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, December 31, 2007

Employer Resolutions

Work/life research and advocacy leaders weigh in on their New Year's resolutions for American workplaces in Lisa Belkin's latest Life's Work column. The list of resolutions/recommendations she collects from the likes of Joan Williams, Penelope Trunk, Cathleen Benko, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and others includes:
  • Management leaders should embrace workplace flexibility for themselves, in order to serve as examples to their employees that it is okay to request flexibility.
  • Companies should make flexibility a mainstream option rather than something granted only in crises situations.
  • Bosses should not expect that emails sent off-hours will be answered until the next business day.
  • Companies should create a culture that expects fathers to take a 3-month paternity leave after the birth of each of their children.
  • Managers should judge employees based on results and contributions rather than rank or hours worked.

We'll toast to all of these ideas, and add a few of our own (or twists on the ones suggested by the experts):

  • Abolish the 'FTE'. Stop thinking of employees in terms of 40-hour chunks, and start thinking of them in terms of person-hours needed to do required tasks. Free up managers to hire people for all sorts of oddball hours and schedules without fear of losing an FTE from their budgets.
  • Be creative with parental leaves. Sure, expecting new fathers to take 3 months off is a huge step toward gender equal parenting. But what if a new father could elect to take his 3 months off by reducing his schedule to 4 days per week for a full year? If his partner wasn't home to care for their baby on the day he was home, he'd become a full-fledged hands-on parent in no time and he wouldn't miss much at the office. Plus, after a year of successfully handling his work responsibilities on a 4-day work schedule, he'd be in a good position to negotiate this as a permanent schedule. Parental leave taken as a one-time chunk is helpful, but it is not the lifestyle change we speak of with ESP.
  • Extend the idea of reduced hours, flexible schedules or job leaves to people in general - not just parents (or those caring for a sick or elderly relative). Everyone should be entitled to seek the work/life balance that makes him/her happy. If a single man in his twenties wants to work 30 hours a week in order to have time to improve his golf handicap, he should have equal likelihood of getting his wish as a colleague who just had a baby. Crazy huh? That's us!

As we approach the end of 2007, Amy and I are excited about all that 2008 will bring - for workplaces and employees, for ESP, for good lives for all.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Be Careful What You Ask For

As women - as mothers - in the United States, what is it that we really want? To be considered equal to men, or to be considered special? We can't, I'm afraid, have it both ways. Feminism, originally devoted to elevating the status of women to that of men, seems now to have split into those who strive onward for equality where it has not yet been reached (such as in the home and in childraising responsibilities) and those who fight for the extra needs of women (beyond the needs of men). As an ESP mother, I fall squarely in the equality camp of course.

But our politicians seem to think that women want to hear that they are special, and that they therefore deserve more than men. This article describes the latest campaign tactics, in the form of advertisements, that the Obama and Clinton strategists feel will appeal to women voters. Here, we have our candidates telling women that we are the world's nurturers - the keepers of home and family. And they are smart - these strategists - because we relate to this role.

Beware, however. All parents, including fathers, should relate to Obama's and Clinton's family agenda. And if it is directed only at mothers - once again - it could someday become legislation that keeps women and men as unequal as ever. Family policies designed to 'help' mothers stay home and fathers stay at work will not create equality.

Just something to keep in mind as we listen to what the candidates say is good for America.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Think You Can't Go Part-Time?

When I was just starting out my working life, I remember being taught never to say "but we've always done it this way" as an excuse not to try something new on the job. Alas, this lesson is hard learned for most of us, especially when it comes to the possibilities in our own careers. One of the most common excuses for not trying equal sharing is not entertaining the idea that you could restructure your work hours.

While it is not mandatory by any means that you work part-time in order to create an ESP family, it sure makes life easier if you can. Take the money argument out of play for a moment. Think only about doability. I can hear the groaning and dismissing now. "No one works part-time at my type of job." "You can't do what I do if you aren't there full time." Well, you may think so, but I don't. If you want to continue to work full time or more, don't change a thing. But if you would honestly like to downsize your hours to have more time for your family, your partner or yourself, think outside the box!

Here's a no-nonsense article that highlights academic scientists who work part-time in lab research. It is part of a whole issue of the journal Science that is devoted to work/life balance. Common? No. Possible? Yes. This is the stuff that I'm talking about!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Equally Shared Holiday Shopping

One of the strongest bastions of female control is the holiday shopping. We make the decisions about who gets gifts and what to buy, keep tally of the to-do's, run around like crazy to the stores, wrap everything, and bestow it on our victims (I mean, loved friends and family). All while our spouses watch - maybe even offer to 'help' - and we complain.

