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to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions,
work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward
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Equality and Happiness
The Rutgers University National Marriage Project
has released its annual State of our Unions
report - an indepth look at the health of marriage in America. The actual report is long and quite negative about how marriage rates are dropping and Americans' values about marriage are moving toward those of Western European countries (heaven forbid). But the data also show that Americans are marrying later, partially explaining the drop in wedding rates.
You can read the entire report, which is rather traditionalist-leaning if you ask me, but I'll highlight one section that caught my eye: the marriages of college-educated partners are actually strengthening as measured by both falling divorce rates and high scores of happiness. One of the reasons that the Marriage Project researchers give for this trend is that college-educated men and women have more egalitarian marriages then ever before, and hold more egalitarian views of gender roles within marriage.
So while we've blogged before about similar data on equality and happiness, here is yet more data to back us up.
Marriage and the Stay-at-Home Parent
I've read some interesting discussion lately
about whether marriages with a stay-at-home father are more likely to end in divorce than other family models. On the one hand, there is no specific evidence of such. On the other, theories and experiences suggest a level of unhappiness for some when reverse-traditional arrangements become long-term.
Men who become SAHDs are as varied as women who become SAHMs. A man who finds himself in the home role by default is very different from a man who purposefully chooses to be the primary childraiser. SAHDs have the same potential difficulties as SAHMs - isolation, financial dependence, boredom; they probably also have some challenges most SAHMs don't, such as cultural stigma and possibly extended isolation from even other parents. This can't be easy to weather, especially if a man doesn't really want to be doing it.
I believe the family that chooses a lifestyle that truly makes both parents happy is the one that will stand the test of time. If a stay-at-home parent really wants to be home with the kids (and I mean really, truly) and if the working spouse really wants to get out there and support the family (and forge ahead with a career that will allow this), we have a winner. If, however, one or both spouses is not fulfilled by the chosen arrangement, the truth will eventually come out.
Are women divorcing their SAHD partners because they are not manly breadwinners any longer? That's like saying that men divorce their wives because they are no longer as physically attractive. Are men divorcing their primary breadwinner wives because they can't stand the power imbalance? The same can be said about SAHMs. These are all stereotypes - probably true in some instances but hardly applicable to an individual couple. More than likely, divorces in any family happen because the couple grows apart; what was once a marriage of equals and a true partnership becomes an uneven one-up-one-down arrangement between strangers.
According to experts like Kathleen Gerson, most young couples today want equal marriages. But, they don't know how to get them. So they settle for something more traditional (or perhaps, reverse-traditional) - a big mistake if this isn't their first choice. In the end, the price a couple might pay to get the lives they really
want is very small compared to the damage of a divorce. I'd much rather settle for less money, a messier house, fewer things or a less prestigious job than take that winding and torturous road to divorce court.
Go for what you really want!
Part-Time Makes It Possible
I've just posted up our fourth Real Life Story
this evening - a practical and encouraging description of equal sharing from a couple who have 7 years of experience with this lifestyle. Melissa (a software QA director) and Richard (a pianist and music teacher) both work part-time while sharing in the raising of their two daughters. I like Melissa and Richard's story because it is packed with advice and includes examples of other similar couples they know. This family has avoided the need for any outside childcare by tag-teaming days at home with their kids, but unlike couples who do this while working full-time, they don't sacrifice couple time or time to pursue other interests. They are truly an example of equality + balance, the equation that makes up ESP.
There are myriad ways that ESP can happen. We aim to bring you concrete examples of how real couples have built their own versions. Thank you to Melissa and Richard for sharing a peek into their lives.
Not So Uncommon After All
I just finished reading a new book called Alone Together
that addresses how marriage is changing in America. It is chock full of statistics from two surveys 20 years apart, 1980 and 2000. The book spends quite a bit of time evaluating how marriages have evolved toward equality. Its authors, four professors of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, consider marriages egalitarian based on factors such as shared decision-making, shared breadwinning, shared housework, and shared childcare. They conclude that egalitarian marriages are not only the fastest growing type of marriage (from 14% in 1980 to 30% in 2000) but also the single largest type now in existence. The authors go on to report the following about this trend."Even if one takes a cautious approach to the interpretation of the findings..., our results are consistent with the notion that slow but steady shifts in gender relations are gradually transforming marriage for the better."
One section of the book that I particularly enjoyed looks at parents' reported happiness based on the division of household tasks. When one parent does most of the household labor, the other spouse was most happy. However, the person doing the tasks was most unhappy. As the book correctly points out, performing household tasks is a zero-sum game where the more one person does the less the other person has to do. There was only one scenario where BOTH parents reported being happy; you guessed it - when they both felt as if the tasks were equally shared. This analysis held true for division of childcare tasks as well.
I can't think of a better way to describe the value of the team approach which is equally shared parenting. While some may argue that a bit of efficiency is lost when the tasks of raising a family are equally shared between two parents, I would say that a couple is only as happy as the least satisfied parent. And happiness trumps efficiency any day!
