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to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions,
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Letting Go: The Parent/Teacher Conference
Tomorrow, Marc is going to T's very first parent/teacher conference - and I'm not. This simple act is a loaded lesson in letting go for me. For some reason, I've been the parent to attend all of M's conferences in preschool, and we both went to her first Kindergarten conference last November. But here I am, missing out on my sweet T's milestone.What will the teacher think? What will I miss? Will T think I don't care? When I write these questions down here, I see how silly they are. But at the same time, I see the power of societal messages about mothers' responsibilities and the impact of maternal gatekeeping on squashing a life of equally shared parenting.Of course Marc gets a turn to be our child's representative parent at a teacher conference. Beyond any doubt, I know that T won't take my absence as a sign I don't care - he's not even 3 years old, for starters. And if I live for how the preschool teacher will judge me, I'm a weak mother indeed. That leaves "what will I miss." I'll have to pump Marc for scoop - and I will.
You hear tell of many new moms who approach the end of their maternity leaves with dread and anguish. Will their precious baby be okay without them? Will they crumple on their desks from missing their little bundle of joy? Will they be torn in two - always yearning for the place they're not as they shift between work and home?It's enough to cause some to dial up the boss the day before to announce a change of heart. Not this mom. She reports an easy, breezy return to her job, and absolute joy at the ability to eat lunch in one sitting, talk with other adults, and sip a cup of tea before it turns cold. Sure, she misses her baby a bit, but...drumroll...she's not worried...she's left him in the competent hands of his loving father.Although this mom doesn't give us the gory details of how Dad got competent during her leave, the point is that he DID. He become a true co-parent. She can enjoy her return to work and her dual roles as employee and mother - and so can he. My one question: Does Dad plan to share home childraising duties for the foreseeable future or just for a few weeks? She doesn't say. With ESP, sharing a long-term solution.
Equality Brings Emotional Closeness
A study of gay and lesbian couples shows that their relatively greater role flexibility and equal housework and childraising task division yield more emotional closeness between partners than that found in heterosexual relationships. While I hear from gay ESP couples (and observe from the family arrangements of many of my own gay friends and colleagues) that equal sharing is not necessarily the norm, I suspect that ESP is more likely when genders are the same. This new study gives credence to my suspicion, and furthermore provides evidence that equal sharing is a great thing for a healthy relationship. Like music to my ears!When a couple acts as equals, sharing all their burdens and joys, neither partner feels 'less than' and neither partner misses out on a part of family life. Both partners walk in each other's shoes every day. Empathy and equality bring closeness, intimacy and respect.I'm happy to read proof that gay and lesbian parents can help us lead the way toward mainstream ESP.
Mother vs Father? No Thanks!
The Telegraph, a British newspaper, published a duet of articles yesterday and today about its version of the Daddy Wars - the one that pits mothers against fathers to see who will win the role of primary parent. Pathetic! This is probably my least favorite definition of Daddy Wars, a term that I'd be pleased to never hear again. The theory in these two brief articles is that men are battling it out with women to get the most hugs from their children. In increasing numbers, they supposedly seek to replace their children's mother as the alpha parent - to shatter the sacrosanct mother/child bond. You probably know what I think of the sanctity of this bond anyway, so you can guess that I don't take kindly to men groveling for it any more than I appreciate women doing so. If I have to put a positive spin on this so-called trend, I'd say it is that men are challenging women to give up their hold on primary parenting. But let's not lose focus....British parents: Please remember that being your child's mother or father should be about raising your child, not about completing yourself. This should not be a contest. It should be a lovefest in which we happily and joyfully give our children deep relationships with both their parents - and celebrate our partner's closeness with them. It's a little something we call equally shared parenting.
