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, September 27, 2007

It Ain't So Bad

Like a worn-out kindergartner after her first 3 weeks of 'real school', parent bloggers out there seem to be in whining mode these days. The theme is 'look how much I do', 'balance is a lost cause', or 'I never have a moment to even breathe'. Woe is me. Whole blogs are devoted to the maddening lives of parents - mostly mothers - and it starts to feel like a shtick that some of us are proud of. Very few of us are out pitching a happier story. From Working Dad to BusinessWeek, even some of my favorite work/parenting writers are on the topic today.

Sure, chaos is the order of the day (pun intended) sometimes. We all have crazy-busy days and unexpected messes to wade through in raising young children. Sometimes, we truly don't have enough time for ourselves and we just try to get through each hour without losing it. It is fun to talk about these days, and it makes for great conversation to bond with others over these experiences. But chaos should rule the minority of our days. If it doesn't, I consider this a red flag.

Parenting should not be a sentence of misery. Simply making peace with the chaos, as many recommend, is not the only answer. While equally shared parenting won't solve everything, it can bring about the 'good enough' balance that makes the typical day entirely manageable. The difference is that with ESP you have a fully engaged partner with whom to share the load. Not just a helper or an extra set of hands. A partner who can handle everything you can, and does half the work.

Half the work - all the fun! That's our motto. And we're sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Happiness is Sharing the Load

A New York Times article today describes two new sociology studies on happiness. The results of both studies show that men are now happier, on average, than women. Similar data showed an opposite result in the 1970s. Why? Theories include the fact that women are handling the 'second shift' of housework after their own paid work each day, whereas several decades ago they did not have this extra load outside the home. So they are just plain tired. Or, perhaps it is the fact that neither gender has time any longer for the level of housework that female homemakers did before - and women are more bothered than men by the resultant dirt and grime. So they are frustrated.

How could we fix this problem? According to the book Alone Together, published earlier this year, the only housework division that results in two happy partners is one that is equally shared. Any other division makes the person who does less the happiest. So, going with the idea that equal sharing is the key to fixing this happiness discrepancy, we need to find ways to motivate men to do more housework and teach women to let go of controlling how and what gets done.

Women are afraid that if they let go and stop doing more, the house will fall into complete disrepair. Men are afraid that if they pitch in at full volume, they will have to do everything 'her way' and there won't be any end to the chores...no time at all for relaxing. Neither partner can win.

The problem is that the couple has not agreed on the chores that need to be done, say, in a typical evening, and the standards for how they are done. What if the woman has 10 things in her mind that need to be done before she can rest easily? What if the man has maybe 2? If they agreed together that 6 of these things are mandatory, he might be motivated to quickly accomplish his share so that he can enjoy his evening. If she can let go of directing him, checking up on him, and reminding him, and really let him do things his way, maybe happiness will equalize.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stand Up, Stand Up!

Stand up for your rights! Rights to co-parent your children, that is. Marc and I have come to believe that early in the life of an ESP couple, there comes the watershed moment. That moment where the father needs to shock the couple into reality. He needs to stand up strongly for his rights to equal time, equal decision-making, and equal involvement with his baby. If the mother is amenable to equal sharing, she'll be startled by the awakening, but able to recognize its importance and heed the message. She'll back off and allow him to parent his own way. If she isn't ready to put ESP into action, she'll balk and hold on. The couple's success at equality depends on both his willingness to stand up and her ability to let go.

ESP guys need to be up for this moment. And if necessary, they need to repeat it periodically to keep things on an equal track.

Do you have a watershed moment in your memory?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Equality Doesn't Have to be a Power Struggle

A well-written article in the Daily Mail (UK) from this past Saturday describes the power struggle so many couples have over housework. Back when gender inequality ruled the day, we all had our place and this made things easy on the surface. But today's couples can't abide by inequality any longer, and yet have not learned the ground rules for happily living as equals.