Well, this is the stereotype anyway. And even in my house, it comes close to the truth if I don't make ESP adjustments. The problem is that I have a really hard to time letting go of my hold on Christmas shopping. Marc often has to witness my frenetic list-making and force me to stop long enough to unload some of the mental and physical work on him. And even when he does, I secretly still think I can pick better gifts than he can. So much for equal sharing!

I can sidestep inequality if we can manage to preplan our division of tasks and remember that procuring all these presents is so NOT what Christmas is about anyway. This year, Marc took on buying all the gifts for his large family and decorating the house. I took on buying gifts for my small family and our kids and making the cookies (which I give as gifts to co-workers, teachers, others). We both took turns wrapping gifts - Marc one evening, me another.

As we are now heading into the Christmas home-stretch, we re-evaluated our to-do list to see what was left. A special gift for my mom. Marc took that on even though it was my original responsibility, and I was nervous. My mom is an artist, and I feared that picking out an artsy gift for her was...well...maybe not Marc's strong suit. But I decided to trust and it paid off. Marc arrived home from the conquest and said "Do I know my mother-in-law or what?" He did. His gift was perfect - or so I feel safe assuming she will love it (and love that Marc bought it for her). I won't say anything more since, of course, my mom does have a tendency to check in on this blog.

It is the magical combination of me trusting Marc and Marc owning the task that makes equally shared holiday shopping possible.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Daddy Wars or Growing Pains?

Some of our favorite bloggers are duking it out about the term 'Daddy Wars'. And I kinda have to agree with all of them. I'll go one further and add my own ESP twist to their arguments.

The problem, I think, starts with the definition of the term. If Daddy Wars are to be likened to Mommy Wars, then they refer to fathers verbally attacking each other's work/life balance choices. Think SAHD lashing out at absent breadwinner dad, and working dad belittling SAHD. Or less involved dad being threatened by involved dad, as this article from the UK suggests. This dad-against-dad definition, most of us agree, is a sad one. We've all had enough of the trumped-up Mommy Wars to hope we can sidestep the same media hype for fathers (or worse yet, actual barb-throwing by real fathers).

But another Daddy Wars definition, as presented by Rebeldad and mentioned in the recent USA Today article on fathering, is a war between fathers who want more time to be with their kids and old-fashioned workplaces that scorn such desires. This definition is far more palatable and plausible, although it really doesn't belong to fathers only. It is parents (or any worker who wants a balanced life) against employers.

And don't forget about the internal 'wars' that are inevitable between fathers and mothers (or between clashing feelings within one individual), who have to reconcile their beliefs that men are primary breadwinners and women are primary parents with their desires for equality. This whole paradigm shift toward equal sharing on the work and family fronts is not going to be easy!

To me, the real issue is the growing pains that come from this paradigm shift - not as sexy as 'wars', but more descriptive. Men are growing, as a group, into the idea that there is more to life than their role of breadwinner. Women are growing, as a group, toward equal pay, equal jobs, equal work status, equal education (and in big cities, they are surpassing men on many of these markers). Employers are growing, as a group, toward embracing flexibility as a way to retain excellent employees. Men and women are growing, as a group, into people who are claiming their rights to balanced lives. And it's about having a good life, whether or not you have children.

I, for one, would like to skip the use of 'Daddy Wars' to signify either male infighting or men/workplace battles. But we do need a nice, catchy name to signify our collective growth toward balanced lives for all. Any ideas?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's Nice to be a Prediction

One of our favorite big-time bloggers is Penelope Trunk, author of The Brazen Careerist and a blog of the same name. Her entries are always thought provoking, and even if you don't agree with her sentiments, she makes you question every paradigm.

Yesterday's Brazen Careerist entry was especially dear to my heart. Here, she announced her 7 predictions for American work structure. Not ideas she feels will catch on in full force in 2008, but concepts that she feels will become widespread trends in the semi-near future. And, you guessed it, ESP is one of them!

Here's a sampling of what Penelope says:
  • Pay is equal for men and women until there are kids. This inequality [after kids] will change when Generation Y starts having kids because the men are committed to being equal partners in child rearing. We see already that among Generation X, men and women are willing to give up pay and prestige in order to get time with their families. Generation Y's demographic power will provide critical mass for big change.
  • Women have already widely rejected the idea of sacrificing their time with children to a relentless, high-powered, long-houred job, and men are following suit. Women have also found that staying at home with kids all day is boring. Institutions are responding - finally - to these trends. Parents will choose some form of shared care [her term for ESP]. Each parent will work part-time and take care of kids part time.
  • People will choose to work because they love what they do. Generation Y is more community oriented and team oriented than any preceding generation. These people will want to work to be part of something larger than themselves. Also, this generation sees work as a path to personal growth - something to look forward to.

