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, October 31, 2008

Heaven Forbid, They Want It All

There's a rather negative article in the Wall Street Journal from last week that describes the entitlement of the Millennial Generation (Generation Y) at work. Raised by Boomer parents who coddled them and fed their egos, these young people are a menace in the workplace - or so it seems.

They want:
- great jobs now, without paying their dues
- access to upper management so that they can share their ideas and directly participate in improving the company
- frequent (but gentle) feedback on their performance
- precise descriptions of their job responsibilities
- high pay (because they deserve it)
- flexible work and lots of time with their family (even in high level positions)
- lots of vacation time

As one young blogger is quoted, "[Managers] are finding that they have to adjust work around our lives instead of us adjusting our lives around work."

Now, it may be true that wanting it all without first proving your worth (especially if you then don't live up to your stated worth) may be an annoying trait in any employee. But the rest of this stuff is pretty darn fantastic. It sets the stage for equally shared parenting - challenging jobs at good pay with flexible hours that allow time for family. And fits with the mindset of ESP breadwinning - rewarding work that truly makes a difference.

Who says we all don't deserve that? Millennials may shock the culture by assuming they'll get all they want, but they may also prove that what they want is indeed possible in situations we thought could never provide such niceties. This generation has power - they're bright, hard-working and in demand as Boomers retire. If employers listen to them with open minds, we might all benefit.

Regardless of what generation any of us is assigned, it is always a good idea to work hard and contribute at a high level. This new generation may be teaching us that you don't have to sacrifice your life to be good at what you do. Fitting your job to your life sounds like a recipe for happiness to me. Happiness for the employee - and for the employer who is lucky enough to hire the cream of the crop.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time for Fun

Today The Juggle tackles the tricky topic of finding time for rejuvenation, downtime or non-material goals. It was interesting to read some of the comments ranging from, "I don't think there is time or energy for charity or hobbies" to "just writing this makes me realize how much more complete I am now that I am not all about my career. I simply have a job (and a life!) now." Lots of people commented on wanting to exercise more as well.

The Juggle discussion does a decent job at highlighting some interesting ideas worthy of recreation time. However, it doesn't touch on the role of your partner in this endeavor. If time for self is going to be equally shared between a couple a few ground rules are encouraged.
  1. What's the value? - Decide together what you will both be willing to work for.
  2. What do you want to do? - Create a short list of the activities you would most like to pursue.
  3. How can I help? - Instead of demanding more time for fun, suggest ways you could free up time for your partner to enjoy his/her life.
  4. Lose the guilt! - Your kids will love to see you happy and rejuvenated.

I'm confident that two willing partners are more likely to have success creating a balanced life together than either one is capable of creating alone.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Equally Shared Parenting - The Book!

Our aim with ESP.com has always been to bring the possibility of balanced lives and gender equality to all parents. Especially those who might be interested in creating it for themselves. To this end, we've been working to outline the benefits, challenges and practical decisions of this family model throughout this website.

Now we have a second way to work toward this goal. We are proud to announce that we will be writing a book on equally shared parenting over the next year, to be published by Perigee/Penguin Books in 2010. Our plan is share all that we've learned - from the many couples we've met who inspire us (that's you), from our own successes and mistakes, and from experts in gender-equality - so that we end up with something truly useful to a would-be ESP parent.

We are excited at the possibility of expanding the message of ESP through a book. But we can't do it without you. Now is the time to write to either of us if you'd be interested in helping us make this book the best possible - through your ESP stories and thoughts. If you're an ESP parent, or someone who has given equal sharing a lot of thought even if you aren't currently doing it, we would love to hear from you! Drop us a line in the comments or, better yet, by writing to either of us at info@equallysharedparenting.com.

