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 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.


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