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, May 31, 2007

Father Might Know Best
I'm laughing out loud reading this description of life with kids, written by a stay-at-home dad in Men's Health (thanks to Paul Nyhan's Working Father column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for giving me the heads up). And as I read, I'm realizing that he captures quite accurately some of what my kids get when it's Daddy Day at our house. This father lets his kids live their own lives, rather than prepare and sanitize things ahead of time. He's there to meet their needs. But he's not there to interfere with their own growing and learning by jumping in to save them from every difficult moment.

Some of the things in the article are a bit over-the-top for effect - such as recommending a lollipop every time a toddler cries. But read past this and you get to the gist of why a highly involved father is such an asset to kids. This man's kids are building huge amounts of self-confidence and responsibility under his care.

The father-care benefit can't happen if Mom is in the way, coaching and correcting. A father needs long stretches of solo parenting to reach equal competence with his wife. And he needs the emotional room to create his own unique style of parenting - no better, no worse, just different. It's the 'different' that is what's better.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dealing with a Job Loss
We have some news to share. Effective tomorrow, I've been laid off. In fact 80% of my department at work is now out of a job, thanks to an IT outsourcing decision. I join the ranks of so many others who have faced layoffs, and it seems they are as commonplace as the rain. For the past few months, we have suspected that this may happen since I knew of the planned outsourcing - but the final decision could have gone so many ways that Amy and I tried not to get invested in any particular outcome. Now we know.

So, we've added a footnote to the 'About Marc and Amy' section for full disclosure of our current situation. I no longer work about 30 hours a week. And discounting my severance and unemployment benefits (happily, I worked for over 10 years for a company with a history of fair employee benefits), Amy is now the sole breadwinner.

In some ways, we're excited about this new chapter in our lives. What better time to be free than at the beginning of Summer? What a great way to test out the realities of finding a new job that fits the ESP model. How meaningful that we can share this journey with you. I even feel fortunate to have a chance to really step back from my career and see if it needs to move in a different direction or not.

Of course, neither of us is entirely comfortable with this turn of events either. Who would be? We'll be a lot happier if we can both enjoy this phase of life rather than fret about it. That is our main challenge.

I think that a layoff in an ESP family has some interesting twists from one in other lifestyle models. Here are some of my thoughts:
  • I'd be a lot more worried if I were the sole breadwinner or if Amy's job was a marginal one.
  • I am very happy that we've always lived below our means - with one car and a manageable mortgage. It is as if we've planned for this situation all along. Instead of the whole family being stressed financially and emotionally by my layoff, we'll have more of me around the house - more time to do chores, household projects, play with the kids, etc.
  • The majority of my life won't change at all while I'm unemployed. I'll still be home four of seven days per week doing the same things I've done for the 5 years since we've had M.
  • I feel like I have some flexibility in the job I do select. I'm expecting that I will need to take a paycut unless I really change fields, since my 10 year tenure at my just-ended job resulted in senior status and pay. Because I'm prepared for a paycut (within reason), I'm not limited to the few positions in my exact field of IT support that pay what I was making. I can look around in related fields with long-term potential instead.
  • On the flip side, I have less time to look for a job than a full-time breadwinner would have. I'm still planning to be 'on' with the kids for two full weekdays so that they won't need extra daycare and Amy can continue her current work hours.
  • Furthermore, I have the daunting task of convincing my future employer that I'm a great bet at reduced hours (that's my ideal goal). Like many women before me, I'll need to prove I'm worthy. I want a challenging position that also allows Amy and me to continue to equally share childraising, housework and recreation, in addition to breadwinning. How many companies are equipped to hire a male in such a position with growth potential? I'm about to find out.

One other challenge that Amy and I will face is how to maintain equality in our relationship and family. Amy's biggest worry when we discuss my layoff is that I'll hog time with the kids because I'll be around more. So we're planning to watch this closely and preserve Amy's sole-parent time. I'll likely pick up more errands and house projects, at least to start.

Most importantly for ESP.com, we want to use this time as an example of the fact that equal sharing is not tied to external whims. It is an internal family compass, and does not cease for fire, famine or pestilence. Wish us luck!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Simple Life
Equally shared parenting usually appeals to couples who want to slow down the pace of life, enjoy their children to the fullest, and are not motivated to climb much further up their career ladders (at least not now).

In this context, equal parents are trading the possibility of a physically rich and powerful life someday for the reality of an emotionally rich and peaceful life in the present. Will this come back to haunt them when they are trying to pay for two children's college tuitions? Will there be enough money left for retirement?