To start, if you had one thing you'd like to tell the world about ESP, what would it be?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Throwing Balance Out With the Recession

Sue Shellenbarger's column today in the Wall Street Journal discusses a disturbing but understandable trend. She describes the nation's financial crisis as a reason why many couples are abandoning their hopes for balanced lives. Scaled back work hours and adequate family time are becoming more difficult to justify or hack. Does the recession mean an end to ESP?

Hardly. While some families are undoubtedly struggling with money (who isn't, these days?), there are other options to survive besides working yourself out of a happy life. Logically, there's the notion that two full-time, full-bore jobs usually require full-time+ outside childcare - at a hefty price (emotionally and financially). Especially if you've got pre-school aged children, two slightly scaled back jobs can net a huge reduction in childcare costs and give both parents lives with breathing room to boot. Spiritually, there's the idea that money isn't the goal anyway. We need enough - that's all. But unless you are truly, truly impoverished, it is hard to really decide what is enough.

This financial mess is going to affect all of us. Some of our worries are currently on paper only. Others, like lost paychecks due to layoffs or lost benefits due to employer belt tightening, are front and center. But I have a secret hope. It may be horribly naive, but I'm hoping that a bit of genuine good comes of this period in history.

I'd love to see a reawakening of priorities. A return to the simple life, where families no longer need all the things that marketers say make up the American Dream. I'd love to see us proudly put our money where it can do the most good - to buy us time to be together.

What's that saying about the baby and the bathwater? We need ESP more than ever.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Honey-Do-List

When I find myself talking about ESP in a social gathering, I often hear women share their strategies for getting the men in their lives to do a decent amount of housework. Simply stated, they say "I just tell him what needs to be done because he would never notice on his own."

Are there really any human beings who volunteer to do chores that they know someone else will either do or ask them to do later anyway? Tradition says that women own the running of the house and men take direction from them. I would suggest that men will only take charge of tasks when women stop doing the managing.

Everyone needs reminding sometimes, of course, but men are as capable as women when it comes to running a household on their own. Think about single men without partners - do all of them rely on someone else (their parents, their friends) to remind them things need to be done? Doesn't a man remember to do his own laundry, pick up dry-cleaning, get his hair cut or call his mother on her birthday before he decides to marry? I won't deny that the vast majority of the remembering and assigning is done by women, but I think this is a cultural thing rather than an in inborn male deficiency. Understanding and addressing this subtle inequality is really at the essence of equally shared parenting.

Men may have their own style of remembering that is counterintuitive to a woman's way. Not to generalize, but maybe men handle responsibilities more on the fly than with extensive planning and checklists. Or maybe they prioritize things differently, often foregoing some duties that actually don't even need doing at all (but women would deem crucial).

People need to be given the space and freedom to do things their own way. After a couple decides together that a specific task needs to be done, and then together assigns that task to the man, it is best for the woman to get out of the way - no reminding, no nagging, no checking up, no wringing of hands. If the man senses that the woman is still subconsciously holding onto the task, he doesn't need to fully accept ownership. If he senses that his partner has moved on to other things and trusts him to do what he agreed was his to do, he can truly own the task.

The 'honey-do' list is an example of quasi-equality that really leaves the woman in charge. If both partners gave each other 'honey do' lists, I suppose this would be a different story, but how often do you hear of a man presenting his wife with a list of things to accomplish? With the classic 'honey-do' list, the woman is directing the man; this is not a true partnership. I agree that the list helps to outline the tasks that lie ahead, and that it can be useful if a man requests such a list, and that it can even be the beginning of equalizing household tasks in a home where the man really isn't pulling his weight at all. But for couples who want to move beyond surface equalizing to true equality, the 'honey-do' list has got to go.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Early Retirement

I was once talking to a colleague at work about my lifestyle - working reduced hours and having plenty of time for kids, home projects and bicycling or tennis - and he responded with something very interesting. "Sounds like you're already retired," he said, wistfully. I mulled this over for awhile after he said it, and the more I thought about it, the better it fit me. Yes, I'm not saving my retirement years for someday - I'm enjoying them now!

