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to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions,
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Bring on the Holidays
After you tuck the kids in bed and start munching away on their Hallowe'en loot, you may start to think about what the end of this day means - the 'official' beginning of holiday craziness. Once the witch and pumpkin costumes are stowed away, it is time to think about buying gifts, stringing outdoor lights, ordering cute holiday cards, giving to charities, honoring spiritual traditions, baking cookies, decorating the house, planning for parties, cooking the turkey, making travel arrangements and countless other time commitments. Every year, the daunting to-do list is almost enough to make one wish away the festivities altogether. Almost.Marc and I have very different ways of approaching the holidays. If Marc were left to run the show, we'd have a bare basics season and I'd be unhappy because we'd skip traditions that I have come to love. If I ruled the scene, I'd go all out with 9000 things on the to-do list, and Marc would be miserable being assigned chores he didn't value and buying into an experience he didn't particularly enjoy.But neither of us owns the way our family will celebrate the holidays. ESP guides us to have a discussion up front about a joint plan - one that lies somewhere in the middle of our individual ideals. In our discussion, we share with each other what Christmas and Thanksgiving personally signify and why we value (or do not value) specific activities. In the end, we arrive at an approach that hopefully preserves the essence of each holiday for both of us. I give up some of the extras in exchange for full buy-in from Marc on sharing the to-do list, and Marc agrees to include some things I hold dear in exchange for knowing that his responsibilities will not suddenly balloon as each holiday approaches. The resultant plan is then equally shared, with Marc taking half the work and me taking half.Many people consider a discussion like this to be too much work. Yes, it takes some effort. But to us it is time well spent because it makes our next two months much more peaceful and our hearts are not filled with resentment or anger. We both get to learn what makes each holiday special for our partner, and have a fighting chance at remembering the true meaning of each celebration.
In the News
In the space where the old Question of the Week was on the menu to the left, you will now see a new option called In the News. Happily, ESP.com has gotten some nice press over our first year, and we don't want these media events to get buried on an obscure entry in the Equality Blog. So, we've highlighted four notable mentions - articles in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Fitness Magazine and BusinessWeek - in this new section so far. Hopefully these are four of more opportunities to come as we continue to get the word out about this fantastic (and still very underreported) way of life!
Let Nothing Stop You
I'm attending a professional conference today and tomorrow for my real (meaning paying) job as a clinical pharmacist. Lucky for me, the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy's educational conference is held right in Boston at our Hynes Convention Center - so a quick bus ride and I'm there. I'm enjoying a few days of sliding into lecture hall seats and just absorbing new things with hundreds of my peers.At the conference's opening session today, the keynote speaker was Christopher Gardner, the real-life stockbroker whose story was told in the movie 'The Pursuit of Happyness'. Listening to him speak was like having my two worlds collide - pharmacy and parenting. But unlike George Costanza in that old Seinfeld episode, I appreciated the notion that my two passions could meet.Chris Gardner gave the audience the details behind the movie version of his life, including the fact that his son was really only 18 months old when they were out on the street (not 5 years old as in the movie). He described how he grew up without a father, and how he vowed not to let this happen to his own children. His insistence on breaking the cycle of abandonment, and being the father he wished he'd had, kept him from giving up when life got extremely rough. Chris' message to us today was to persist against all odds to create the life that matches your values.If Chris Gardner can make it through homelessness as the sole parent to an 18-month old baby, just think what we can do! Next time someone tells you (or your own mind tries to convince you) that you can't have the job, the work schedule, the work hours per week, the life that you desire, don't give up. Try again and again and again. Just like Chris.Oh, and GO RED SOX!
Part-Time for Men
Sue Shellenbarger's column in the Wall Street Journal today highlights a man who - gasp - reduced his work schedule to three days a week to be home with his kids. Unless my memory is short-circuiting (quite possible), I don't think I've seen such a story in a major newspaper before. At the least, the man-works-part-time storyline is exceedingly rare. So I'm sending out big applause to Ms. Shellenbarger for picking it up.
The man in her story worked in a standard corporate environment at the time he asked for reduced hours. No oddball job or academic workyear here. He was an electrical engineer, employed in a department of all men (all working full-time, of course). He approached his boss with the idea, which was borne of wanting his children to have more time with their parents, and got a lukewarm "we'll see" type of response. A month later, he was granted the arrangement on a temporary basis.
