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

Monday, August 27, 2007

Parent Tracked

US News and World Report profiles the new mommy track in an article today on ways that enterprising moms can balance work and family. Much of the article content is a rehash of other recent pieces - moms working in forward-thinking law firms that allow more flexible hours, companies creating programs that allow career breaks for family responsibilities, etc. The article's premise is that women in high-power careers need options if they are going to successfully balance work and childraising.

Again I say...but what about the men? They get mentioned twice. Once when the author says mothers today are willing to "demand fuller participation of fathers in childraising" and then again when a managing director at PriceWaterhouseCoopers is quoted as saying "[Women's] careers are not as linear as men's". Oh, and the byline of the piece oddly says "More mothers win flextime at work, and hubbies help (really!) at home".

Amazing! Husbands actually helping at home? Let's aim at little higher than that, US News! Husbands can do way more than 'help'. They can raise children, take career breaks (or step down to reduced responsibilities), flex their hours, and clean the dishes like the best of wives!

We don't need to be forced to do it either, right guys? Who responds well to 'demands'? Hell, we want the same things as women do. I can't wait for the day when US News has a different story to tell.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Substitute Moms

It was "bonus" Daddy Day at our house today - our term for an extra day for the kids with Marc. This windfall was brought on by the dead zone of daycare/preschool options the week before school restarts, and Marc's current at-home gig between jobs. He and the kids spent the day at the park, doing crafts at home, and generally hanging out.

The park visit was not as interesting as it could have been for Marc, given that he was one of only two fathers there amongst about 25 moms and nannies. He tried to strike up a conversation with his comrade, only to be told that the guy was doing his wife a favor by watching the kids because she had to work. Yikes. Furthermore, this daddy believed that childraising was the primary role of women in our society - "that's just the way it has always been and should be".

Actually, Mr. Substitute Mom wasn't a bad partner on the playground with his daughter. He was engaged in fun play, and not unhappy to be there. He just liked his arrangement as the primary breadwinner and his wife was supposedly happy with her arrangement as a part-time earner and full-time mom. So, to each his own - this is the way it should be.

And speaking of dads and their rightful roles, the CBS Early Show did a short segment this morning on Dads Changing Diapers. This frothy and light piece gushed amazement at the fact that most dads actually change diapers these days, and then went into great detail about how these evolved creatures need their own gear in order to be fully 'themselves' as fathers - ultrahip manly diaper bags. The dialogue even suggested that if women buy these bags for their husbands, then the guys are more likely to change diapers.

Now there is something great about a guy having his own diaper bag. Not that any guy needs a special bit of gear to be a good father, or to look the part. But a man touting a bag that is clearly not his style might as well say 'I'm not the main parent - I'm just filling in here and this is my wife's bag'. A guy with his own bag, however....

It's all in the intention. I cringe at the ideas that 1) men should be gushed over for changing diapers, 2) any parent would use material stuff or children themselves to accessorize his/her life, and 3) women would try to control men's diapering by buying them special bags. But if men want to forever shed the sad 'Mr. Mom' title, they can no longer be substitute mothers. They need their own mental 'bags' - meaning full ownership in parenting.

A shoutout to Rebeldad for great earlier coverage of the CBS story.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Natural Equality

Our fifth Real Life Story is newly posted! This description of equally shared parenting comes from Marci and David, an architect/web designer couple in Sante Fe, New Mexico who each work part-time and share the care of their two-year old daughter. Marci and David also share an office (outside the home) by splitting their days. Amy and I love their tradition of meeting for lunch as a family during the switch-off - so different than the usual quick hand-off that is stereotypical of tag-team parenting.

We hope you enjoy reading more about Marci and David's brand of ESP in their essay - one that they say comes naturally to them, and one that exudes family togetherness, genuine regard for each other, and a joy in everyday life. Click here to read all of our posted Real Life Stories.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lunch with Fran Deutsch

Marc and I had the privilege of meeting Fran Deutsch recently, driving out to her office at Mount Holyoke College to talk with her about equally shared parenting. Dr. Deutsch is a professor of social psychology, and author of the 1999 book Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works. It is from reading Dr. Deutsch's work that we decided on the name for this website, and we have long hoped to meet up with her and discuss her research and experience with ESP couples.

