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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Equal Responsibility

Thanks to Jeremy at Daddy Dialectic, Amy and I found this eloquent law student's blog entry. It's an ode to co-parenting, the term the blog's author (part of an equally sharing couple) uses for ESP. This couple truly embodies what Amy and I believe is the spirit of equal sharing. Here's one of my favorite passages:

"To Husband and I, co-parenting means both of us being equally responsible for the care of our child. When [our daughter] was born, Husband took a nine week paternity leave to take care of her. When I started back to school full time four weeks after she was born, he got up with her during the night, and cared for her during the times I was in class. I don't feel like I'm a bad mother and not bonding with my child because my husband does an equal share of the parenting, and sometimes even more than half."

Words like these are rare in the blogosphere. A mom realizing that being a good mother can include fully sharing the responsibility (and bonding time) of a newborn with the baby's father? A father whose paternity leave was actually longer than his wife's maternity leave? Two parents who believe in equal investment and responsibility (above and beyond equal task division) in caring for their children?

Now THIS is what we're talking about!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Flexibility: Not Just for Work

The latest issue of the online magazine Mothers Movement Online has an interesting essay on flexibility. Author Arthur Emlen makes the argument that the quest for flexibility shouldn't be confined to flexible work arrangements. Instead, real family solutions arise from flexibility at work, with childcare arrangements, and at home. His writing is generally momcentric, but not overly so. He says, "When it comes to jobs and child care, mothers have the amazing ability to make the best choices possible. And their success depends a lot on how much flexibility they can squeeze from their work schedules, family arrangements, and accommodating child care." Substitute 'mothers' for 'parents' and you've got something that an ESP family can appreciate.

Emlen's main point is that policy change to help families cannot be concentrated only on one area - say, subsidized childcare. He argues that every family's needs are different from their neighbors' and no one solution will work. He wants families to have choices - choices about which childcare and how much, what work schedules, how to divide up the care of the home. All areas of our lives need enough wiggle room - aka flexibility - to give us the freedom to make the best choices for our families and ourselves. I can buy that.

When the world thinks about how to accomodate the needs of families, I'll bet they aren't thinking about the demographic of ESP families. The focus is probably on the breadwinner dad and the mom trying to balance a job with primary parenting duties. Subsidized childcare won't do the average ESP family too much good; we'd probably opt for reduced schedules for both parents or better leave options for fathers instead. Emlen is right that one size doesn't fit all.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Don't Let Money Get in the Way

Paul Nyhan at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's 'Working Dad' blog reports recently on an anecdotal survey about the marital bliss (or lack thereof) of couples in which a woman outearns her husband. Primary breadwinner wives in the survey - a full 100% of them - say that this monetary imbalance has hurt their marriages.

This news annoys me. It means, if this hardly-scientific data are to be believed, that we've got a long way to go. If men cling to their breadwinning prowess as their identity, they end up with an inferiority problem if their wives outearn them - one that is directly proportional to the wage gap between the two partners. If these primary breadwinner women then also cling to their need to control the home, we've really got a problem - a man with no power base and a woman holding all the cards.

As Marc wrote in the previous post, redefining masculine success is a key toward a happy gender equal parenting arrangement. I will add that redefining motherhood is essential as well. Who says real men are providers before nurturers, and real women are nurturers before providers? These are made-up rules that are meant to be broken by those of us who want happy, equal partnerships and lives that include a full measure of both realms.

It doesn't matter who earns more money. In our marriage, Marc and I have shifted that title back and forth between us over the years. Don't let the number on your paycheck dictate who is in charge of whom (or what)!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Ambition

Not too long ago I found myself at a child's birthday party with a number of other parents. I struck up a conversation with a dad who admitted that he was at the peak of his earning potential primarily as a result of scaling back his ambition. I heartily agreed with his decision and told him that I had made the same one awhile back, but that I preferred to think of it as a new type of ambition.

I no longer define "success" in the narrow terms of my career only. I now consider myself extremely ambitious in achieving a happy life. This includes a meaningful career, but also a rewarding marriage, intimate relationships with my children, and time to pursue other passions. Having defined "success" in such a concrete way allows me to more clearly evaluate where I spend my time. Pursuing a career that does not allow me the flexibility to achieve my new definition of "success" is no longer desirable regardless of pay, prestige, or title.