Fifteen months into the arrangement, the couple's third child was born and he chose to end his part-time gig. He was able to ramp up to full-time at work, and his wife became a SAHM. Hmm.... I loved the story up until that last part. I mean, I have nothing against families making whatever decisions that fit them best, but I wonder why this couple didn't consider the work/life balance they might have both attained in the long-run by two part-time salaries rather than a single full-time one.
Still, seeing this article in the WSJ is encouraging to me. It is a happy message (finally!) about how work flexibility can be used by men to gain more time with their children. Next, I would love to see a story about how men (and women) can reduce their hours on a permanent, not temporary, basis. Maybe someday, we'll even give ourselves permission to work less than full-time just because our happiness is well worth the paycut.
Letting Go of Matching Outfits
Sometimes it is hard to be an equal sharing mom! This morning for example. I woke up cranky with a head cold - and late. So the kids, Marc and I were all scrambling to get clean, dressed and fed in time for school and work. Marc dressed T while I showered, and when I next saw my son he had on a really mismatched outfit. In my foul mood, I reached into his closet for a more 'proper' choice and 'instructed' Marc to change T while I went into M's room to supervise her dressing. Marc left my clothes selection on the floor of T's room and took him down for breakfast.I was fuming - and wrong. T was perfectly happy in his Daddy-picked outfit, and dressed appropriately for the unseasonably warm weather we're enjoying here in Boston. He couldn't have cared less that his pants didn't match his shirt. And Marc has just as much right to pick out T's clothes as I do.Breathe deep, eat crow. I'm sorry, honey. I love that you're my equal partner in our job-share of raising M and T to be happy and caring people. Who cares about well-matched? I'll take well-adjusted instead any day!
The Political and the Personal
The '08 Presidential candidates are beginning to discuss the family-friendly aspects of their platforms. Hillary Clinton, for one, has voiced her support of paid parental leave and expanded FMLA benefits, as well as grants for workplace flexibility leaders and an end to job discrimination for parents. I look forward to learning the details of her work/family proposals and those of her opponents in the coming months.But to me, the exciting part of these political 'promises' is that they are being considered. I know that sounds somewhat pathetic, since we want so much more than just consideration for the lives of working parents. The reality, however, is that we're far from getting all the workplace benefits that would make equal sharing (or any family arrangement) a snap to orchestrate - but the fact that candidates are speaking up about the need for these benefits is a direct reflection on how America is changing. The Parent Agenda is important now! Thanks to all the Generation X/Y balance seekers who are having children, we have ourselves a critical mass!The excitement for the political can't go too far though. The really good stuff in Hillary's platform is years away - for example, she proposes to implement the paid parental leave program by 2016. Many of us won't need it by then, or will need it far less than we need it today. I say DON'T WAIT for political change to make the life you want possible. Be a part of the fight for it on a political level, but direct the biggest part of your fight internally - in your own workplace, neighborhood and soul. If you want ESP, go get it. Even if it takes you moving mountains, such as changing your job, career and home. You and your family are what counts!
A Father's Perspective
Announcing our 7th Real Life Story! The newest addition to our growing list of stories of real ESP couples comes from Ben and Alicia, two lawyers who work slightly reduced hours to equally care for their three boys. The story is told by Ben, who made the rare move of requesting a full 3 month parental leave (later extended to 4 months) when their first baby was born. His company offered this leave as a gender-neutral employee benefit, and Ben took them for their word.This bold decision was the key to cementing his fully equal place in their baby's life. And Alicia loved his involvement because it made things easier for her to return to work. Having established himself as an equal parent from the beginning, Ben tells us about his many attempts (some successful, others not) at working a reduced schedule over the subsequent years and babies' births. We hope you find Ben's wisdom about navigating the workplace as an ESP parent, and fighting for what you want, as inspirational as we do.Enjoy!
A reader sent us this question recently: "How do you guys count commute time? Does it count as part of your share of work time because it is non-kid time? Or do you each get the same number of total non-commute working hours?" Well, let's set aside the fact that Marc is not currently commuting to a job. Before his layoff, we roughly considered commuting time as part of working hours. Too bad employers don't think this way! We did, however, because we felt that the total amount of time needed to be employed should come out about even between two ESP parents.Let's take an extreme example to illustrate this point. Say Parent A has a 1 hour commute each way and works 4 days a week for a total of 32 hours on the job and 40 hours including commute. Parent B, on the other hand, works from home (zero commute time) for a total of 40 hours a week. I consider this equal. Both parents are devoting an equal amount of time to the pursuit of their careers, and both have an equal amount of time left over in their weeks to be given to childraising, housework and recreation time. Strict accounting, of course, is not how we want to approach equal sharing. But I love this question (thanks to our reader and new friend, D!) because it illustrates how an ESP couple can have interesting conversations about what we're really doing as we're living our days.
