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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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Math for Men

Lots of women have written stories in the aftermath (wow - a pun already) of Lisa Belkin's NY Times ESP story, but the male perspective has been lagging behind. So it was nice when Lisa herself sent Amy a link to this story on Wondertime recently, written by Rand Richards Cooper, a father who challenges men to a little equal sharing math.

He is a bit horrified by the statistics from the NY Times article about how much more housework and childcare are done by women than men, even when a woman works and her husband doesn't. "Dude, where's your pride?" he asks.

He starts to add up the numbers and concludes that women can claim they are more than a full person compared to their husbands. He remarks of a woman friend with two kids and a higher salaried job than her husband, "Basically, she does two-thirds of the family's earning - plus two-thirds of the housework and two-thirds of the childrearing. When she told me that she feels chronically harried, inadequate, and guilty, I pointed out that she's doing two-thirds of everything - that her family's setup requires her, in effect, to be twice the person her husband is."

Amazingly (well, maybe not so surprising after all) is that her response is to praise her husband for "helping out a lot." Cooper accurately argues that men's home contributions are judged not in comparison to their partners', but in comparison to their own fathers'. So far, spot on.

Then, he describes how his own wife has just decided to scale back to half time work because she is overly stressed trying to be more than a full person. Despite Cooper's desire to be a helpful and involved dad, his wife still does more. He applauds her decision to cut back her work hours to save her sanity.

This IS one solution. But what if she didn't want to do that, and would rather the other domains of their lives together could be more equal instead? Why did her very important need to achieve balance in her own life not include balancing it more equally with her husband? Why has this author abandoned finding out how to do his half of the housework and childraising and maybe even scale back a little bit at work so she didn't have to scale back all the way to 20 hours a week?

Cooper closes the article with a fun and interesting math quiz for men. He wants us to own up to what share of the housework and childcare we really do each week, and challenges us to try to become as 'full a person' as our wives. If ESP is what he'd like too, I'd to challenge Cooper to take his own advice.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

WoLFi TaLEs Blog Seeking your Stories

A quick post from guest blogger, Judy, with a invitation to be a part of her research!

G'day. I'm Judy, aka Aztec-Rose. I am an Australian PhD student, working mother and keen supporter of ESP doing research on work family balance/interconnectivity. Australia, like the USA, is struggling to find solutions to the juggling that parents do, in terms of paid work and caring responsibilities. I have set up a blog at www.worklifeinterconnectivity called WoLFi TaLEs where I would like to invite all parents (sole, dual, stay-at-home, in paid work) to have their say. I am interested in problems as well as solutions to finding better balance or interconnectivity. I believe the Equally Shared Parenting model, for instance, is a positive step towards reconciling the many demands on busy parents.

So don't be shy, have your say, as your words on WoLFi Tales will provide valuable data for this important research.

- Judy

Monday, August 25, 2008

Committee Work

Whenever I'm asked to be on another committee at work, part of me groans. More time spent sitting in meetings and not actually doing my work. I've had my fair share of committees that function productively and those that are pure time sinks.

But when I was asked to be on my company's newly formed Work/Life Balance Committee this month, I jumped for joy. I love when two big parts of my life collide like this - my job and my ESP passion.

Then I read this article that mentions another company with such a committee, and I wonder if it is a trend. What a nice trend, if so.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ESP Couple on Good Morning America!

Tomorrow morning (Wednesday), Good Morning America will air a segment on co-parenting - focusing on how Mom and Dad can mesh and mingle their often-different parenting styles in a family with two very involved parents.

Naturally, the producers felt an ESP couple would make a great example of how this might be accomplished, and we were lucky to be consulted in the hunt. They picked a fantastic example - Real Life Story parents Richard and Melissa Lucius!

So tune in tomorrow sometime between 8am and 9am EST (and later on the Good Morning America website) to see Richard and Melissa and their two daughters in action. Dr. Kyle Pruett, author of Fatherneed, Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child, will also be featured. And the host of the segment is GMA's parenting expert Annie Pleshette Murphy.

Congrats to Richard and Melissa!

P.S. The written version of this story is now available here. Thanks to comment from 'rjh'!

Friday, August 15, 2008

ESP on MojoMom

This week, Marc and I enjoyed talking with Amy Tiemann about equally shared parenting on her MojoMom podcast. Amy is the author of the book, MojoMom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family. When T was a baby, I remember really appreciating this book as one of the few I read that provided warm and hopeful discussions about motherhood. And reading it has turned me into a long-time fan and follower of her blog and podcast interviews. So it was fantastic to be invited on her most recent podcast to talk about ESP.