Granted, working 27-32 hours a week over these past 6 years isn't quite retirement as we all think of it. But the sentiment is genuine. I enjoy working just like I fantasize that many retired professionals enjoy staying in the game. Like Amy's mother's 87-year-old companion who still goes into his biochemistry laboratory every day.

But I've got nothing on the couple showcased in our latest Real Life Story. Pete and Simi, both 34 years old, have masterminded their ideal life together as an ESP couple - a life that is centered around time with their 2 1/2 year old son and with each other. You'll be amazed by their story because it is such a crystal-clear example of how to prioritize what you want from life.

Please join me in welcoming Pete and Simi to our Real Life Stories page, and I hope their story will inspire you to reach for your dreams as well.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Aren't We Forgetting Something?

We hear all the time about how so many moms are stressed to the point of breaking. Trying to juggle too much, be too many things to too many people, be perfect mothers. And because they can't do it all, they yell, forget important things, make horrible mistakes and cry a lot. Now, I know that most of us with partners actually do remember that they are capable of taking on some of the things we're doing. But somehow that rarely gets mentioned.

Take a recent Dr. Phil show where super-stressed moms were advised to fix their problems by breathing deeply, reciting mantras, smelling flowers and listening to music. All lovely, really, but what about partnering with their husbands to share the load too?

Over on The Oprah Show last week, moms were lamenting how they have harmed (or nearly harmed) their own children because they had too much on their plates to notice the kids were in danger. But at least here, the conversation did turn to dads: "We are all trying to do this on our own," said Oprah's mom guest. And her expert balance guru responded with words that made me cheer: "The husbands should be sharing all these burdens exactly equally." The gist of the conversation wasn't quite what I'd want for ESP - it focused on moms asking their husbands for 'help' but presumably still being in control - but at least men were included in the solution.

I'd love to see a show where women and men figure out the joys of equally sharing before anyone snaps from stress. ESP works best when it is implemented proactively, by two people who are fully motivated to share everything. It is far more than a rescue mission that bails out a miserable mom; even the most selfless man may not eagerly sign up for that!

So, happy breathing, chanting, sniffing and listening. But happy letting go so that you and your partner can equally share the load too.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Father Politics

You know that moment during the VP debate when Joe Biden choked up? The one when he talked about his first wife and daughter who were killed in the car accident? I loved that moment. He could have milked the tragedy to hammer home his point, but he let us understand it with subtlety and poise instead.

He told us what we all know, but what gets drowned out in our moms-rule culture: fathers are every bit as capable of feeling what mothers feel. Women don't have the chokehold on caring about children. Motherhood is no more important... (let me repeat, Biden-style - No. More. Important.) than fatherhood.

This editorial in The Huffington Post says it a bit more eloquently: "By bringing that reality to a national political stage, Biden demonstrated that -- for all of us, not just feminists -- the personal is political, that women alone do not have the sole responsibility for caring about the future of our children and that the concern of fathers is a largely untapped pool of political energy."

The article ends with an even more striking truth: "Political equality for women will not come from the minimization or idealization of motherhood -- but rather from recognizing fatherhood as a significant factor in our culture and politics."

It is time to recognize fathers as activists and changemakers for our children, and as the other half of women's movements designed to take on issues like equal pay, high quality education, affordable childcare, and parental leave rights. I wonder what might happen if we took the focus off the trials and sanctity of motherhood and let the fathers step up to join in.

Let's pool our power and make things happen!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Motherlode

As a spin-off of her big ESP story in the New York Times Magazine, we are happy to announce that Lisa Belkin is continuing her blog (originally titled 'Equal Parenting' and specifically addressing ESP concerns) as a new permanent NY Times blog called The Motherlode.

We're not thrilled with the title, since it ignores The Other Parent. But Lisa recognizes this and addresses it in her first blog post today. We look forward to reading and contributing to 'The Motherlode' and hope you'll check it out too.

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