstances change, people readjust their thinking. A man might change because his wife now has a fantastic job, or at least one that is important to family welfare. Some men change because they realize they want a better relationship with their children - or a child needs them in some special way. Other men start to find less satisfaction at work while their partners find more and it seems like a reasonable change. Other men, vested in their marriages, realize their wives are unhappy and want to save the relationship by changing the terms of it in a way their wives will appreciate. Life has a way of changing people's minds...

Q. What can men or women look for in the dating world to pick a partner who willingly and happily wants to set up a peer marriage later on?

A. They should do peer dating! They should share the cost of a date, so that they walk the walk as opposed to just having liberal ideologies. Men should have a strong desire for equity, and for involved parenting; women should want to share the economic responsibility of the couple and want a partner who is a strongly engaged, committed father who wants a daily relationship with his child. Potential mates should have a history of dating "peers".

Q. Finally, is there a governmental or corporate change that could boost equal marriages into the mainstream? What will it take for peer marriages to become commonplace?

A. Flexible time, job sharing, and other ways to be a valuable and promotable employee even if some childcare responsibilities require absences or work done at home. Parental leaves the first year of birth should be protected for both men and women so that discrimination, if proved, could cause a corporation to become liable for any income lost. Certainly good onsite childcare (and infant care) and sick child care would help both men and women to be peer parents.

It's me, Amy, again. In hearing Dr. Schwartz's responses above, I feel like America is onto something good. More and more women are earning salaries equal and above their husbands', and Generation X parents who value time over money are ideal candidates for the adaptations she describes. The looming worker shortage will force corporations (and perhaps government) change to makes flexible jobs more available, paternity leaves protected rights, and good childcare a possibility for more families. I'm hopeful, too, that there are more peer-minded men and women in the dating arena right now, just waiting to meet each other and make equal sharing real. Let's make it happen!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gender Convergence and Work Productivity
Marc is accompanying M to a birthday party this afternoon while T naps upstairs and I get a chance to catch up on the world of equal sharing-related news.

There is an interesting article in the New York Times from 5/31 that describes new research and ideas from thought-leaders on gender studies - experts such as Kathleen Gerson (New York University), Barbara Risman (University of Illinois) and Ellen Galinsky (Family and Work Institute).

The latest research shows 'women and men are becoming more alike in their attitudes toward balancing life at home and at work. The gender revolution is not over....it has just developed into "gender convergence."' Gender convergence is defined as 'an ever-increasing similarity in how men and women live and what they want from their lives,' per Dr. Risman and her co-investigator Dr. Molly Monahan Lang.

Gender convergence is a core component of equally shared parenting - not to be confused with genderlessness. We believe in a world where men and women maintain their own styles and approaches to parenthood, breadwinning, housework and recreation, but do so as true equals. Both flex their careers toward balanced lives over high-power careers, and both value time and relationships with their children and spouse over money. Or, as Dr. Gerson states, 'both sexes aspired to the same ideal: "a balance between work and family."'

On a separate note, but also in the New York Times, Lisa Belkin's column this week describes all the time that workers waste each day. She concludes that all our Internet-surfing or searching through our cluttered desks for lost papers is actually time well spent, giving the brain downtime to prepare for a surge of productivity later on. This may be true, or perhaps we really are frittering away our days. But the most interesting part of her piece is statistics from a Microsoft study that label 16 of the typical 45 hours in a workweek to be wasted ones, or from a Salary.com study that finds workers truly work only 3 days out of 5 per week (wasting the other two). Ms. Belkin writes '"The longer you work, the less efficient you are," said Bob Kustka, the founder of Fusion Factor, a productivity and time-management consulting firm in Norwell, Mass.'

To me, this means that perhaps the 40 (or 45 or 50 or 70) hour work week ain't working for businesses. I wonder if there is a productivity study that pinpoints the ideal number of work hours in a day or week - the point at which an employee is working enough time to be an engaged, up-to-date and knowledgeable employee but yet not so much that productivity per hour starts to melt. Does anyone know of such a study? Could it be that the the ideal worker is actually someone who logs, say, 25-35 hours per week? Hmmm.... At these reduced hours, perhaps one could legitimately lead a balanced life without a guilty conscience, and businesses could stop picking up the full tab. Just an (unproven) thought.

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