So it was with great enthusiasm that we made our short pilgrimage to the Mount Holyoke campus. Over lunch, we found Dr. Deutsch to be just as interested in ESP as ever, with plans for coordinating a multinational study of equally sharing couples. She shared with us how she became involved in this area of research, what it was like to collect the data for Halving It All, and her current philosophies about ESP. It was like meeting someone across the world who spoke our own language, and we could have talked with her for days.

Among many ESP-related topics we covered together, here are some of Dr. Deutsch's thoughts:

  • When asked to name their ideal marriage arrangement after children, her students (college students - a representative cohort of Generation Y) most often choose equally shared parenting. The fall-back choice is a full-time working father and a SAHM or a mother who works part-time in order to be home with the kids. Almost none of these young people want a dual-earner 'superwoman' marriage - their last choice. These answers speak to the fact that this generation is highly family oriented.
  • Dr. Deutsch believes that young parents do not yet think that ESP is possible. They want it, but they settle for their second choice or some even less desirable lifestyle because they can't figure out how to get to gender equality. Yet young women, especially, have conflicting desires that could be resolved by choosing equal sharing - meaningful careers and intimate mothering (and unharried, happy lives).
  • In her recent work, Dr. Deutsch has begun to group ESP couples into three categories: Home-based sharers, Balance sharers, and Career/Job-based sharers. Home-based sharers are those whose guiding principle is raising their children together, usually by compromising work (staying at home or reducing their work hours). Balance sharers are those who value both work and family equally, finding ways to fit in family needs while usually both maintaining full-time jobs. Career/Job-based sharers are those who both want high-bore, influential careers; they put work before family and often end up outsourcing a large portion of household labor and childcare. This last category is "not really ESP at all" since they spend so much time on the job that they have very little left of themselves for family, housework, self or their partner. This gets at the idea that ESP is about more than equality; it is just as much about balance.
  • There is one absolute deal-breaker for the Home-based type of equally shared parenting: the belief that women are better than men at nurturing children. Although there is no scientific truth to this belief, it pervades pockets of many cultures. If one partner (or both) believes that this is true, ESP cannot coexist with the notion of being loving and wise parents by sharing equally in the raising of children.
  • Dr. Deutsch believes that ESP couples can be found in every society and every nation. Even in cultures that strongly label women as caregivers and men as breadwinners, or countries where women have few rights, ESP lives underground in the homes of those who desire it enough to make it real.

We left for home with the knowledge that Fran Deutsch is a great believer in equally shared parenting, and a full supporter of our work to spread the news of its reality. We hope this is the beginning of a long collaboration.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Working the Good Life

Want to get a sneak peak at some of the benefits you might be enjoying someday soon on the job? Working Mother magazine's latest issue featured some of the best corporate perks for work/life balance in an article entitled Young, Gifted and Leaving (focused on innovative law firms that are capturing female lawyers leaving the grind at traditional firms). Here's how some forward-thinking businesses are meeting the needs of Generation X/Y:
  • Flexible work: flextime, reduced hours, compressed workweeks, sabbaticals, family leaves
  • Support systems: online work/family discussion groups, part-time work coordinators, technology support (the latest in wireless gadgets and backup to allow working from home, including IT staff housecalls), backup and full-time childcare
  • No mommy tracking: maintained bonuses and promotions despite parental leaves, ability for advancement at a specified pace (e.g., one firm states that associates working 4/5ths time for 5 years are up for advancement 16 months later than if they had remained full-time), mentor assignments to younger employees

The companies cooking up these morsels know they are good for business. For every lawyer who quits, a law firm loses about $300,000 in training and recruitment; retaining bright and talented workers makes basic financial sense.

I feel confident that benefits such as these will not be limited to cutting edge law firms. Other businesses will have the same retention issues that law firms face, and as more companies make the leap toward family-friendly policies, these will eventually become the norm.

And of course, I'm invested in tracking the use of these policies by men. Women will make up the majority of participants, but I'll be cheering for us men to do so as well.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bugged by Bugaboo

You can spot them from a block away, despite the many knock-offs on the road these days - those ever multiplying Bugaboo strollers. The ones with the price tag that starts around $700 without accessories. You may disagree, but I think there is something creepy about them. Or perhaps just embarrassing. They scream "I drastically overspent so that I could compensate for the fact that I don't know if I'm giving my baby enough of what he needs". They shout "I've been ripped off by the great American advertising machine". They yell "Whee, look at me - millions live in poverty but I spent almost $1000 on a stroller".