The Greater Good
The Fall 2007 issue of Greater Good Magazine is out this week and it is devoted to the 21st Century Family. Articles tackle issues ranging from the binuclear family (after divorce), to the value of extended family, gay and lesbian parents effects on children, and how isolated American families have become.Even though ESP is not specifically mentioned, the articles reveal many of the forces that have made this lifestyle an attractive option for so many. For instance, there seems to be a desire for more family time from all members of the family regardless of gender. In addition, Jeremy Adam Smith does a fine job describing the potential loneliness of parenting in this society and the need to reach out to others for connection.I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to this magazine and wanted to pass it along for your review.Enjoy.
Leftovers for Company
Men are doing more around the house than ever before, but there are some areas of home management that still fall mainly to women. Take planning for dinner guests, for example. In most homes, exceptions withstanding, women take the lead in picking out the menu, shopping for the food, cooking, and generally planning the evening. Men are mostly urged to get out of the way, or are asked to help out (as directed by their wives).But why? Aside from the obvious cliche answers, I maintain that men are fully capable of these activities. In our house, where we tend to examine more tasks for equality than the average married couple, we decided to put 'dinner for a guest' to the ESP test. In other words, it was my turn to do all the planning and Amy's turn to help if needed.The result: leftovers. Not leftovers as in an almost full pan of homebaked lasagna. Leftovers as in 'empty the fridge and serve up what we have'. Some of us got to finish off the baked squash from last night, while others dug into the leftover pasta. Dessert was the end of a package of store-bought cookies.Now mind you - this was NOT Amy's way. She loves to cook for company and enjoys trying out new recipes, putting together a fresh meal, and she feels that her efforts are a way to honor the guest. But because we practice ESP, there is room for my way too. In my world, serving a good friend (as this guest was) leftovers is like saying 'you are part of our family'. To me, that is the greatest honor. And besides, I served perfectly good food that tasted just fine.Amy will be the first to admit to cringing and wringing her hands at my plans when she got wind of them. It was a stretch for her to trust that the evening would be enjoyed by all even if my meal was served. I didn't do anything out of spite, or to teach her a 'lesson'. I truly made my decisions because this is the way I would have put together a meal for a guest if I were a bachelor.In the end, the evening WAS enjoyed by all. Amy admitted that turning over the reins to me was freeing once she was able to let go - she could sit back and watch the scene rather than go into people-pleasing mode. I admit that I love Amy's way of caring for guests too.It takes two people to make equal sharing work, and the barriers are often subtle. We could have gone on forever in our usual unequal dinner-work division without too many problems, but putting ourselves up to this challenge is how we both grow.
The Rest of the Story
So back in July, we were interviewed for an upcoming article in TIME magazine. How exciting! It was fun talking with the writer, Lisa Cullen, and we shared a lot of ideas about the topic - the expanding role of fathers. Then, we waited and waited. And at long last, the article appears in TIME today!The original article was cut considerably, and everyone who was interviewed had their stance shrunk to one or two sentences. Ours ended up being the beginning of a story about how M ran right past me to Marc one day when she fell at a birthday party. Alas, the quote ends there, with how I was a bit ruffled by this - and how our society sets such high standards for mothers. Bummer - I look just like a gatekeeping mom! The REST of the story was chronicled in a previous blog entry here. It was about how that initial twinge of hurt represents societal expectations, and how the real message is about the beauty of a little girl who can go to either of her parents for comfort in equal measure. That incident was, for me, a telling example of how we 'did it' - we actually busted cultural norms and replaced them with equally shared parenting. I'm so thankful that M and T have equal and strong bonds with both me and Marc. Just for the record, it is still fantastic to see a full article devoted to involved fathers, and to have been involved in the process. I just have so much MORE to say!
No Time for Kids?
A new study sponsored by Health Canada shows that many couples delay becoming parents in order to get ahead in their work. They solve the work/life balance puzzle by skipping the childraising domain altogether (or putting off figuring out how to include it). Well, that's one way of keeping your life in balance, I guess. And a good choice if you don't want to have children - a perfectly valid decision.
But for couples who do wish to include children in their lives, this choice only works well until they are ready to have the kids. Working hard and getting well established in your career is wise when it doesn't interfere with your happiness. Doing so can open doors in the future when you do want to cut back, and prove your worth to your company when you ask for reduced hours or other balancing benefits. But if you get stuck on the prove-yourself treadmill too long, sooner or later it is going to interfere with your childraising plans. Then, putting off kids for work is an example of when balance doesn't create happiness.