Use It or Lose It
If our government ever succeeds in establishing a paid parental leave policy, my biggest fear is that it will be scoffed up by mothers. We fathers will be left with crumbs, just like the paid leave policy in New Zealand that allows mothers to share all or part of their 14 week parental leave with fathers - only 1% do so.And where will we be if mothers take all the paid leave? In some ways, worse off than we are today. Parenting will be just as mother-centric as ever, and mothers who get, say, 8 weeks of paid leave will just be that much more financially able to take more leave after the 8 weeks are up. More leave equals more time as the sole parent with a couple's new baby - which equals more expertise by the mother. A father has no chance to catch up!I much prefer a "use it or lose it" parental leave policy. Take Iceland's for example. Here mothers get 3 months paid leave, fathers get the same, and the couple gets an additional 3 months to divide as they wish. The result? Fathers take 35% of the parental leave. That means they are taking their 3 months and just a tiny bit more. Mothers are still hogging the shared leave time, but those fathers have 3 months of parenting under their belts. A beautiful thing!So, if someday we are awarded 8 weeks of paid parental leave, I would portion off at least a few of them to the guy as "use or lose." Even crazier (and probably not possible), I'd make the paid portion of a man's paternity leave only valid if taken sequentially (not simultaneously) with his wife's leave.
There's an ESP-related article in the latest issue of Parenting's BabyTalk magazine - a rarity in journalism. The article, titled "Parenting as a Team," attempts to guide would-be parents into creating an equally shared parenting arrangement. It hits on some of the principles of ESP, such as the fact that most couples end up with manager/apprentice arrangements for childraising tasks rather than a team of equals (the article calls this coach vs water boy), or the idea that a couple should agree upfront on the basics of childraising (similar to the ESP tenant of setting joint standards).Given that it's a fluff piece in a fluff magazine, I'm actually pretty impressed that the topic got covered as well as it did here. Of course there is so much more to tackle before a couple could hope to create and maintain true equality - but it's a start. If I were to change one thing about the article besides its breadth, I would ask it to challenge mothers to let fathers be absolute equals rather than still be relegated to helper status. The author (a man) stops shy of requesting that BabyTalk readers (read: mothers) accept men as equal parents when he advocates women "delegate" more childraising responsibilities to men. Delegation is still coach vs water boy behavior. It is better than gatekeeping, surely, but it is not equality.
Home Camp Swap
Those of us ESP parents who both work part-time and enjoy a weekday or more home with our children each week have a problem when it comes time to figure out their care over the Summer. If we can manage to prevent any overlap in our work schedules, we might not require any outside childcare. But many of us can't quite swing that.Back when our own kids were both daycare or preschool age, this problem was quite manageable. Our preschool offered any combination of days over the Summer months, and there were perhaps 2 weeks the whole Summer when it was closed - easily covered by our prior daycare provider. I'm told that preschool and daycare schedules are not so flexible in other parts of the country (is this true?), so I consider us lucky.But now, with M in Kindergarten, we can no longer blissfully sign up for 2 days per week of preschool over the Summer. Enter the concept of Summer Camp. Now when I grew up, "camp" was just an occasional bonus fun adventure. My mom worked an academic calendar and was home with my sister and me over the Summer, so we had no need for outside childcare. But for us, a minimal amount of care will be required.Around here, part-time Summer camp is non-existent. It's either 5 days per week or none. And those 5 days are typically short ones - 8:30-3, 8:00-1, etc. How do working parents handle this? How do ESP parents who only need a few days each week do it? Do we pay for full time camp - missing out on the time with our kids that we value so highly and paying through the nose for this?I have an idea. Actually, Marc has an idea that I really like. It is called Home Camp Swap, and we're busy thinking about how it could work for us for years to come. It goes like this: Find one or two like-minded couples who also work part-time and who have children that are friends with our children. Then, carefully arrange a swap system for the Summer months. Tuesday could be Vachon Camp. Wednesday could be Family X Camp, Thursday Family Y Camp. Lo and behold - the result would be a fun and bonding experience for our kids and for the couples involved, lots of time with our kids and kids we really care about, and negligible cost. Of course, this would take a bit of arranging. How to transport all these kids to fun adventures like a hike or the beach? What if the host parent or kid is sick? What if the families have a falling out or don't hold up their end of the bargain? How to handle vacation weeks for each family? Enough to discourage the faint of heart. But this stuff is what discourages couples from trying ESP - all the communication needed to set it up and nurture it. We're up for that!This Summer, which seems so very far away right now - but isn't, we're going to test the waters of Home Camp Swap. We don't yet know what Marc's work schedule will be, so it is hard to figure out any specifics now. And we do want to sign T up for our preschool Summer program so he stays connected with his friends there. But perhaps we'll try a few weeks of swapping, and find out what works and what doesn't. It's Summer Camp, ESP style!