Equally sharing parents can increase the likelihood of a financially sound future by living simply while their children are young. We think this also teaches our kids a nice lesson about priorities and not needing all the 'stuff' we're hawked. Parents who equally share come to the table with a wide range of earnings and savings. Some are barely scraping by, but have chosen this lifestyle nevertheless. Other couples are lucky to have enough money to both choose part time jobs and still enjoy substantial vacation trips.

Whatever your situation, however, here are some ideas that might help you cut back on unneeded expenses so that you can relax about your balanced and nurturing pace of life:

  • Get rid of cable TV.
  • Downsize to one car. Make it an economical one to feed and maintain.
  • Take public transportation or ride a bike to work.
  • Shop at resale clothing stores.
  • Cook at home rather than eat out. Cook and shop with your kids.
  • Create an annual budget together with as many categories as you can manage. Then track your spending throughout the year. This allows you to compare your expenses over time and set goals for reducing spending in specific categories.
  • Visit your local library a lot. Check out books instead of buying them from a bookstore. Check out music CDs, movies, even discount passes to local museums and theme parks.
  • Visit local parks rather than buy a swing set for your backyard. Park equipment is likely to be sturdier and when your kids outgrow it, you aren't stuck with it.
  • Buy off of Craigslist.org or other outlets for used items.
  • Accept hand-me-downs. Pass on your own hand-me-downs to others.
  • Let your kids get bored and then find creative things to do together with what you already own.
  • Go hiking, camping, canoeing, or bicycling for family outings.
  • Take care of a pet.
  • Create special family traditions that don't involve money.
  • Grow your own herbs and vegetables/fruits and tend the garden with your kids. Or join a farm-share so that you are all eating locally grown fresh produce as your main food staple.
  • Recycle.
  • Do household projects rather than hiring someone else to do them or buying them premade. You will learn new skills and feel connected to your physical home.
  • Grow old gracefully, and don't be afraid to admit your age. No need for expensive cosmetics or procedures to pretend you are still young and foolish.
  • Make friends right in your neighborhood and hang out with them often.
  • Go for neighborhood walks. Walk as often as you can. It is amazing how different the same street looks when you walk down it instead of drive.
  • Live within, and ideally well below, your means. Earn everything you buy unless it is an emergency purchase or a house (and get a mortgage that you can pay with only one income, should one of you be laid off).

The list can go on and on, and each couple's own situation can bring creative new ideas for simplifying. Perhaps one or two of the above ideas appeals to you already. For more inspiration, visit the New American Dream. Regardless, don't let your life be driven by future financial worries. Prepare for them instead, but don't neglect the spiritual and intimacy-building power of simplifying.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The "Loving" Gift
Time and time again, I read stories of women who become miserable trying to balance a career with family, only to be told by their husbands: 'Honey, don't worry, you can stay home'. Most of the women describe this by saying 'I'm so lucky that we can afford for me to be home with the kids'. These stories are about women who loved their careers and didn't plan to end up at home after they became mothers, not women who dreamed of such a stay-at-home life.

Here's such a story from Babble - a typical high-achieving woman who tells of dropping out of the workplace after her husband suggests she do so to raise their baby. She spends the rest of the story describing how miserable she is staying at home, despite how much she loves her child, and how she lives for the day when she can once again reclaim her career (albeit at a much lower rung than before).

I'm surprised women like this feel so lucky - or perhaps they think they are supposed to feel lucky. Here we have a guy who gets credit for doing the manly provider thing, bestowing a supposed 'gift' on his wife that turns out to be the unraveling of her professional life and years of less-than-fulfilled days. She gets to make all the sacrifices; he gets a wife who handles all the domestic chores and daily grind of baby care. To be fair, he does get the burden of sole breadwinning and seeing less of his kids, but presumably only for several years. This all comes with the premier status of Man-Who-Supports-Wife-at-Home. Meanwhile, her career is forever behind now and she's certainly not living a happy, balanced life today. She's opting out of her job; he's opting out of a chance at equally involved parenthood.

Situations like this underscore the labeling of women's careers as the workplace equivalent of playing house - not completely bonafide. Men's careers are the 'real' ones, and our ability to make more money is therefore a circular argument.

What if a man gave a truly loving gift to his overstressed wife instead? Is there another option besides relieving her of the need to go to work? What if he said this: 'Honey, you don't have to do it all. Let's together figure out a new way - let's actually solve this balance problem so we can give our baby what he needs and keep what we need for ourselves as well.' If men really said these things, and were willing to step back from their own high-power career tracks together with their wives in order to equally share childraising, what would women's reactions be? Would women accept this gift of balance and happiness? Or would they think their men weren't playing the manly role of 'savior' and financial provider?

