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, November 29, 2007

Policies that Work

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has released a new report comparing the policies of 30 countries with respect to work/life balance. The OECD report lists Denmark and Iceland as having the most effective public policies and business practices to allow healthy work/life balance - which helps to reduce poverty, promote child development, and enhance gender equality. Next come Finland, France, Norway and Sweden.

In its analysis of specific policies (such as tax and benefit policies, parental leave, childcare, afterschool care) and practices (such as part-time and flexible hours), the OECD gives 5 recommendations that would contribute to effective public spending and policy development strategy:

1. Don't just give parents money to keep one of them home to care for the kids. This destroys incentives to work, and makes employers biased against hiring women who will be the ones to stay home.
2. Tax/benefit policies should be designed to give both parents financial incentives to work.
3. Single parents should be given quality childcare support and be obliged to work.
4. Parental leave works best when it is short but well-paid. This leave should be designed so that it must be shared by both parents rather than taken only by mothers.
5. Workplaces should be more family-friendly, offering part-time/flexible hours and leave to care for sick children.

While the OECD cautions that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to policy development, it is nice to see that this organization feels the most effective policies are generally those that encourage equality between mothers and fathers so that both can balance their lives and care for their children.

How does this list of recommendations measure up to yours?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Invisible Mommy

We all get them. Those syrupy sweet email chain-letters sent to us by well-meaning friends. I love the ones that end with a threat, like "now that you've been marked as a Beautiful Woman, you must send this message to 20 other Beautiful Women within the next hour or bad luck will plague you the rest of your days." I can't hit the Delete key fast enough.

There's another whole genre of these emails that are designed to tug at the heartstrings of women - specifically mothers. I call them Martyred Mommy Mail. They contain long lists of the ways in which us poor, overworked, undervalued mothers are really saints, or soliloquies about how our husbands are idiots when it comes to meeting our needs or taking care of our kids. We are supposed to feel better because we can bond with each other over our wretched lives.

I got one yesterday that starts like this:

"I'm invisible. It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?" Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?" I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?" I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going ... she's going ... she's gone!"

The email then tells the story of how, even as an invisible person, a mother performs the greatest achievement of all - raising a child. Thanklessly, silently, without being noticed except by God. No mention of the Other Parent taking up part of this staggering burden; he's obviously fully visible, out in the real world earning money and tending a career in a way that is no longer an option for his wife.

Now, I'm all for parenting for the sake of our children. But don't we see that these bits of Martyred Mommy Mail keep us thinking that the only way for a family to raise a well-adjusted child is for the mother to disappear as a person? Or that the more we make fun of our husbands for not stepping up, the more it will never cross their minds to do so? Or that the more we settle for martyrdom as mothers, the more we keep parenting a Moms-Only Club activity?

Let's stop complaining, or wallowing or high-fiving ourselves for our sacrifices on the alter of motherhood. Instead, let's see what else we might do, such as consider our husbands as equally competent parents and ourselves as equally able to balance a career and care for our children. In order to get past the inequalities, we have to stop holding onto their payoffs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One Hand Clapping

I read a lot of news articles about work/life balance. And if they center around the stories of individual people, they tend to be just like this one. Peppy descriptions of how this or that mother has managed to arrange her life so that she can handle a career and be with her kids.

While these slices of life are perhaps helpful to some, to me they are like one hand clapping. Why do we insist on trying to balance our work and family responsibilities without regard to half of the manpower? I speak of the father, of course. One sentence in this particular article mentions a husband, but by-and-large, we're forgotten in the mix.

In this particular article, one mom highlights her success with a job share. I love job shares - I really, truly do. Amy has one, of sorts, at her workplace; she shares a 1.5 FTE job with a colleague, and they make a great team. But I would like couples to consider themselves in a job share at home too. Then, the big work/life balance puzzle could include both partners, not just one. It is not just a mother's responsibility to balance work and family!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Our Anniversary

It snuck by us! As of November 16th, we've been broadcasting the news about ESP for a full year. But really, we've been thinking about ESP for many years longer, and living it for over 5 years now. How fitting it is that I can pause on the verge of Thanksgiving to say thank you to the blogosphere, to each of you, for our first year with ESP.com. Thank you for giving us a platform to talk about what almost no one else is discussing. Thank you for allowing us to share our philosophies and challenges. Thank you for giving us a whole huge new part of ourselves - our ESP.com lives - to keep in balance with the rest of us.

So the past 12 months have been a blur - a happy blur - of learning and writing and reading. We're just getting started. On to Year 2...with lots of good things in store! We hope you'll join us, even more so than in our first year, as we continue to discuss the real and rewarding option of equally shared parenting.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tortured Data

A retrospective review of the division of parenting labor between mothers and fathers has been released by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (Brisbane University in the UK). This study is already being misinterpreted in the British press as evidence that mothers are better parents than fathers (for boys only).

The study reviews data gathered from the mothers of 6010 children in Avon (UK) who lived with both of their parents for up to the first 4 years of life. The mothers completed a series of questionnaires that were fed into a database, and then the data were tortured, er analyzed, for correlations between the number of hours the children spent in the sole care of their fathers and the children's cognitive and/or social skills at 47 months, prior to school entry, and at age 7.