Okay, maybe there is something about a Bugaboo stroller that I'm just plain overlooking. Perhaps they are truly so rugged that their owners will never, ever buy another stroller - no jogger, no featherweight umbrella style, no double-wide when the second kid comes along. Somehow I doubt this though. I'll admit it - I'm an anti-Bugaboo snob with a big, bad attitude.

Now, I read on AlterNet that Maclaren has topped this extravagance with its new limited edition $4200 stroller. Stumped by this, I'm left wondering the big Why. AlterNet's author theorizes that Generation X was raised with so much materialism that they respond in kind when they become parents. They think, says this article, that money proves love.

I think the issue is much more complex than this. It may have something to do with the perception that buying a fancy life for our babies says we've got it all together. It presents a perfect exterior for the world to see - the world that judges us harshly as good or bad parents, or so we assume. Much is written about the high anxiety of modern motherhood. Perhaps by just quickly buying that Bugaboo (or heaven forbid, that posh Maclaren), we can at least cross one thing off our Good Mommy lists?

Ah, but we all know deep down this is baloney. Our babies couldn't care less if they are bundled in an expensive stroller or in a paper sack, as long as they are safe and loved. Some of us have money to burn, even after charitable giving, and just want a Bugaboo - and I know I need to drop my own judging attitude as one comes down the street. But I may still wonder whether the purchase might be tainted with pathology just the same.

What if Generation X does have a problem with spending and its (non)connection with loving our families? As debts mount for this generation with all the things we elect to spend our money on, what if we decided instead to spend our money on earning less? This may sound crazy, but I mean spending less time breadwinning for our families and more time hanging out with them. To do this would mean we'd probably earn less money, and instead of buying material symbols of our love we'd have to relabel loving behavior as 'time' and 'attention'.

I feel rather preachy today - sorry! Generation X loves its children deeply, and wants balanced lives. The trick is figuring out how to achieve this balance, and how to love without buying.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Men and Workplace On-Ramps

We know that women who drop out of the workforce to raise their children face potential difficulties finding a rewarding and well-paying job when they decide to return to work. Not every former SAHM has a horror story to tell, but plenty do - either from rusty skills (real or perceived), employers who consider these women less dedicated employees, lack of desirable part-time positions, or just plain discrimination.

But what about the SAHD? Although I don't have statistics in hand to back me up, I think that far more so-called SAHDs actually maintain some real ties to the workplace during their childraising years. They often work from home or in a consultant role rather than completely abandon work for pay. But the ones who do quit working have the same problems that women have when they try to re-enter the working world - and then some.

According to this recent article at MSNBC, men returning to work have far fewer support networks than do women. They can also face more disapproval for their decisions to step away from work, and be even more stereotyped as an undedicated worker. So few men take this path, and this leaves those who do with few allies.

I wish these barriers were not there for either mothers or fathers, but they are. And because they can't be ignored, I will point out that equally shared parenting offers a way around them. With ESP, neither parent opts out of paid work and neither parent has a resume gap to overcome. Yet, the kids get plenty of time with a parent (well, an even mixture of both of their parents) - a common reason parents list for making the stay-at-home decision. I firmly believe that it is far easier to ramp up to a full-time career, even a high powered one, from a reduced-hours position than from a stay-at-home role.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

They're Everywhere

Amy, the kids and I are all on vacation this week - first a few days of beachcombing on Cape Cod, and then as Amy returns to the Cape to celebrate her mother's 75th birthday with her mom and sister, I'm taking the kids (and their cousins) camping in New Hampshire. We're in between those two adventures right now, catching a moment to unpack, repack, and post up some thoughts. And aside from just thinking about how nice it was to have back-to-back days of frolicking together as a family, I'm thinking about the fact that ESP parents are everywhere.

We meet them just by bringing up the topic, which tends to come up naturally in those first few introductory remarks between adults - where are you from, where are you staying, what do you do? I will never tire of discovering others who share equally - such as the couple at Power's Landing beach in Wellfleet who are in academia and each work in their offices 3 days a week. All of us felt the bond of a secret understanding when we figured out the similarities. They said they feel different than most of their friends, still a fringe family of sorts. If I read them correctly, they were happy to realize their lifestyle was being written about on a website somewhere. I hope they will contribute their story here, as Amy and I suggested they do.

We would never have realized that this couple, or any other ESP family we meet, live like us without asking. They simply seem like the average happy family.

I wonder who I'll meet around the campfire on Vachon Vacation Phase II?

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