You can't have it both ways. If both partners want balance, they have to share it and let go of stereotypes. That's an easy choice for me. What about you?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

On and Off Ramping
Lisa Belkin's column in this Thursday's New York Times (her column now appears every other Thursday rather than every other Sunday) explores the business school trend of offering a short course to women (and men, presumably) who have been home raising children but now want to re-enter the workforce. She also describes several forward-thinking businesses that are making it easier for talented mothers to return to their jobs after extended childcare leaves. This is a great trend, which I've blogged about in the past. It will be vital for companies not to lose loyal and hard-working employees to motherhood, as we enter a period of worker scarcity.

But I can't help but wonder if all of this is making it way too easy for families to keep the mother in the primary childraising and housework role. Yes, these benefits could technically be used by men - but they are realistically being built to meet the needs of women.

In my ideal ESP world, I'd like to see programs built around general workplace flexibility - especially the bountiful creation of challenging and rewarding reduced-hours jobs (with fair benefits and salaries) for men and women. I'd like to see both parents flex in and out of full-time work as they meet the needs of their children, their aging parents, their own dreams/hobbies and other non-work pulls. I'm not so happy seeing this happen only for mothers.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Evolution of Marriage
Kudos to Daddy Dialectic's Jeremy Adam Smith for scoring a thought-provoking interview with Stephanie Coontz, a leading historian of marriage and family. In the interview, Dr. Coontz emphasizes that marriage has undergone an enormous no-turning-back transformation from a gender-stereotypic arrangement to an intimate union of best friends/lovers. Because most of today's couples don't 'need' each other in the same ways 1950s couples did (women needing men to earn the family paycheck and men needing women to raise the children and tend the house), a successful family now depends on the creation and nurture of this intimacy. It requires a true partnership of equals, if I may extrapolate a little.

Dr. Coontz then describes the tremendous changes that men have made in recent history toward this equality. She says feminists speak of a stalled revolution in gender equality, but Dr. Coontz feels otherwise: "In fact, as a historian, I have to say that [men] are changing, in a period of thirty years, in ways that took most women 150 years of thinking and activism. Every cohort of men is doing more in the house, and if you look within a cohort, the longer a man's wife has worked, the more likely he is to do caregiving and housework. This is a huge change."

And the results are "tremendous good news", per Dr. Coontz, in terms of the quality of marriage itself, reduced divorce rates, and better outcomes for kids in marriages with highly involved fathers.

For more detail, check out the full interview. For that matter, I highly encourage you to make Daddy Dialectic routine reading - Jeremy and his colleagues are thoughtful, excellent writers, and highly involved in the cause of equally shared parenting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The ESP Buffet
Life doesn't always fit neatly into a specific ideal. In fact, it actually never does. Yet, ideal models of living are worth mulling, understanding and embracing none-the-less. It's that way with Equally Shared Parenting.

All of the many pages of this website are devoted to a wonderful model of living together as a couple with children. At least we think of it as wonderful - and many, many others do too. It is, however, only a model. No one actually lives in perfect equality. We lay out all aspects of equal sharing for you because we want to spread out the grand buffet of available delicacies. We want to delve into the pros and cons of every domain of sharing, and the how-to details as well.

For couples who already practice full-out equal sharing in all domains (childraising, housework, breadwinning and recreation), we aim to be a place for you to connect with like-minded people. For couples who aspire to real gender-equal marriages with children, we hope to be your guide - pointing out the tough hurdles, challenging you to overcome them, and keeping you on your toes. For couples dabbling in the concept of equal sharing, we want to be a launching pad for discussion and first steps.

If you belong to this latter group, you will likely find some ideas on the site have great appeal and others not so much. If you do want to create and nurture a truly gender-equal partnership, we feel that the whole of ESP needs to be embraced. But absolute equality is not the only way to live - 'more equal than before' is good too. If that's what you'd like to aim for, we're here for you too.

There is a common phrase in 12-step programs that applies here: Take what you like and leave the rest. Help yourself to our buffet at your own pace, according to your own desires. Our wish for you is a happy life above all, however you get there.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Everyday is Mother's Day
Technically, this Sunday is the one day set aside annually for adoring and appreciating mothers - our own and our children's. On this day, we husbands and children are expected to give flowers, whisk away the kids so Mom can relax in a bubble bath, take her out for brunch, or other such standards. After all, mothers work hard on our behalf every other day of the year so tirelessly and devotedly. Let's give them a break from this and treat them as they treat us for one special day out of the 365 each year.