Despite the horrendous media pronouncements, here is what I read when I examined the actual study:
  • These children were presumed to be cared for by their mothers as the primary parent. These were not equally shared children, nor were they cared for by stay-at-home fathers. In fact, the vast majority of the mothers either didn't work (28-39%) or worked only part-time (37-47%). It was 'assumed' that all the fathers worked full-time or were out-of-work (not by choice). So, the fathers were in a supporting role only.
  • Assessment of children's skills at 47 months was only available for about half of the children (3121), not the full 6010.
  • Lots of good news was revealed (that the media do not give any attention to): 1) fathers' care seems to enhance the social skills of children; 2) fathers' care seems to make no difference to the cognitive skills of girls; 3) fathers' care seems to make no difference to the cognitive skills of boys except for one subset - boys who receive a high degree (meaning more than 15 hours per week) of sole father care when they are 2-3 years old and who do not receive any other type of outside care. This difference was not seen when these boys were measured at the time of school entry or at age 7. Father care made no cognitive difference to any other subset of boys.
  • One more piece of really good news is that there was no difference seen between fathering and mothering for children in the first year of life - the time when you might expect a difference to happen (with the breastfeeding and mother-bonding issues at play).
  • The data come from children born in 1991-2. So, a LONG time ago in the world of equal parenting.
  • The cognitive impairment difference amounted to 1/5th of a standard deviation.

Oh, and although the researchers say this is not a factor, the children who received the most father care were those whose fathers were out-of-work (meaning not by choice), and were in the worst socio-economic brackets. Hmmm....

What we have here is a study using old data from families where the primary parent is the mother, using surveys completed by the mothers to conclude that it may not be ideal to allow fathers to care for their own children for 15 or more hours per week in the 2nd and 3rd years of their children's lives...but that this little problem applies only to boys, applies to cognitive ability but not to social skills, may not be practically significant, and goes away when those boys reach school age anyway.

I'm underwhelmed. In the face of tremendous and mounting evidence that father involvement improves socialization and verbal skills. Alas, the media is trying to paint the news of this study as a mark against stay-at-home dads (who are not even studied in the data). The media don't know enough to go after us equal sharers, but the study is also clearly not about us either.

What does this study tell us? I'm having a hard time answering that. Right now, I'm inclined to agree with the old saying that if you torture the data long enough, it will speak. But it won't help you figure out the truth.

Find your own truth.

p.s. Hat tip to Rebeldad for earlier coverage of this news.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shaping the Future

We spoke recently by phone with our friend and mentor, Jessica DeGroot, founder of the ThirdPath Institute. ThirdPath is dedicated to helping men and women redesign their work lives to match with the needs of their families, and Jessica happens to be a genuine long-time ESP parent herself (along with her husband, of course). So it was a pleasure to share ideas with her and to get an update on the important work and mission of ThirdPath. We would like to pass on a few of her thoughts to you:

Any job can be redesigned: ThirdPath is built around the idea that, given the right tools, everyone can achieve the work schedule they want. And that every job can be tweaked to match the needs of good workers and still accomplish what is required for the organization. Good workers are like gold to employers, and ThirdPath wants to help business leaders learn the skills to retain these workers and create a work environment that will nurture them as they do excellent work.

Men hold an important key to workplace redesign: It is not that Jessica believes women are unimportant, but in order for significant and lasting change to occur she is also putting her efforts into supporting men to take steps toward flexibility at work. Men face unique barriers when making these changes, but in order to push the workplace into a new era of flexibility, we are going to need the equal efforts of men and women, young and old.

Equal sharing naysayers often speak from personal fears: Jessica has found time and again that when people say equal sharing is impossible, they usually mean it seems impossible for them on a personal level. Inside every critic of ESP is the fear that their own partner would absolutely, positively never buy into equal sharing. And while there will always be men and women who have no interest in equal sharing, Jessica believes there are many more who can share in the joys and benefits of this model if they are willing to take a moment and face some of their own fears and concerns.

The future is full of possibility: Jessica has a vision, and her voice virtually sparkles with enthusiasm as she explains it. She sees a world where everyone can create the schedule they need to balance work and family, with no regard to gender. She sees government policies on flexible work rights combining with enlightened business leaders and forward-thinking individual parents to build this world. In the workplace, she is betting on small businesses rather than large corporations to be the innovative leaders of work/life balance. And she believes that both Generation X/Y (with their balance idealism) and the Baby Boomers (with their desire for scaled down meaningful work as they near retirement) will make it all possible.

We love Jessica's vision and plans for the future, and her enthusiasm about the present. It feels good to be in the thick of this change!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Join Us at FamiliesRising

Since mid-October, Amy and I have joined forces with FamiliesRising.org to spread a bit of equal sharing cheer at their group blog. FamiliesRising, by the way, is the recent spin-off of the political activist group MomsRising.org - but this spin-off is more inclusive of fathers. Truth-be-told, both FamiliesRising and MomsRising content appear on both sites, so it is hard to tell which blogger represents which viewpoint. But there we are, blogging right alongside Nancy Pelosi, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and Joan Blades!