The article suggests some of these ground rules - all of the suggestions involve effective communication such as good listening and really telling your partner why a particular topic (e.g., laundry) is so loaded for you. These are good rules. We have a few others to add:
  • When you divide up household chores, decide you are equals rather than manager and helper. There is nothing so annoying to a guy than a woman who asks for some help with the laundry and then proceeds to control every detail of how that help is provided. People don't want to help any longer if they can't own the task and do it their own way. There is a great example in this article about a man who starts out helping with the laundry by putting away the folded clothes, and then because he doesn't do it right away, his partner gets angry - leading him to wait even longer until she eventually puts it away herself.
  • Set joint standards for how the contentious chores are done. If laundry is a hot button for one of you, sit down before you divvy it up and discuss what constitutes doing the laundry, how often it should be done, etc. Then, only after you both agree to the laundry 'rules', divide up who does what. Finally, mind your own business and let you partner do his share his way. If he wants to save up 10 loads and then do marathon laundry, let him! Just sit back and say 'well, that's interesting' rather than criticize.

An equal housework division can become an untenable power struggle if you are more interested in being right than being happy. But it can be a intimacy-building lifestyle if you can really develop a team approach by treating each other as true equals and keeping your eyes on your own chores.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Real Life Story

We've posted a brand new entry in the Real Life Stories section just now, as told by Gail and Lyn. They are a lesbian couple who have chosen to equally share in parenting their 15 month old daughter. With Gail as the biological mother, Lyn had to establish herself early on as a co-primary parent in much the same way as a father would do in a heterosexual relationship. Gail and Lyn were committed to achieving equal and strong bonds with their baby from the beginning, and have succeeded with flying colors. Along the journey, they traded primary homemaker and primary breadwinner roles for short periods - with great lessons learned from this role-sharing experience. To read the full essay, click here. Thank you, Gail and Lyn, for your insightful and inspiring story!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


After contemplating attaching an RSS feed to the Question of the Week section of ESP.com, we came to the conclusion that we should instead consolidate the parts of the website that are regularly updated into one spot. This way, you have only one place to look for news and new content. And since the Equality Blog is already available by RSS feed, we'll be making the blog that place.

This is a roundabout way to say that the Question of the Week is going away. Instead, we'll answer questions and discussion topics that readers send to us right on the blog, along with the usual equally sharing news. So please keep sending us your ideas and questions.

We hope this makes it simpler for you to keep up with ESP.com. I think it will be easier for us too.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Smitten and Entitled

Hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of babies each year derail their parents' plans for joint breadwinning. You've probably heard stories like this many times:

"We had planned for me to go back to work after my leave was up. I always believed this was the most sensible thing to do, and my baby would be fine in daycare. But from the first time I held her, my life changed. I gazed into her innocent eyes and fell deeply and completely in love. The rest of my leave was spent in her constant presence, and caring for her became the most important thing I ever did. When it was time for me to go back to work, I told my wife that I would be staying home instead."

Well, it sounded familiar up until that last sentence, right? And I don't mean a lesbian couple in this example - I mean the child's father told his wife that she'd be the sole breadwinner. How does this make you feel? Mixed up, right?

What would happen if both parents wanted to stay home in the name of 'loving their baby'? What then? Men in our society don't get this privilege, but women feel entitled to invoke it as necessary. I'd like to think that neither parent gets to unilaterally decide which family model will be chosen, and that together they choose what is right for everyone. Someday, I hope ESP is an option that comes easily to mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Intimate Chores

New sociology research reveals that married men do less housework than single men, and that the more a man does to keep the house clean, the more often he will have sex with his wife or girlfriend. Neither of these results is surprising, even when you find out that most of the men in the study believed that chores should be equally shared. The primary investigator says "the way that marriage has historically been constructed prohibits and reduces the ability of men to turn their beliefs about equality into an equal division of labor." In other words, unconscious forces nudge men into traditional roles. The power of cultural norms is often only broken when we notice it, examine it, and consciously reject it.