Thanks to Avi Spivack at work-it-dad for blogging about his struggle to let go of ambition and getting me to think about this today. I hear you Avi, and know what you're going through!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Excellence in Flexibility

It's nice to know that the corporate world is competing for who's offering the most flexibility to their employees. Maggie Jackson's 'Balancing Acts' column in this past Sunday's Boston Globe reflects this encouraging competition. Says Jackson, "...flexibility's reach is extending into new corners of the work world - from high-stress, low-budget nonprofits to call centers famed for their rigid work culture. More employees are getting more choices in how they work, a trend made clear by this year's winners of most prestigious awards in employer flexibility, the Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility."

It makes sense for businesses to vie for such an honor. Jackson explains that "employees who have a measure of flexibility at work have significantly greater job satisfaction, commitment to work, and engagement with a company, along with lower stress, according to research compiled by the nonprofit Corporate Voices for Working Families."

Empowering workers to flex their schedules gives them control of their own lives, and that leads directly to job satisfaction, and even to health and well-being, according to Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and Work Institute. That can also mean drastically reduced employee turnover rates in many work sectors, and improved worker productivity. All at little to no cost to employers.

What's not to love?

I'll also add that offering flexibility improves recruitment of top-notch employees. Want the best and brightest of Generation Y working for you? Flex it and they could be yours. Be rigid and they'll move on to a better offer, just like I did when I was in the job market.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Interview with Barbara Risman

We recently got back from a weekend in Chicago, where we had the pleasure of meeting with Barbara Risman, feminist sociologist from the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Gender Vertigo (read our book review here). We were happy to find her an enthusiastic believer in equally shared parenting, and enjoyed talking with her about the future of gender equality. Dr. Risman considers ESP to be the unfinished work of feminism, and as inevitable as any cultural evolution. Here's what she had to say when we posed some specific questions:

M&A: The idea of ESP gets pushback from some people (both men and women) who believe men are just not as capable of primary parenting as women or just can't seem to notice when the house needs cleaning. Do you believe there is something inherently 'less than' about men's abilities here?

BR: There is plenty of research with evidence to prove that men are fully capable of both homemaking and childcare if given the opportunity. Rather than innate male failings, it is the dynamics of a couple's relationship that create this presumed incompetence. Men and women simply find it easier to relate to each other through the well-worn play-scripts of male provider/female nurturer-homemaker than to improvise a new relationship not modeled around them. Improvisation would require redefining the couple's relationship with each other and with their children, and a purposeful examination of each parent's sense of self.

M&A: What do you see as the greatest barrier to ESP?

BR: Our culture's definition of masculinity. It is still seen as a step down for a man to take on a significant (nevermind primary) caretaking role - this is still considered women's work. Until the moral code for being a man includes responsibility for nurturing in equal measure with breadwinning, many men will resist change. The second big barrier to ESP is the workplace's construction around the ideal worker with a wife at home to take care of the family and housework. Until the workplace is redesigned to accommodate caregiving, it will be difficult for parents to achieve the work schedules and hours needed to sustain ESP.

M&A: What about the effect of ESP on children? In Gender Vertigo, you write about your research into children's views of gender, but do you know of any data on how an ESP home affects a child's persona (e.g., self-esteem, patience, emotional intelligence)?

BR: There are no data because a study that examines these questions would be complicated and very costly to run. I can tell you that ESP doesn't hurt children, and information from studies of father-involvement give us strong data on the importance of a father in the future success of children. We also have evidence that children's self esteem is connected to the happiness of their parents (i.e., a girl's self-esteem is greater if her mom is happy), so happy parental relationships are good for kids. That said, my research also shows that culture is extremely important in childraising, probably even more so than the individual lifestyles of a child's parents.

M&A: We know the divorce rate is high in the US, and even though we theorize that divorce is less likely with ESP, we know some ESP couples will divorce. How might ESP contribute to the way children are raised if their parents divorce?

BR: The more two parents are involved in their children's upbringing in an intact family, the more likely they will both continue a high level of involvement after divorce. This is good news for kids. Men, in particular, are more likely to invest both socially and financially in their children, and research tells us that children will do better as a result of father presence. Speaking personally, my husband and I lived as equal parents while married and then maintained this equality in raising our daughter when we divorced. Creating an ESP family prior to divorce is a powerful gift to your children!

