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, September 29, 2008

When Equal Childraising Isn't

I read an interesting column in The Irish Times last week by clinical psychologist, David Coleman. The column is Dr. Coleman's answer to a father who notices that his two preschool children currently have a strong preference to be comforted by their mother rather than their father. The father wonders - should I let this happen because it is 'natural' or should I work with my wife to make things more equal (which is what the father wants)? I should mention that this father claims that they have shared childraising rather equally over time, although he currently works more than she does. The father also says that his wife is more of a pushover in disciplining the kids, whereas he has clearer boundaries.

Dr. Coleman's answer is generally acceptable to an ESP father - don't take it personally, continue to be available to them, don't reject them because they are rejecting you, etc.

But one recommendation rings hollow for me: "If indeed [your wife] is exhausted by the way things are now, then you might want to look at other parenting responsibilities you can take on to free her up so that, for example, the night-time comforting becomes her main responsibility and you pick up slack in other areas such as cooking, cleaning, transporting and so on."

Don't do it, ESP father! It's a trap! Fix your wife's exhaustion from being the primary parent by relieving her of half the primary parenting - not housework. Don't let your kids learn that comfort comes from one of you more than the other, especially from the one who is soft on boundaries. Give them a strong message that you are equally there for them, capable of listening and handling any problem and committed to your relationship with them. If you cave in when they go through a Mommy phase in preschool, think of where you'll be when they are older and you've been relegated to cooking and cleaning instead.

ESP childraising isn't a steady diet of "you do the cooking and I'll comfort the kids." It is also more than just an equal division of childraising tasks - mental and emotional equality count too.


Blogger Nicole D. Johns said...

I totally agree. Washing the dishes or taking out the trash is not going to solve the problem the father is having. Reaching out to the children and actually taking over those comforting duties.

But we still see fathers as "helpers" rather than as primary parents. My partner and I struggle with this ourselves. We have been socialized to see mothers as the "go-to" parents. I don't know how we change this except by changing it.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chores are not parenting and it won't help in the long run. I left a follow-up comment below on your "staying in charge" post you wrote about the line you guys needed to draw re: night-time soothing for T. It inspired us to draw a similar line with our 2 y.o. H. regarding who would get her ready in the mornings (it had been demands for "Ima" all the time. It was getting old).

We had been following the standard "just ride it out" advice but nothing was changing, so we used your draw a firm line plan instead and it worked in one morning. We had to withstand, one, yes, one, 20 minute tantrum and now everyone is a lot happier in the morning around here...even H.

In the process of drawing this line, like the dad seeking advice, we noted the more "preferred" parent had slightly less firm limits. It was not a big difference at all, but H had picked up on it. Thanks for giving us the push to go against the standard advice.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I would say the first step to changing it is recognizing it, which I hope to help others do so that they can accept or reject it for themselves. Thanks for writing!

I love your comment on 'Staying in Charge' - it made my day to know we helped! And that our method worked for you too. Interesting that the parent our kids gravitate to is the one who will let them run the show. This is probably their way of telling us that they've found a place where the limits can be tested and their job is to test them.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes and no. We are an ESP family, but family life has rhythms and cycles. For a while with our son, he was more visibly/vocally attached to me, and fighting that only wore out everyone. It was interesting to see his sister come along and not replicate that pattern at all. Now that he's five, we're all glad to see him on his own appreciating and cuddling with his dad more. I feel like this might not have happened if we'd pushed 50/50 in all things at all times. And when I get home from work and get to be with the kids while their dad cooks, even though I am "nurturing" and he's in the background, it's heaven.

6:30 PM  
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