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

Friday, July 11, 2008

Keeping Score

Let's tackle another big criticism of ESP today - one that has been mentioned in so many blogs and comments to Lisa Belkin's NY Times Magazine article that it wins the Anti-ESP Sentiment medal of honor. It's the notion that equal sharing requires, or leads to, scorekeeping and accounting and he says/she says arguing about how many minutes each parent has spent washing the dishes.

Believe me, if my life was reduced to these kinds of activities, I would be the first one to abandon ship. I'm all about having an intimate, warm, loving relationship. That's my main motivator for keeping ESP alive in our own family. How could I possibly be happy if my marriage was reduced to such tedious and friction-filled tallying?

In the NY Times Magazine, there is talk of color-coded charts and making things come out even. I can certainly see how a reader, especially one bent on finding a reason to dislike equal sharing, would jump to the conclusion that Excel spreadsheets were required to distribute the family workload equally between two people.

But think about it. There probably isn't a family in the nation that doesn't require some sort of planning to coordinate the children's care and activities, and the parents' jobs. Maybe it's a big family calendar with Aidan's soccer schedule and Elizabeth's Kindergarten early release days marked on it. Maybe it's the discussion most parents have about which days of daycare to sign up for. Perhaps it is the big discussion many couples have about whether one of them should stay home with the kids and what that might look like financially and practically. And unless one parent does 100% of the childcare and housework (with the other parent doing 0%), they will need to talk occasionally about who is taking Susie to gymnastics on Tuesday and who can stop by the grocery store for milk on the way home tomorrow.

It's not that much different with ESP. Yes, parents who decide they want to share equally in the care of their children and in breadwinning and housework (and recreation time) will need to have an initial discussion of how to structure this. Work schedules, daycare/preschool/school schedules and recreation schedules will all have to be laid out and fit into the family time puzzle. ESP parents will want to piece the puzzle together in a way that feels as close to equal between the parents as possible. Traditional parents will assemble their puzzle in a different way.

Once the basic schedule is laid out, nature takes over. ESP couples will naturally find that they have about equivalent time for housework, and will have built equality into their breadwinning and childraising time. Yes, crazy things like evening meetings, business trips, that girls getaway in Tahoe, or sick children will get in the way. But ESP couples will handle these things the same way any other couple would - by communicating and figuring out the best solution each time.

The big difference between ESP and other family arrangements is that equal sharing couples keep equality in the back of their minds as they go about their lives. In other words, they have an equal-sharing mindset. They know that if Dad just returned from a 3-day fishing trip with his buddies, Mom should feel no guilt about taking a few nights to go out with friends. No one needs to keep score; it just comes out about even because both parties want it to. Both parents know that ESP is their best life, and so they are both motivated (without scorekeeping or judging) to make things fair.

Still...the myth that ESP requires onerous chartkeeping and accounting lives on. It is an easy excuse for those who don't want to consider equal sharing (people we don't want to be in the business of convincing to do so anyway). But for those who might want the equality and balanced lives that ESP provides to both mothers and fathers, I'd like to say this is nonsense! ESP requires contemplation and purposeful decisions that go against our culture. ESP requires two willing participants. But it does not require scorekeeping.


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