The increase in sex enjoyed by couples who shared housework is easy to understand too. There is a direct correlation between intimacy and equality. If men and women (be they married or simply co-habitating) share equally in the running of the home, they both become partners rather than one leading/nagging the other and criticizing his quality and quantity of work (or silently seething). When partners are equal, they walk in each other's shoes every day, they share the burdens of all tasks, and this makes them attractive and attracted to each other. Life is good!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Matters Most

If anything worthy came from the 9/11 tragedies six years ago, I think it is a nationwide awakening to pay attention to what really matters in life. After the smoke cleared, the bodies were counted and the healing began, we were left with this gift: pay attention, hug your loved ones, live well. We were left with a whole lot of fear and many questions, too, but I believe in focusing on what I can control.

It is up to each of us to chose, or reject, our own personal version of an authentic life. Find your version, your way of being, and you will be happy. Mine is to partner with Amy for a family-centered life, to maintain my individuality and time for pure fun and relaxation, and to contribute my share to the family's financial solvency through an interesting job. Although the pull of material acquisition affects me like most everyone else, I know I'm happiest when my center is balance and peace instead.

Equally shared parenting is, if nothing else, a purposeful type of life. To practice ESP, you have to fight against the tide of popular culture. To practice any type of life well led, this is probably true. The fight is worth every ounce of effort, because you are really fighting (in a good way) for your life. September 11th helps us remember....here's a blog entry by Penelope Trunk that brings this home.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

An Involved Dad from Day 1

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review published a nice twist on the usual bumbling dad storyline the other day. Instead of talking down to new fathers as if they were less intelligent beings than new mothers, this article highlights an organization that offers classes to fathers-to-be that mirror the type of classes being offered to new moms for decades. From what I read in this article, I'm hopeful that these particular fathers' classes are actually full-fledged parenting courses - not flimsy 'how to take care of Mom while she's breastfeeding' classes that keep fathers in a helper role. Hands-on baby care skills are learned, not innate, and dads can grasp the same facts and advice as moms.

I love that this article ends with a discussion of the societal pressures creating gender inequality in childraising right from the beginning of a baby's life - and most importantly, how crucial it is for men to push against these norms. Our culture says moms have first dibs on caring for their babies. I say that it is time for this to change. The article quotes one of the new dad class teachers: "The female-first parenting philosophy does a disservice to men who want to be actively involved in parenting -- and to the children who need a father to be involved."


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Traveling Lane

There have been many articles and books popping up on the topic of women on- and off-ramping from careers - for example, the article linked in our last blog entry about how companies and business schools are catering to the educational needs of women at the on-ramping stage.

We think of ESP as advocating neither on- or off-ramping. Instead, equal sharing advocates both parents changing lanes. With actual career exits and entrances, there are all the difficulties inherent in starting and stopping - loss of business contacts, knowledge gaps, reputations as 'quitters' to live down, etc. But if you never actually get off the highway, you stay connected with your career and your network of career support.

Lives have stages. There's the fast lane for when you are proving yourself, moving up the learning curve, establishing your reputation in your career. You may work full-time+ in these years and with any luck your family situation will allow this (e.g., you are childless).

Then there are the periods when you are raising young children or caring for an elderly parent, and you change to the traveling lane. You slow down a bit at work, perhaps even reducing your hours below full-time, but still remain productive. You keep the mindset that the passing lane is always there. If a slow car (colleague) gets in your way, you can switch temporarily to the fast lane, pass him up, and return to the traveling lane; you can also speed up for big project deadlines, occasional business trips or overtime requests. Here, you are still a fully active participant in your career and an engaged worker for your company. You aren't in the exit lane and you aren't on cruise control - images that connote laziness or lack of enthusiasm for your work.

There may also be periods of crisis when you find yourself in the breakdown lane. But you stay on the highway - the workforce that allows you to remain a financially independent, externally productive, and balanced individual.