Little by little, we will be adding more Real Life Stories to the site. Today, I'm happy to announce that we've uploaded a third story - from Jane and Jimmy, two writers who are equally raising their three children (ages 7, 11 and 14). As writers, they enjoy the freedom of working from home quite a bit, but they carve out patches of time each day for each of them to be 'on' with their kids while the other goes off to write (or teach writing at a nearby college). Their story includes a description of how they have shared childraising and breadwinning from the early years with one toddler through the present day, and presents a touching description of how they have each learned to be a better parent from watching each other with their children.A lovely concept that Jane introduces in this story is that of emotional equality. She calls this 'sharing the emotional zone of parenting', and describes how she and Jimmy have consciously opted for an equal division of the 'emotional' labor in their family. I really like this idea, and think you will enjoy their story.Speaking of Real Life Stories, don't forget to check out the first two that were posted a few weeks ago. Both are terrific examples of ESP in action. Sharon and Rob are a model couple for gravitating toward equal sharing because it made life happy for them. WWWMama and Pa are a poster couple for how ESP doesn't always wrap itself up in a neat bow; they are in transitional or seasonally changing careers, with living arrangements that include relatives beyond their own nuclear family, yet they embody equal sharing and work hard and consciously to nurture it.More stories are being written by other ESP couples as I'm writing this, and will be posted soon. How about yours?
We're Not There Yet
Another Pew Research Center poll was announced today. This one asked mothers and fathers about their ideal job - full-time, part-time or not working at all. Not surprisingly, mothers chose part-time work. But this preference is growing stronger over the years; it is now the ideal for 60% of working mothers (and 33% of SAHMs). The answer for fathers is still overwhelmingly for full-time work (72% list this as their ideal). The survey includes many statistics on the public's opinion of whether working mothers are good or bad for kids, mothers' opinions on how much they should work, and the ideal work arrangement for mothers, but no similar statistics for fathers. Hmmm.The primary finding in the study, and that discussed most in analyses of the data, is that while mothers desire part-time work, the majority of working mothers do not actually have part-time schedules. There is a disconnect between what women want and what they have. Not so for men, it seems.I see the survey as evidence that we've still got a long way to go to reach gender equality. What's best for kids shouldn't be just about the work lives of mothers. It should be about the involvement of all parents.
What's With the Knife?
It was our big debut as a feature in a newspaper article. The article in the Boston Globe could not have come at a better time - the prime Father's Day Sunday edition. We were thrilled! We shared it with you. We told family and friends. We gave copies to our parents. Everyone smiled and cheered us on.Then almost everyone said "but what's with the knife?". You see, the photo on the front page of the Globe's Career section depicted our daughter posed with what some described as a dagger over a pile of strawberries. The photographer had asked us to go about our daily business of preparing dinner while he snapped away, and Marc had nonchalantly handed M a knife to help cut up our fruit. An almost 5-year old with a grown up knife. In our defense, it was actually a small paring-size knife. But even my mom was horrified. I flinched whenever yet another person mentioned it. What was really going on here? Are we just terrible parents? Not so fast. M is actually pretty darn good with a knife, and we have come to see this whole thing as an apt symbol of ESP. If it were up to me, M would probably still be wearing a padded suit watching me cut everything. But because of Marc's equal involvement in her daily life, she's a careful and competent whiz at cutting strawberries before her 5th birthday. The fact that others jump to criticize the knife in her hand is a great example of how society will try to 'correct' the lifestyle of equal sharing. The fact that I cringe from the comments is an example of how mothers take outside criticism so personally. Marc and I need to be proud of M's skills together, not hide when criticized for our joint parenting decisions, and shoulder the comments equally.Even my mother has agreed to drop the topic. What's left is how cool it was to bring ESP to Globe readers on Father's Day. Maybe 'how to cut with a real knife' will make it into the Daring Book for Girls!
Independence (Every) DayWe just celebrated the Fourth yesterday with a big nothing. It kind of snuck up on us this year, even though friends who asked "got any plans?" should have clued us in that a holiday was on the horizon. Our kids are a bit too young for fireworks yet - past their bedtime and rather scary. And M is just grasping the concept of a country and its birthday. So we're excused.But this annual celebration of freedom reminded me that Amy and I appreciate our own kind of independence every day of the year. Because both of us can handle the kids and house tasks without any instruction, either is free to explore our worlds as time permits. We are hardly wild and crazy, since we both value family togetherness and really want to be with our kids and each other, but it is nice to know I could go out and have fun if the mood struck...with no guilt. The 'no guilt' part comes from the fact that I am not missing out on quality and quantity time with my kids and with Amy. If I worked long hours and left the bulk of the childraising and housework to Amy (or hired others to do these), I'd probably feel deep down that escaping to a baseball game or going for a long bike ride was yet another lost opportunity for family togetherness. But I don't, so I don't!And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to meet a friend for some tennis....
Sharing Housework Tops the ChartA new survey by the Pew Research Center found that American couples value sharing household chores more important than anything else when it comes to a successful marriage. Raising children has fallen in rank compared to its place in past similar surveys, coming in behind good housing, adequate income and a happy sexual relationship. So, we all want to share housework, eh? I wonder if this means that we want a real partner for a spouse rather than someone who can simply earn money or raise our children. The survey also found that Americans' idea of the main purpose of marriage is the "mutual happiness and fulfillment" of the two adults so connected.Discussion of the findings focuses on fears that marriage is becoming less connected to bearing and raising children. Perhaps there is reason to fear this, but perhaps the findings are more reflective of the growing diversity of families in America. I love that sharing housework tops the list of ways to mark a successful marriage. I think it is a stand-in for sharing in general - sharing in all four domains and living balanced and happy lives.