ESP Movie Review: Waitress
It's time for a movie review from the ESP perspective. Last night, Amy and I decided to veg out with a rented movie. We picked, or perhaps I should say I was tricked into picking, a new release called Waitress. This 2007 chick flick got glowing reviews in the New York Times and other venues, so we settled in for what we were assured was a treat.Wrong. If you plan to rent Waitress, you might want to stop reading here so I don't spoil anything for you. The movie made us angry - something that doesn't fit with the reviews at all. You see, the characters are all built from cultural stereotypes of gender. The protagonist's lousy husband is a caricature of what men are allowed to do to women in our culture - bully and control them, giving them no choices for happy lives. The protagonist is a caricature of what women are allowed to do to men - manipulate them and cut them out of the role of parent. Granted, the husband is a jerk here, but his wife is no peach in the communication department. We're supposed to cheer for the sweet heroine as she finally tells her husband the truth (that she hates him) and tells him that he can't have any role in his brand new baby's life. Gee. Can you imagine if the situation were reversed - a man tells his wife, minutes after she gave birth to their baby, that he'll be taking the baby and she is banished from the home?So, we give Waitress a big thumbs down. Even more sad to us than this movie is the fact that its reviewers couldn't see they fell into believing our culture's stereotypes.
How NOT to Get Your Husband to 'Help' Around the House
Cross-posted at FamiliesRising.org - a primer on housework equality...The American public, at least the part consisting of parents, is obsessed with measuring how much housework is done by women versus men. Statistics about men's increasing involvement at home clog the blogosphere and newspaper columns - followed by discussion of how much MORE women still do. Many women would love to find a way to get more help from their husbands to even the load.What would it take to get men to truly pull their weight? Here's our recipe:1. Stop asking men to "help." Asking a man for help with housework is akin to asking him to babysit his own kids. In other words, it implies that women are still in charge and men are apprentices. Manager and subordinate. Chef and sous chef. Senior and junior. All in all, not good for getting full buy-in on housework. Promote your husband to partner - in your thoughts, words and deeds.2. Approach chores from the team standard. As partners, you and your spouse are equals. That means the how/what/when of household chores should be decided by the team of both of you, not by one of you who then dictates the rules to the other. Take a good look at the household tasks you both do now and decide which ones are causing friction for you (or your spouse). Then, sit down together and nail down some standards for how often these problem chores should be done, to what level of cleanliness, etc. Make sure that you BOTH agree on the standards you set.3. Divide up the chores. Estimate how long it takes to do each household task, and then divide them up together. There are so many ways to divide chores - alternating by day or week, by interest level, dividing right down the middle, each does his/her own, etc. You choose! In the end, make sure you both feel the final division is equitable.4. Let go. Now you are both free to do your assigned tasks, but you are truly free only if neither of you is scrutinizing the process. No nagging, no reminding, no criticizing. Just let the natural consequences of a job well done or a job botched fall onto the partner who did (or didn't do) it.5. Re-evaluate together. How did your team standards hold up in real life? How was the division of labor? Check in with each other often, and revise your plans as a team. Becoming equals in the home runs counter to our culture. But the rewards are great - not only for women who are able to let go and embrace a partnership of equals, but for men who become equals in their own homes. A man who shares the housework participates fully in his home life - his home really is his own castle rather than a dwelling that functions by his partner's rules. A woman who shares the housework lives in a place of peace - her sanctuary rather than her demanding and lonely second job. Together, life is good.
Primary Parent Territory
Being the authors of a blog on equally shared parenting makes us hyper-vigilant to inequality in our own lives. And while we don't recommend this type of scrutiny to everyone, we like turning over every stone. It's a game to us, as well as a way to stay true to our ideals - to not let social norms unconsciously creep into our lives.So, in our hyper-vigilant state, we notice that some aspects of parenting seem to require extra effort and ingenuity to accomplish as equals. One is being your child's Suzuki violin coach. The Suzuki music program has long required one parent only attend all the lessons and handle all the home practice sessions with the child. Most Suzuki-trained teachers frown on (or outright forbid) co-parent involvement in order to establish a consistent pattern for learning. We get this - it makes sense.But what if??? Our daughter M, now 5 1/2, has been enjoying Suzuki violin lessons since this past Summer. By and large, I've been her primary Suzuki parent, attending all but 2 lessons and supervising all but a handful of practices. Do we stick with the status quo because it works, or do we attempt to equalize our involvement?We're not sure, truth be told. For now, I'm going to stick with my role because I love it (we play our violins together every day - so fun) and so does M. But we're bending from tradition by involving Marc in a dynamic way. Marc, being a non-musician, has a different way of appreciating M's progress. He can learn right along with her. This plays out in many ways - like M racing to show Marc that she can play a new piece while he's cleaning up in the kitchen, or grinning as she teaches him how to hold the bow. They both have fun making up lyrics to each new piece she learns, and Marc makes sure he keeps up with the lesson plan each week so he can participate along with me.So even we ESP-devotees don't strive for exact equality in everything we do. But we believe that we both have something we can bring to M's violin training, and we're dedicated to assuring that she gets a dose of each parent.