Amy's interest in ESP stemmed from a previous podcast with author Julie Shields. Julie is one of our all-time favorite equal parenting writers - her book, How to Avoid the Mommy Trap, is listed as one of our top resources for its practical, how-to advice on setting up an ESP relationship.

You can listen to our interview with Amy here and Julie Shields' interview here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Just a Thought

Lisa Belkin's Life's Work column last week tackled the issue of how businesses are helping employees handle the rising price of gas. In today's tanking economy (sorry, I couldn't resist), reducing gas consumption or paying for gas is one of the newest ways that companies can retain good workers.

One of the more common strategies to curb gas usage is to offer (or mandate) employees a compressed work week - typically four 10-hour days. I blogged recently about the City of Birmingham AL experimenting with such a plan, for one example. This idea has been met with anxiety by many parents who are concerned about how to make school drop-offs and pick-ups with the longer hours. And who don't like the idea of getting home so late each day that all they see of their children is how they brush their teeth. A real issue.

But what if this idea makes for an opportunity instead? Not just the perk of a routine 3-day weekend, but an opportunity for ESP. Say a two-income couple with kids is faced with compressed workweek offers. It is likely they would request to stagger their days to avoid increases in childcare (and resultant costs). So, for example, he elects to work Monday through Thursday, and she picks Tuesday through Friday. This automatically reduces their outside childcare needs to 3 days per week (and if they stagger their hours on those three days - say 7-5 and 8:30-6:30, they might not even need additional childcare hours on even those three days).

Even better, both parents now have a full day each week of solo-parenting time. Dad has a whole day to hang out with his kids, doing things his way without any supervision by mom. Pretty soon, dad is fully competent in his new weekly gig and starts to really enjoy it. Voila! Equally shared parenting is born! Pretty soon, this arrangement could lead to requests for four 8-hour days instead...just to take the edge off those long days...and then think of the possibilities for balanced lives!

I'm hoping that compressed workweek offers become more plentiful, as Lisa suggests they may. Not because they will work for everyone, but because they open up the doors for all sorts of possibilities that could. What would you do if your employer was willing to listen?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ESP Down Under

We're happy to announce the newest addition to our growing Real Life Story collection - an Aussie tale from Judy and Gerry and their 5-year old daughter, 'Possum.' Judy found ESP.com while she was doing her PhD research on work/life/family balance (or interconnectivity, as she likes to call it) at the University of Queensland. Judy and Gerry practice what she's studying and blogging about (just like us!) and consider ESP to be a key to achieving balanced lives and strongly interconnected family lives. A bit later, I hope to have Judy guest-post here on her research. For now, you can also check it out on her blog, WoLFi TaLEs.

Please welcome Judy and Gerry to the world-wide ESP family - and let's hear it for connecting ESP families across the globe!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Party Lessons

Follow-up from previous post....

Well, my inlaws came, they feasted, they laughed, and they left again. The house is quiet in comparison to the way it was just hours earlier, with the shrieks of many children running through sprinkers, playing jump rope and constructing marble runs all over our playroom. Now that our kids are in bed too, it is especially quiet - except for the sound of me bowing and scraping in front of Marc.

No one noticed a charge of guard.

There was plenty of food.

Fun was had by all.

My grand experiment to demote myself from Chief Party Director to Assistant to Party Director has been humbling. It got a little rough a few hours before as I watched Marc decide we didn't need the fruit salad he was originally planning to include. I got a little squeamish as I heard him ponder cutting up 4 stray plum tomatoes as a replacement dish to feed 30 people. I was a bit snippy as I asked him if I should perhaps be clearing the counter of stray papers to make room for the coffee pot. But when he sent me to pick up the bagels (awesome - I could make sure there were enough!), I had a little talk with myself.

"Amy," I said. "This is your equal partner and your chance to show that you mean it. And here you are fixated on outward appearances. You're going to blow it. Stop. Remember what's important here."

Despite all my fears, Marc pulled everything off at least as well as I would have done - probably better. He was fully capable, and although the party was ever so slightly different because he was at the helm, it was also more relaxing for both of us once I let go. There were even leftovers (especially bagels, of course).