Mostly, we're introducing FamiliesRising/MomsRising readers to the basics of ESP and to the fact that family friendly policy change is equally important for women and men. Our blog entry from yesterday, for example, is a primer on the challenges of equal sharing.

Join us over at the 'Risings for more discussion of ESP. Comments are encouraged both here and there!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Living the 'Right' Life

An article in this month's Men's Vogue magazine is stirring up the wrath of parents on all sides of the Mommy Wars. The article in question is a stay-at-home father's musings about his place in life - not a new topic, but certainly not one that usually stirs up anger. However, this particular article is a combination of 'woe is me who gave up my fabulous career to change diapers' and 'how dare other parents make a different choice.' It is a pity-and-sanctity stew.

Judith Warner's weekly 'Domestic Disturbances' column in the New York Times picked up on this article last Friday, with Judith coming down hard on the judgmental tone. And although she chides him for his superiority, she seems to fuel the debate more than ask us all to put it aside.

So, we'll have to do the work for her.

Comparing all the possible negative consequences of one parenting lifestyle, be it stay-at-home parent or two full-time working parents, with all the possible positive consequences of another choice is just dumb. Writing articles that blast others' decisions about how to raise their children is just ignorant. Scientific studies will never give us pat answers about which of our actions will guarantee the best results in our offspring, so we all do the best we can.

For some of us, that means a traditional arrangement where one parent stays home. For others, it means a neo-traditional arrangement where both parents work, but one is the primary parent. For yet others, it means that secret option all these articles neglect to mention - the one that we call equally shared parenting.

All we want is for all the options to be on the table for choosing, and for parents to be able to pick the one that fits them best. Some of us are made to be stay-at-home parents; others are at our best when we've got a career and a spouse to handle the homefront; others strive for their best chance at balancing both worlds.

What if an article were written about all the possible benefits of each option, with none of the possible downfalls? Crazy thought, I know, but then you could start to compare apples to apples. Even then, what really matters is that you are living the life that you're cut out to lead. If you're happy, I'm willing to bet that you are giving your kids the best shot at happiness too.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sharing Housework is Child's Play

Yes, I grew up in the 70's, and a good chunk of the 60's as well, but I had never heard this poem about housework by Carol Channing until recently (thanks Lisa). It was released again last spring on a CD called Free to be You and Me.

It lends some credence to the book, All I really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten.

One more thing, can anyone explain the fascination with the kid's book Goodnight Moon?

Anyway, here's the text to the Carol Channing poem and here's the audio in m4a format.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Flextime Feeding Frenzy

Great Britain currently has a law that gives all parents with children under the age of 6 the right to request flexible work hours (reduced hours, working from home, or a change in schedule). This law, enacted in 2003, has resulted in 22% of the country's workers making such requests and about a 90% 'yes' response from employers (who have to prove that they have seriously considered each request and can demonstrate hardship if it is denied). The law has since been expanded to include parents of disabled children under 18 and carers of adults. Pretty cool!

Now, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is promising that this right will soon be extended to all parents with children under the age of 18. While this extension is not yet law, it is likely to become so in 2008.

Press reports of this promise point to a recent survey of managers that reveals no downside to companies from granting flextime requests for their employees. As I suspected! In fact, the number of new mothers who have left their jobs in search of another (more flexible) employer is down sharply since the law started. I imagine that this true for employees in general (rather than just new mothers), but don't have access to full stats at the moment. So flextime breeds stability.

Some consider this next expansion of the law to be a step toward offering it to ALL employees rather than just parents. I hope so!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fear of Fathers

Fatherhood is a hot topic in the media of late. Involved fathers are all the rage, highlighted in articles in almost every major newspaper and many big name magazines. It is a feel-good topic, these involved fathers, because women can say "finally, men are doing their share" and men can say "I'm doing right by my kids." And we all can say a collective "awe, isn't that sweet."

The problem with 99% of these articles is that they still portray men as secondary parents. Or sometimes as temporary primary parents (like SAHDs who moonlight in this role for a year, but then turn it back over to their wives). But rarely (heaven forbid) do these pieces show men as true co-parents for the long haul.

Why is this? Is it just too scary to too many people to consider men and women equally competent parents? I think perhaps. This notion rubs up against motherhood itself. And it threatens men who have opted for traditional (or quasi-traditional) fatherhood. It crushes cultural norms about men as providers and women as nurturers. Men who aspire to spend time with their kids are sweet guys we want our daughters to marry. They are the good doobies of the male gender. But men who want equal control at home and expect their wives to be equal breadwinners...well, could scare people. Or so the media think. Won't
women get uneasy because what they really want is a helper who will do their bidding? Won't men get nervous because they do not really want to give up the primary provider role?

I'm here to say "get over it" to the media. Yes, some men and some women will be threatened by equality. But many are living it now and loving the freedom and intimacy it provides. No need to fear the equal partnership! If it is not for you, that's fine - but if it is, let's stop being afraid to talk about it.

p.s. A shout-out to Dana Glazer (director of the upcoming film 'The Evolution of Dad') for speaking so passionately about this with us recently...we're right with ya!

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