Now, none of this is actually wrong in my book, at least not the creation of a special day to honor and appreciate mothers. But here is what I'd rather create every day for Amy, as her equally sharing husband:
  • Time to pursue the things she loves and believes in
  • Time to have fun - not just once in a blue moon
  • Time to devote herself to a meaningful career
  • Time to nurture her relationship with our children
  • Time to spend together as a family
  • Time to build a connected and intimate relationship with me
  • Being available as a real and true partner - to share all the burdens and joys of every aspect of our family

I'm actually not so good with societally enforced holidays. Amy definitely wishes I'd be more proactive about special touches for Mother's Day or her birthday, for example, and I own up to my shortcomings here (hey, I'm not a planner!). But we both agree that the day-in-and-day-out appreciation is far more important - and being a participant in creating a happy and fun life for Amy. Okay, so I'd better go out and get a card, huh?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Much Belated Recommendation
For some reason, I'm just now getting around to reading Pepper Schwartz's 'Love Between Equals'. This book, previously published under the title 'Peer Marriage' and then republished with its current title in 1995, is an eloquently written ode to equally shared parenting. Pepper Schwartz is a sociology professor at the University of Washington, and straddles the line between popular magazine columnist and serious academic. Her main area of study is actually sexual behavior, but she was a co-investigator for a very large project back in 1983 called American Couples. It is from the interviews she conducted with couples for this project, and subsequent additional couples, that she gleans the information for 'Love Between Equals'.

I must have glanced at this title among the others of its genre dozens of times, but for some reason its pages hid in a blind spot until now. And now it takes its place in our Resources section with highest honors, and I cherish my dogeared and underlined copy.

'Love Between Equals' is about the pros and cons of a peer marriage (Dr. Schwartz's term for a marriage of equals) - whether or not children are part of the family. Many of the examples in the book do include couples with children, however. It is clear from her writing that she believes fervently in this lifestyle.

The primary theme of the book is the deep friendship and intimacy that is possible when partners treat each other as true equals. Dr. Schwartz contrasts a peer marriage with a traditional one and a 'near-peer' one (her term for a marriage between partners who would like to be peers - sort of - but aren't willing to make the sacrifices to actually get there). She outlines the benefits and challenges of all three types of marriage in a clear, humanistic and nonjudgmental way. Her message is every bit as vital as Leslie Bennetts' financial message of doom for SAHMs, but without the overarching tone of superiority.

There is almost nothing I disagree with in 'Love Between Equals'. If I had one criticism, it would be that the book doesn't even mention the option of both parents scaling back their careers to less than full-time - although it clearly describes the need for peer partners to limit their careers so that neither person's job occupies the primary breadwinner slot. By the way, don't let the publication date dissuade you - this book's message is still fresh and vital.

As I read the book, I kept pulling Marc over and reading passages to him. I imagined how the world would be a better place if all couples read this book and took its contents to heart - marriages would flourish and love would abound. Okay, cut the hearts and flowers theme song now. But seriously, I could not recommend this book more strongly. If you are contemplating creating and nourishing an equal marriage, this book will give you all the reasons to make it real. Hopefully, EquallySharedParenting.com will give you the action plan to go along with those reasons!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Take me out to the Ballgame!
Today is one of those days when ESP really pays off for me (and Amy). My brother called earlier today saying he scored some tickets for tonight's Red Sox game. My initial reaction was that I couldn't make it because Amy already had plans for tonight, leaving me 'on' with the kids. I immediately called our favorite babysitter. She was free but needed to do some juggling. Not knowing if that would work out I called our second choice and left a message for her to call me. Luckily, the first option came through and I'm meeting my brother at 7:00.

What makes this example so special? It all took place without having to inconvenience Amy. I didn't have to ask her to back out of her commitment, I didn't have to call her multiple times for babysitting options, I didn't have to hear the frustration in her voice about how busy she is at work, and I didn't complicate her afternoon of swim class and day care pickups. In fact, the sitter is arriving at our house 1/2 hour earlier than I would have gotten home to help with dinner.

Furthermore, I don't have any guilt that I won't see my kids for a couple of hours before bed tonight. I was home with both of them all day yesterday and look forward to spending tomorrow with them as well. In fact, I will be rejuvenated from some quality Recreation time. They better be ready for some serious fun!

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