M&A: Finally, what do you see as the future of ESP?

BR: Equally shared parenting is inevitable as a mainstream family choice. The feminist movement has forever opened our eyes to cultural gender inequalities and we cannot revert to not seeing them. We will march forward instead, continuing our critique of gender and turning our attention to what still remains unequal.

Thank you, Barbara Risman, for your wisdom and for taking the time to speak with us. We share your enthusiasm for the future!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From Mothering to Parenting?

Two steps forward, one step back.... That's how it feels when we read the parenting magazines and online parenting columns, at least with respect to recognition of The Other Parent - fathers. Some magazines are making efforts, maybe even strides, to include men in their stories. But others plod along as if speaking only to a one-gendered audience - Mommy tips, Moms unite, Mothers are All. And it seems like we're not the only ones who notice this dance.

Happily, Daddy-Dialectic reports that Mothering magazine, despite its obviously mom-centric title, is trying to move forward. Jeremy Adam Smith from Daddy-Dialectic will be authoring a regular Fathering blog in the magazine, and he reports that its Editor and Publisher Peggy O'Mara has written a lovely editorial in the latest issue that addresses her passion to include men in her readership. Joe Kelly of Dads & Daughters is also affiliated with Mothering; Amy met Joe at the CCFC Conference about a month ago and gives this affiliation a big thumbs up.

Applause to Mothering. We'll up that to a standing ovation when you change the magazine's title!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Student Status

I received the following question recently from C, a reader in England. It is a good illustration of how one might tackle ESP while one parent is a student and the other works, and with C's permission, I share it with you:

Dear Amy,
My partner and I are expecting our first baby in a few months. We're in an odd situation financially whereby he's coming to the end of his first year out of four of studying full time to make a career change, whilst I pay for everything. He is going to continue studying full time for the next 3 years, the same hours as if he was working full time Monday to Friday (except university holidays). The only money coming in will be from my working part time in the evenings and Saturdays (I teach adults) and possibly doing childminding work from home while looking after our own baby simultaneously. My partner would look after our baby while I am working the evenings and Saturdays. My question is, are we to consider his study time as time spent 'breadwinning' because it will lead directly to a job afterwards? Can we even begin to arrange an equal life for ourselves? Could I claim 4 years 'off' from paid work after he finishes his course in return?

Dear C,
Hi! I'm so glad you found us and wrote. The next few years sound packed with excitement and change for both of you. While I can't pretend to know the ins and outs of your situation, here are a couple of thoughts:

How to categorize study time depends a lot on the motivation your partner has for going back to school. If he's going back to follow his bliss even though he already has a perfectly serviceable career, I'd lean toward counting this time as his recreation time. If, however, he is back in school as a strategic move that you both agree makes sense for his breadwinning ability in the future, you are both investing in his decision to be a student for 4 years; in this case, I'd count it as primarily breadwinning time.

You absolutely can begin to arrange an equal life for yourselves now! From what you wrote, I'm assuming that he will be booked for lots of solo parenting time while you're teaching in the evenings and on Saturdays. That will give him a great start as a fully competent and responsible father. Your job can be to let this happen by not directing him or preparing things ahead of time for each evening or Saturday he's on with the baby. Make sure that decisions you make about how to raise your baby (e.g., sleep arrangements, decorating the nursery room, feeding schedules, etc.) are jointly made rather than your own enforced rule. Take turns with grocery shopping and meal preparation, and divide up everything it takes to run your household as evenly as possible. Don't let any task be something that only you can do (except, of course, breastfeeding).

The beauty of equal sharing is a balanced life for both of you. This is very hard during the early years of a baby's life and while one of you is a full-time student - so don't strive for perfection. Strive not to miss the boat that so many parents miss when they assign childraising as the mother's responsibility and give the father 'junior' status. If you can navigate this, you'll both be set up for a lifetime of equality after these next 3 years are over.