What did I learn? I learned once again that trusting my equally sharing husband is a really good idea. I learned that my way is not the only way, and that a party can be excellent even if you don't shop until the night before or clean until that morning. I learned that I'm fortunate to have a partner who, because of his equal competence in the home, was able to step right up to the role I'd vacated without having to ask me how to do it. I learned that I'd rather prioritize our equality than my fear of outsider judgment.

As the family was leaving, my mother-in-law thanked me specifically for a great party and then turned to say goodbye to her son. It was only then that I mentioned that this had been Marc's show and I had been only the helper. By now, she knows us well enough to not be surprised, and so she redirected her gaze to Marc and gave him a hug.

I can now say this was an experiment well worth my anxiety. Even if Marc had failed, this would not have been a reason for me to take back control next time (or heaven forbid, right during the party). A disaster would have simply allowed us to discuss the mistakes later as a team. His failure would have been part of his learning curve rather than my 'I told you so.'

All my learning today took place before the party began. The real success wasn't that Marc turned out to be capable, but that I was able to let him take over.

I hope I can remember my lessons for next time.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bagels and Tacos

I'm trying to face a few fears today. The source of those fears is old, going back a couple of years for me. It is about how preparing for and hosting a party reflects on women far more than it does on men in our culture, and how I personally - despite all my ESP beliefs - grip tightly to this responsibility. Marc has to practically pry it from me with force. Yes, I'm the Head Party Planner - I'll admit. I generally enjoy it - and it would be acceptable for me to hold onto this job if my intentions were as noble as my own enjoyment. But they aren't. I keep control because I doubt Marc's competence and because I want things done to my standards. I toil, I direct, I stress. So not ESP!

I think the problem began with the bagels. Marc comes from a big family that lives nearby, and every month they all gather together at a different house to hang out, catch up and celebrate all the birthdays that fall during that month. We usually host this event twice a year. One year, we planned a brunch followed by inline skating at a nearby park. In preparing, I envisioned a plentiful feast - perhaps French toast, fruit salad, scones, sausage. Marc, alas, said with all sincerity, "I think we have a few bagels in the freezer already. That should be enough." AHHHHHGGH.

Then there was the year we hosted the family with a Mexican themed buffet. I took over and the feast was indeed plentiful. I even insisted Marc go to the store the night before for emergency taco shells - a few extra boxes just in case. The meal turned out plentiful alright. So plentiful, in fact, that we ate tacos for months afterward without leaving the house. Marc still recounts with glee the sheer volume of taco shells left over after the last guest departed. We may still have some. Oops.

Okay, so perhaps together we can get it right? No. I still hold on, fearing a bagel famine and subsequent embarrassment as the hostess of record.

I know this is silly, especially with such a forgiving audience as Marc's own family. So, I'm facing those fears now. This weekend is another such gathering at our house. It's another brunch, with bagels on the menu in fact. But I'm choosing a new path...I'm honest-to-God turning over the party planning to Marc. Days are ticking by - there is no to-do list in sight, no groceries have been purchased, the house is hardly party-clean.

Calm down, breathe deep. I can do it. What's the worst that can happen? These people love us, and they aren't expecting tarte tatin with homemade quince and sour cherry compote (gee, that sounds good...). They know Marc lives here too, and I know they won't really judge me if the food runs out (but why, oh why, not just buy extra in case?). I trust the house will be clean enough (probably). I know all of these things are true - truer than any of my worries. I know it is important for me to let go because I don't want social expectations to rule me. I know this is a really good experiment for me.

Wait a minute. I do know what is the worst thing that could happen! It could be that I never really let go. With gritted teeth, I nag Marc to remember this and think of that, and never give him the space to do this his way. I guarantee myself that Party Planner title for life. And miss out on the fact that I could actually relax and let it happen.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

From the Trenches

Just wanted to share a comment that Michelle posted recently at Work It, Mom!, in response to the Software Mom blog entry I mentioned last week. If you recall, Software Mom was wary of ESP because she felt it consisted of spreadsheets, time charts and intense negotiations. I hope Software Mom doesn't feel too picked on because I'm writing about her twice - no ill intentions! But this comment by Michelle is so worthy of repeating:

"The conversations that we have about parenting are not overwhelming, horribly time consuming or really all that complicated. In fact, we both greatly enjoy the level of detail we each get about the others' day with our three girls because we both want to be a part of the nitty gritty of caring for them. Our schedules (and we do use a calendar) keep us updated on what is going on in one another's lives in ways that are meaningful outside of the girls (e.g. I know he had an important quote to do yesterday and he can see that I've had quite a few client meetings this week). This helps us give each other extra room when the other needs it and just adds to the connection in our relationship. We do have our areas of expertise - he does most of the car stuff, for example, and I do most of the meal planning. Nobody "sits [the other] down" to have a long, intense discussion. We both WANT to share caring for our girls equally and we WANT to share domestic duties and we WANT to do meaningful, engaging work outside of our household responsibilities. So, it's not a burden. On the contrary, it is a great pleasure to have these conversations. And because we do them relatively effortlessly, they are actually far less frequent than the conversations we get to have about things totally unrelated to our domestic situation. I really do respect the choice not to do equally shared parenting. I would never try to convince anyone to use this approach who wasn't compelled to do it by their own interest. I can also say, though, that of the (quite a few) equally shared parenting couples I know, there are NONE who are wishing they were parenting some other way."

I could not have written this any more accurately or eloquently. I love the idea that sharing a calendar the way Michelle describes brings added closeness to her relationship. And, yes, it is the mutual wanting that makes the difference. Way to go, Michelle!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Part-Time Unicorn

A common assumption about ESP is that it requires a couple to achieve what many feel is impossible - two part-time jobs. In the same location, no less. And do we dare hope for each job to pay well enough, provide adequate health care benefits, and be rewarding to each person? This does seem like a tall order. Let's break this down a bit before getting too discouraged, however....

1. Does ESP require part-time work? No, it doesn't. ESP means that two parents work about the same amount of time, and that there is no primary vs 'less-than' career. So while it wouldn't be equal if he works 50+ hours a week and she works 20, two full-time jobs that hover around the standard 40-45 hours would certainly qualify. To get to the tender, meaty, best part of ESP, however, we want both partners to have balanced lives - not just equal job hours. If both parents work full-time, they will each have less time for the other parts of their lives than if they could reduce their work hours. This is just a mathematical truth unless someone has found a way to increase a day beyond 24 hours. So, the more you work, the more difficult it will be to balance your life if you are like most people. For some, work is largely an invigorating, inspiring and fantastic activity; people who enjoy their work so highly (and we all would love that, right?) get far more from their jobs than a paycheck, some socializing and accomplishment. I would argue that work can also be part of the recreation domain in this case, and that a demanding full-time job doesn't preclude a balanced life. And for some people who are used to working 50 hours a week, a 'drop' to 40 hours frees up a whole 10 hours a week to create this balance! Bottom line, we know many ESP couples who work full time.

2. What is part-time anyway? We also know couples who manage to thrive on two 20-hour positions. But most families require a bit more income than this level of employment would provide. Amy and I both work 32 hours a week, for example. Many companies, including both of ours, offer adequate health benefits at this level of work. And some companies (e.g., the government, or Marc's previous employer) consider 35 hours to be a standard full-time work week. So really, why are we all hung up on a small jump below the magic number of 40? We shouldn't be. The great news is that by slightly reducing your work hours, and accepting a slight pay reduction, it is far easier to feel like the rest of life can fit into your week. Even time for yourself.

3. Where are all these part-time jobs? Recent data show that many people (primarily women) want part-time work but only a small percentage of them can find it. And a common complaint is that the part-time jobs out there are scut work no one would enjoy doing for very long. There is some truth to these worries. It took me many months to find a reduced hours position that challenges me and pays enough, and where I'm considered a full contributor despite the fact that I leave early two days a week. It was not easy; in fact it was discouraging and frustrating to be denied fantastic positions I know I could have excelled at just because I wanted to invest 32 hours rather than 40 into my working life. But like the quest for a mate amid all the dating that doesn't pan out, I knew I only needed one. And eventually I found it. My feat is nothing extraordinary and I'm just a regular guy. That means you can do this too. You can ask, ask again, move on to another job or line of work if necessary, and eventually you'll hit pay dirt. And the more of you who reach for what you want, the more employers will listen if they want to attract and retain talented workers. The world considers it perfectly legitimate that employees continually job-search while on the job. It is normal to leave a job for another that pays more or represents a step up. Why don't we allow ourselves to move up to a job that makes us happier and gives us more time for what we want in life? To me, these are life's true currencies.

If you want to devote all your waking hours and your soul to your job, ESP would fit your life much the same way the desert suits a walrus. Don't bother. Just smile at us silly people who want balance and equality, and move on. But don't tell us it isn't possible. Part-time or full-time, we'll find a way just like you'll find a way to climb.

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