I would love to see careers bend and adapt to these periods, just as drivers move in and out of the lanes of a highway. The on-ramps and off-ramps are still there if we really need them, but if two parents can share in the work of childraising (or other responsibilities), we won't need them nearly as often.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A New Career Model?

We've blogged before about the new trend for business schools to offer short courses to women on-ramping into the workforce after time at home to raise children. Yesterday, the Boston Globe explored this trend again in a nicely written piece, illustrating how more and more companies and business schools are jumping on board to tap this huge source of talented and willing workers. This is exactly what we would expect to see happen in the current workplace where it is a worker's market and companies are focused on recruiting and retaining top talent. Hooray!

The article focuses, obviously, on women's careers. Women, it says, take most of the career breaks - 37% of highly educated working women do so. But 24% of men do so as well - for very different (that is, unequal) reasons than women. Men typically leave work to return to school or seek another job. Women usually leave to raise children.

The article closes with a vision of the future - a world where career breaks are commonplace for both women and men, and where job flexibility is viewed at long-range rather than in terms of days or weeks. This is a world I can fully support.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Packing and Driving

We just got back today from a mini-vacation to New Hampshire. It was a lovely adventure - part hiking and mountain lake splashing, part Storyland (a children's story-themed amusement park). We went with another couple, whose 5-year old daughter is a perfect companion for M - they were a great team of giggles the whole time. And T had his share of fun as well (as did Marc and myself).

On the way back home, we got to talking about the ESP spin on our vacation. We were pretty equal all the way around, but we noticed two interesting inequalities: I was the one who packed us up, and Marc drove the whole time. How classic - how traditional! Oops. We talked about why this happened (in truth, this is fairly common for most of our vacations) and what it might mean.

I obviously felt the need to control the contents of the suitcase - to make sure that there were enough clothes for everyone, bedtime books were included, children's acetaminophen and adult's ibuprofen were packed just in case, there were enough diapers for T and adequate hairclips for M, etc. I can only imagine what Marc would pack if he were in charge - and my imagining had us stranded and cold with no medicine, no clothes and only dirty diapers. You would have thought we were going into the wilderness, not a fully functioning town with its own drugstore. Heaven forbid we had to wash clothes in the hotel's laundry facilities. I was acting just like a gatekeeping mother.

As for the driving, we realized that however subtle, we were modeling for our children that men drive and women ride. Although we didn't pull over and switch positions mid-return, we vowed to mix this one up on future car trips.

There's a chance that you are wondering if we're crazy with all this nitpicky examining. After all, what we did worked out just fine, right? It is easier to just have me pack and Marc drive, because it requires less thinking and analyzing. But we think we're onto something by noticing. It is not just by chance that I pack every time - it is because I would have a hard time handing this chore over to someone else and trusting that our vacation would be just as fun that way. It is quiet control thing, and it leads me to handle all the worrying and list-making and scurrying in the days leading up to a trip. What if I could let go of this half the time? What could I gain by trusting that Marc is capable? Would I learn something by finding out that we could survive without 2 extra outfits apiece? And it is not chance that Marc drives either - it is a comfort zone thing - something we just automatically do when we're in for a long drive. I think it might slowly turn me into someone who doesn't think she can drive as well for long distances - which is silly.

We've vowed to shake up both of these stereotypical inequalities, even though they are so seemingly insignificant in our daily lives. Even though we don't believe that couples have to split every task down the middle to equally share, we noticed that these two tasks were being unequally shared for reasons we want to eliminate. This is the kind of stuff that flies below the radar in marriages that aren't so devoted to equality, and we actually think it isn't so insignificant after all.

So, I...am...going...to...let...Marc...pack...us - I think - no, I know! No eye rolling, no complaining about his packing. And Marc is going to get booted from the driver's seat.

Have you ever noticed little inequalities and brought them up for discussion?

Happy Labor Day weekend! May your labors be equally shared.

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