You could, technically, claim the next 4 years as yours to drop out of breadwinning if you want to equalize this part of your relationship (as long as your reason for not working is similar in scope to your partner's reason to be a student right now). However, perhaps ask yourself what your end goal is. For me, it's that balanced life. And if I'm not a breadwinner for a big stretch of time, it is easier for me to get out of balance - out of touch with my career, etc. And I also strive for balancing my life with my husband's; it is just easier to do this when we're both out there earning money, raising the kids, taking care of the house, and having fun.

There are no black-and-white answers to this stuff, of course. But I love that you're thinking about your situation in terms of equality, and that you're considering the consequences of any arrangements you set up once the baby is born. Keep up the great work!

Very best wishes for a safe remainder of your pregnancy, and enjoy your transition to parenthood....


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Want Increased Productivity?

Work less! That's the message of this piece in FastCompany. Author David Roberts explains that the American culture of overworked, overstressed employees produces less productivity per work hour than other countries with work weeks of 35 hours or less. Citing France and Norway as examples, Roberts argues that Americans waste time during their long workdays. That means they could be working smarter instead, and spending that extra time at home with their families or out doing things they love to do.

Roberts also ties American overwork with overuse of the world's resources. When we're tired and cranky, we don't have much energy left to take care of our environment, he says, because it takes time and energy to recycle, walk or take public transportation, bring our own lunches in reusable containers, etc. So we give up and trudge along with our big carbon footprints.

The article ends with a gloomy picture of how the work would look if all countries acted like the US. But I prefer to think of the opposite. What would the world look like if we could all slow down, work less and do more of what we love? What if we could achieve maximum productivity at our jobs and balance in our lives overall. And we'd be doing a great thing for the environment!

Roberts says that back in 1956, Nixon predicted that we'd soon see a 4-day work week (32 hours/week). So far, most of us are still waiting. But what if....

p.s. Hat tip to Cindy Goodman's Work/Life Balancing Act column for covering this article.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Ah - Back to Equal!

With Marc returning to the workforce this past week, we can both breathe sighs of relief. Not just for the obvious financial reasons, but because we can restore full equal sharing in our relationship.

When Marc was first laid off, it wasn't too hard to keep up our equality - apart from Marc taking on a bit more kid-care and housework. But as time dragged on, it became harder to keep up the 50/50 split. Even for us dedicated ESP practitioners! It never got so out-of-balance that we became fully entrenched in our Working Mom/SAHD roles, but we definitely gained an appreciation for how easy it is to slip into these personas. Marc slowly took on the majority of the cooking and he began to take responsibility for getting the kids ready for school most mornings while I concentrated on getting my own self ready for work. In the evenings and on weekends, I started to have a creeping guilt about not taking over all the childraising/housework so that Marc could get a break, while at the same time being resentful that I had so many other tasks to do. My Mommy-Day Fridays dissolved into yet more dual parent time with Marc simply because he was there. Both Marc and I missed our equality.

All along, we did little things to minimize this erosion. For example, we noticed what was happening to our morning routine and took some small steps to correct it by Marc take early morning bike rides on set days to get exercise and to give me some solo-parent time. We maintained our bedtime routine sharing schedule as best as possible. We parsed out weekend time for Marc-on, me-on, or both-on with the kids. We switched things up when either M or T got too used to Marc's omnipresent availability. And Marc worked really hard at finding the right job, a process we shared with the kids as much as possible.

Now that Marc is back to work, I'm feeling a bit more pressure on my days for sure - morning routines are back to being my full responsibility on set days of the week, and we can't rely on Marc to be free to run errands while I'm at work any longer. But the payoff is so much better than the pain! The guilt has disappeared. There is no more tension between us about who is doing 'more' and who is doing 'less.' We're a team again.

Looking back, it was so useful for us to go through this time. It cemented our beliefs in ESP, and our willingness to fight for it. It gave us a chance to walk the walk - to hold out for an equal partnership by choosing transient inequality and rejecting 'permanent' inequality. It helped us demonstrate to ourselves that we could hold out - that our careful financial planning would keep us from crumbling until Marc could secure a job that did indeed fit with our lives. And it demonstrated that - yes - reduced hours jobs can be found (and even for men!) if you don't give up. We would have searched longer than 11 months if necessary, but we hope that someday finding a company that believes in something other than the mighty 40-hour work week doesn't require this long.

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