Competent and Important Dads
Research released today by the Fatherhood Institute in the UK delivers an encouraging message about how most mothers feel about the parenting skills of their husbands. The Fatherhood Institute is the UK's thinktank for fatherhood issues, and their data may represent 'mums' rather than 'moms' - but I say it's close enough to be applicable to US families too. Here's what the research says:
- 68% of mums say that dad is just as good at looking after the kids as them
- 95% of men and women say it is important for dads to spend time caring for children during their first two years
- 67% of women and 72% of men say society values a child's relationship with mother more than father
- 59% of people say that society assumes mothers are good for children, but fathers have to prove it
- 66% of fathers regret not having more time to spend with their children
- 70% of people say there should be 'zero tolerance' if fathers do not take on their parenting responsibilities.
The Institute provides recommendations to the British government with the aim to increase fathers' involvement in their children's lives (particularly during the first 2 years). One recommendation calls for 3 months of paid paternity leave rather than an extension to Britain's paid maternity leave policy that is currently under government consideration. Under the proposed extension of paid maternity leave, mothers would be allowed to give some of their leave to their partner, while under the Fatherhood Institute's recommendation each parent would have a finite and equal amount of paid leave to use - or lose. The difference between these two proposals is subtle but powerful. One will likely lead to more gender inequality and the other has the potential to equalize the involvement of two competent and important parents.
I'd vote for the Fatherhood Institute's plan.
Heard of the Slow Food movement? It is the crusade to bring back handcrafted, artisanal, heritage foods to our dinner tables, complete with the time required to hunt/gather and prepare these delicacies. It is the opposite of the 80% corn diet we get at McDonald's or other quick-fix aisles in our supermarkets. It is entwined with another powerful movement to eat locally grown and prepared food in order to reduce our use of fossil fuels in its distribution.Why am I waxing on about Slow Food and locavore habits? Apart from having a soft spot in my heart for both (and a plan to get more involved in each of them), I think that equally shared parenting is often about Slow Families and local living. It is about prioritizing time with our families over the hustle and juggle of fast paced careers and do-it-all success. While articles like this are touting new ways to outsource household tasks, and new tasks to outsource, we're thinking about how we can be more hands-on with our own lives. We don't want so many Christmas lights that we have to hire someone to string them for us! We want to carve out time to make our own bread and hang out at farmer's markets, not shop online for our groceries so that someone else can pick and deliver to us. Now don't get me wrong. I love conveniences - dry cleaning, housecleaning and take-out are great. When my kids were babies, I wished every store could have a drive-through so I didn't have to get them out of the car. But I don't want to be dependent on these conveniences to make it through my week. And I happen to believe that the more we get our hands dirty and roll up our sleeves caring for our own home, the more we are mentally and emotionally connected to our own lives. Don't we lose something when we give our photos to some stranger and pay her/him to make them into a scrapbook? Don't we gain something if we find the time, energy and skills to paint a bedroom or build a bookshelf ourselves? Some of my fondest memories with Marc (and intimacy-building times) were the endless nights of laying ceramic tiles in our kitchen after the kids had gone to bed. Tough, dirty, mathematically challenging, but very satisfying.My New Year's wish for you (and me too) is that we all have enough time to not be scared of our own lives. To be comfortable enough, time-wise, to say 'yes' to a homegrown project or an inconvenient family adventure. Not for the sake of superiority (never that), but because it feels good.p.s. That gift that Marc gave to my mother (from previous post) was a handcrafted necklace. She loved it, I'm happy to report. And on Christmas night, I found another necklace by the same artist tucked under my pillow. Wow - Marc is actually not this romantic normally, so I'm smiling extra wide!