Yep, that is Equally Shared Parenting! Equal, balanced and happy lives for men and women. Ahhhh!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Getting on the Flexibility Train

Exciting news from the US House of Representatives today: a bill has been introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Carolyn Maloney that mirrors flexibility laws in place in several European countries. The bill, called the Working Family Flexibility Act, would give many working Americans the right to request flexible work schedules (meaning a change in work hours, schedule or location) to balance work and family. Co-sponsors include Senators Dodd, Clinton, Obama, and Congressman George Miller.

What's the big deal? Can't people already ask for flexibility? Can't we ask our bosses for free ice cream or a relocation to Hawaii in this country of free speech? If the bill only 'allows' us to ask, what good is it? Well, it might actually be fantastic. Similar law in Britain has been a smashing success by most measures, with about 90% of employees' requests receiving a 'yes' from their employers. Per British law, employers must seriously consider every request and be able to demonstrate hardship for every denied request. The law was enacted in 2003, and so far it that hardship has obviously been minimal.

So, we're thrilled to see a similar bill even considered in our own government. Yes, it is only the very beginning of a legislative process that could bury or destroy it before any law is passed, but it is the right first step.

Let's join in a round of applause for the Working Family Flexibility Act!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Family Men

There is a long article in USA Today yesterday detailing the increasing number of men requesting flexible work options so that they can spend more time with their families. It is packed with statistics, some of which I find hard to believe because they are so much different than those I've read anywhere else. Take, for example, the stat that almost 70% of fathers in a Monster.com survey said they would consider becoming SAHDs if their finances would allow it; this is in stark contrast to the data from a recent Pew survey saying that very few men would want anything but full-time jobs. But anyway, that's not the reason I am writing about the USA Today article.

I love the article because it makes it seem completely acceptable and normal for men to downsize their careers, just as women have been doing ever since they had careers to downsize. It heralds the new age, in which it will be as likely that men will reduce their hours or take parental leave as a women will after they become parents.

ESP takes this trend a couple of steps further, perhaps more afield than the average man or woman has yet contemplated. With ESP:
  • Men (and women) can downsize their careers in order to create balanced lives for themselves, and not just because they need to do so to care for their children.
  • Both partners in a couple share family responsibilities equally, so that it is not necessary for one spouse (woman or man) to step too far off the career track and risk being left too far behind. Both partners get a great mix of career, kids, housework and fun.

The USA Today article states multiple times that men are requesting work that allows them more family time because more mothers are working longer and more demanding hours and earning higher pay. In other words, someone has to be home with the kids. This feels like a pendulum shift to women as primary breadwinners and men as semi-breadwinners. But what about a solution that balances everyone's life? Let's stop the pendulum from swinging altogether with ESP.

Someday, perhaps we'll see those men lining up for flexible work schedules because they simply want to have unharried, balanced lives.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Work Family

As you know, I am currently laid off from my IT support position and have been rethinking my career direction prior to just jumping back into the paid workforce. But recently, I've begun to interview for positions. My challenge is large: to secure an interesting and meaningful job that pays well (enough) and allows me to work reasonable hours that fit with my ESP family life.

I will not be highlighting each company I interview with, but found one I spoke with yesterday to be a great example of what I'll call the Work Family culture. This is a company that assumes you do not exist outside of work, and that aims to be your whole world. Work hard, work long hours, love your job, get lots of perks and socialize with your peers at work all day long. This culture doesn't expect top production for 50 hours a week, but it does expect that you are physically present for this long - including bonding and shmoozing and hanging out. Time management studies tell us that actual work productivity goes down long before the 40 hour/week mark is reached.

The Work Family succeeds when you don't actually have a more important life outside of work. Or when you have a SAH partner to handle outside concerns. But it sure doesn't work for me. I will love my job and contribute eagerly to making my company a smashing success - don't get me wrong. But I am not one-dimensional. The job that utilizes me to the fullest is the one that doesn't expect me to loiter there, because I'd rather be home with my kids or out on a long bike ride than spending nonproductive time at work. Balance energizes me, and I give my best when I can achieve it.

On with the job search! Hopefully next time I'll find a company that considers me a whole person - not just an employee.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Career Inequality

As a nation, we're still stuck when it comes to how we think of men's and women's careers. According to a new study of over 4000 working men and women, it is the man's career that dictates the vast majority of relocations and it is the man who benefits financially from such moves. His spouse trails him, and on average earns less money after the move than before. The research, published in the Journal of Social Forces (wow - I like that title), says that the inequality holds true even if the woman has a high level position.

This is depressing, but understandable. We're still operating on the long-standing idea that breadwinning really belongs to men more than it belongs to women. And even if we say we don't believe it factually, we act as if we do. I would bet that many couples who make this all-too-common decision to relocate based on the man's job do so without consciously thinking about the meaning of their decision.

A conscious life is my goal. Regardless of which spouse wins the relocation battle, let it be based on conscious thinking rather than on outdated assumptions of inequality.

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