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

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....



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a few thoughts to add to Amy's. I was a student (last year of PhD work) when our daughter was born (now almost 2) and my partner earned most of our income (though I also contributed). We've been fairly equally sharing from the beginning (Gail and Lyn in the "real life stories" on this site).

One thing I'd add to Amy's thoughts is that you notice the extent to which you prioritize schooling, and whether that might be different if mom was in school. I can't even count the number of times that other moms told me their husband couldn't do caretaking work because he was in school (law school, grad school, undergrad, you name it), while there were women (including me) sitting right there in the room who were using flexibility of school scheduling to get extra time with their kids. This theme easily extends to the post-doc research work I'm doing now. If a woman is doing academic work, she exploits the flexibility, but if dad is the researcher, it is somehow an 80 hour a week job.

It may well make sense not to have dad working 9-5, if there are ways you can beneficially exploit or plan his course schedule to, say, take one or two days a week at home, working while the baby sleeps (this works better with a baby than a toddler!). Of course this varies by school program, and you don't say what your paid work is. Good luck. You're asking smart questions. School and baby worked great for us.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

You and Gail know first-hand what it means to seek equality while one parent is in school, so thanks for adding your real-world wisdom!

3:06 PM  
Blogger Miss Vicky said...

I would be inclined to categorize time spent on school as "breadwinning".

My partner and I have a 20 month old son... i am the primary breadwinner in terms of the money I bring in to the household. He works 4 days a week and spends the fifth in our co-operative daycare. Equal parenting has taken a bit of a toll on our lives as my partner's workplace (high tech start-up) was not inclined to accept his commitment to family life and the boundaries he set around his availability for (unpaid) after-hours work. He was let go a few months after I returned to work and he reduced his worktime to 4 days so he could do our daycare duty.

Long story short: he decided to go back to school, for a one-year program with a compressed (3 days/week, 2-10pm) class schedule. So we have a lot to discuss, and a lot of adjustments to make in the way we divide things up at home (something we are still working on). But I also see this as an investment in our future - short-term hardship, financially and in terms of division of labour, but with a lot of potential for a more flexible career for him down the road... something that will accommodate the family life we want.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Miss Vicky,
Going for the life you want even if it means short-term hardship takes tremendous courage, and we applaud you and your partner for doing just that. For many couples, the road to ESP will be bumpy. It is easy to turn back and skip out on your dreams, but the price is high. You are investing wisely by making the tough decision to weather a bit of inequality in breadwinning now (although in your case, I'd definitely count school time as 'breadwinning') in order to get the life you want later. Hooray! The best things in life come to those who wait AND do the hard work to create them.

7:40 PM  

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