The study authors say their data are a call for workplace change. The respondents in this massive survey state that if they dropped back to make room for children in their lives, they would be left behind their co-workers. Even job benefits like flextime, part-time or working from home don't help fix the problem if they only lead to marginalized careers. I agree that we want to push for the use of these benefits in meaningful and satisfying jobs. Maybe we have to give up gunning for CEO or other top management positions if we want a balanced life with kids (and an equal spouse), but I hope to see the results of studies like this really make businesses realize we need great mid-power jobs that offer balance and happy lives.
Equal Parenting? YES!
The 10/8 issue of Newsweek has a whole section entitled 'Equal Parenting?'. Gotta love the question mark. But seriously, I find it energizing that even the idea of equality in parenting is given such a wide audience. Is the world waking up to the possibility?The magazine section has three articles, all worth a read. The first is a father's account of an experiment as a SAHD to his newborn daughter, commencing when his wife returned to work at 3 months. He changes diapers, he shops, he cooks, he bathes the baby. Just like a real fully-participating parent! He answers the question of why men would want to do this by saying "it's about reclaiming our share of nurturing from moms." There's a lot of truth in this assessment. Mothers have truly 'claimed' parenting for so long, and there is no reason in the world why this can't be shared.The second article is a rebuttal of sorts - a mother's semi-sarcastic disbelief in the new involved father. The author is a working mother who appears to have married a man who believes his family is no less important than his career. The man stayed home for the baby's first year while his wife returned to work. However, this article is rife with the classic gatekeeping mindset that has kept fathers from successfully claiming their share of nurturing in the first place. To be fair, the author catches herself in some of her games. Here's a quote: "I should delegate more; but even that seems like one more time-consuming task that would undoubtedly require follow-up nagging. Besides, taking on more than I can handle somehow validates that I'm a good mom and makes up for all that time I spend at work away from my son. The other reason for taking on so much? I fear that if I left 50 percent of everything up to Raj, our son would be eating Popsicles and Cheez-Its for breakfast and showing up at school an hour late wearing his ripped dinosaur pajamas." I could deconstruct these thoughts so easily. Delegate? No - equal parents don't delegate, they negotiate as equals. Nag? Poor plan - again, if you nag, you are still trying to control your subordinate. Not equal. Martyrdom as validation? Wrong again. Being a 'good mom' might be stepping aside and allowing your child's father to nurture. Fear he'll do it 'wrong'? How else will he learn? How else will she learn that he might actually be fantastic at the morning routine? Women who think like this will definitely not get what they think they want - equal parenting. But really, I don't think they want it. They want a helper instead.The last article is an interview with a University of Maryland sociologist on the statistics of men's childraising time. Women still do more, men are doing more than their fathers did. The really good news here is that men are doing more because they want to, not because they have to. I like that! The bad news is that we're not even close to equally shared parenting. The involved dad may be popping more and more, but the equal dad is still very rare.Hello, Newsweek! We live, we breathe, we're right HERE on ESP.com! Right, guys?
Keeping It Equal
For awhile now, our son T has been big into Daddy. So much so that he will blatantly tell me on occasion to "go away - want Daddy" if I answer his cries instead of Marc. On the other hand, our daughter M is stuck to my side - often inserting herself between me and T, and claiming me for all sorts of play activities that her little brother can't quite do yet. The parent-child dynamics have been getting a bit lopsided in our house and we wanted to do something this past weekend to equalize things. I'm sure this dynamic is common in many homes - not just those with equal sharing.So, Marc took M camping and I stayed home with T. Father and daughter tramped through the forest and bundled in sleeping bags in a tent, while mother and son sang silly songs at music class and ran around the local zoo. It was fun to mix things up - both for them and for us. As ESP believers, I think we're especially tuned in to when the equality is 'off' in our house, and consider the situation to be something to gently correct. Is it wrong for mother and daughter to bond more closely? Or father and son? Well, no...but I think I'd miss something special with T (and he with me, and similar for Marc and M) if we let the lopsidedness continue and continue. We believe that we each bring something different to our children's upbringing - something that is best gifted upon them in a close relationship. So it is important to us to keep those bonds strong and equal.When the campers returned home, all grimy and happy, T and I were glad to see them. At bedtime tonight, T announced "no Daddy - want Mommy" and M responded with "no - I want Mommy". Well, you can't win them all. On second thought, it's my birthday and 'wanting Mommy' feels good for today.