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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

(Not) Equally Sharing the Holiday Cards

Sometimes, it's good to share with you when we don't do so well with ESP, right? Our Christmas cards fit this category. We always start out in good spirits, with a discussion about whether we want to send any this year. Yes, we did. Then, we move on to picking them out - usually photocards of the kids. Picture selected, cards ordered (we even did this step together this year, sitting side-by-side at the computer). Then, the little box arrives and the hard part begins.

I buy stamps because, well, I happen to find myself at the post office. I make a list of names because I'm a list person. Then, at least this year, we assign Marc to take it from there while I handle other holiday prep tasks. Then, I wait. Nothing happens - no labels, no writing, no licking and sticking. Nothing except T finding the box and spewing the cards all over the kitchen floor.

I grow restless. I do something I tell all of you not to do - I complain that he isn't doing the cards. He looks innocently at me and says, "But I thought we had enough to do this year, so we had decided to skip doing them." Hmmm.... This doesn't compute in my brain. I clarify, he mutters something I'm not sure means he'll do anything, and I wait a bit more. Then, in a flurry, I print the labels, paste everything on, stuff the cards and write little notes on the ones I feel need little notes, and mail them. Well, I mail most of them, and then Marc volunteers to drop the rest in the mailbox on his way to work the next day - and he forgets - so I mail the rest the following day after glaring at him.

There. Don't I feel good.

No, not really. Even though the task can now be neatly checked off, I did it all - which would be fine except our plan was for Marc to do this chore himself. Why did I take over? Why did Marc stall, forget, abandon the project? He's no slacker; he's been working hard at all sorts of other things. But somehow, this project still reeked of my control. And somehow, Marc didn't own this task - even to the point of remembering to put a batch of completed cards in the mail. I know what Marc would say; he would point out that I sapped the fun out of the whole thing, and made it clear that I was supervising him - two reasons he couldn't get all that excited about doing his part. He would be right.

Unlike most of my stories, I don't have a punch line. ESP isn't perfectly executed everyday. Tomorrow is another day, and next year is another year we'll face the Christmas card dilemma.

Perhaps I will do so with more grace.

And if you happen to get a card from us this year...please know that we picked them out together with the best of intentions and love. Really.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey guys. It really looks like you are portraying this situation as being primarily Amy's fault, and I don't think that's fair. She didn't "make" Mark not do the job he had agreed to take on. Mark was the one who made the decision to procrastinate. Mark was also the one who decided to respond to Amy's behavior (not saying anything or interfering for an extended period of time, then asking about it, then eventually doing the cards) by not mailing them. Mark could have chosen to be proactive at any point during this process - he could have gotten the cards done sooner, he could have asked Amy to butt out and let him do the cards on his own schedule, and he could have remembered to mail the cards. Amy is not responsible for Mark's behavior.

9:27 AM  
Blogger allison sara said...

Thanks for sharing this story. It's helpful to hear you reflect on where you get frustrated, since as you pointed out, it happens to all of us. It's also nice to be reminded that you have a larger commitment to sharing parenting equally with your spouse. Even if your commitment isn't perfectly executed every day, it's still there.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was there a deadline agreed to when Mark agreed to take on the task of sending the cards? My wife and I find a lot of our issues like this occur when we don't explicity agree on when a taks will be done. Obviously Amy had an expectation that Mark would send the cards by a certain time, and Mark didn't.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Amanda Shankle-Knowlton said...

It's hard to ESP when one partner cares about something more than the other partner does. It sounds like Mark didn't care if the job got done or not, and Amy thought it was important to do. That gives Mark all the power.

I see it mentioned that to ESP, one person can't think of themselves as the CEO of certain tasks like buying gifts for a child's teachers. But if one person in the relationship doesn't care at all if the teacher gets a present or not, then the other person gets stuck with it. You can delegate it out to the other person, but chances are, it will be forgotten about and you'll have to step in and act as CEO. Like it or not, the person who cares whether a job gets done "owns" the task. Same thing with all housework - if partner A can go weeks before caring that there are dishes all over the house and partner B wants their space to be neat and roach free, then partner B is stuck with cleaning things up themselves or nagging the other partner to do it. ESP assumes that both partners have equal expectations of all or most tasks, which in my marriage, that is hardly ever true.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Ceka, Allison Sara, Dennis and Amanda,

Thanks for your thoughts. I've been pondering how this unfortunate situation occurred for us, even though it is one tiny issue in the grander scheme of happy ESP. And your comments got me thinking even more. So much so that Marc and I dissected the whole thing tonight again to see if we could understand it better.

Ceka, since I was the one writing this post, I focused on my part in the problem. It may seem like I'm taking the blame, but I'm just speaking for myself. Marc is not innocent, but neither am I. And it doesn't matter much who is right and who is wrong; we're much more interested in why we acted the way we did and how we could avoid this in the future. But thanks for defending me anyway! :-)

Allison Sara,
Thanks. I agree completely - so does Marc.

Yes - you hit on something very important. We did not, in fact, set a deadline for sending the cards. A key mistake in our initial discussion that involved what card, what picture, which addressees, who will send them.

Your post made me think the most, because I fervently don't want this to be the answer. Marc didn't care as much as me about sending the cards - true. But we had decided together that they would be sent, and he could have easily objected at that point. So, he should have been able to follow through. The same should go for housework standards (how often the dishes get done, how clean the house should be kept) and buying teacher gifts (a fantastic example of something that reflects women-only in our society!). Stepping back from our emotions in the card-sending example, Marc and I can now see why it happened. He expected it could be done up until Christmas Day; I thought the cards needed to reach all recipients by the first day of Hanukkah (but neither of us verbalized these thoughts). He expected that doing the cards could be scrapped if we found ourselves too stressed by other tasks; I didn't have this view at all (again, neither of us verbalized these thoughts). We have a few other thoughts that are just germinating too, but will be the topic of a near-future blog post...stay tuned!

Thanks to all of you for helping us get closer to the truth of non-equal card-writing!

10:04 PM  
Blogger Michelle Barry Franco said...

This is such an interesting situation because, in your description, it sounds like it is inherently ESP to share holiday cards, where in our ESP arrangement there are many tasks that each of us own separately. I am such a firm believer in contributing from your strengths (and preferences), where possible, and Jim and I have really different strengths and preferences. We happen to share holiday cards very equally (he does his family and friends and I do mine - and we share the others), but there are many things we don't share. Jim does virtually all of the car maintenance and I do virtually all of the family website updating and photo management. Jim goes to more kid b'day parties and I do more kid play dates. We decide who does what based on our preference and strengths, but we are always committed to the overall sharing in each domain: childrearing, breadwinning, household chores, recreation. The point for us is not to share every task, it's to share the category equally. So, issues like this one rarely come up.
That said, if both of us agree to something and one of us doesn't do our part, it's a struggle. The person let down will be upset. But the takeaway for me would be, Should we have shared this in the first place? Was he really "in". And maybe, actually, as life's complications felt more overwhelming the original "buy in" lost to a new story of "does this really matter." In which case, a new conversation is useful. But who does all this perfectly? We certainly don't. I do so appreciate the way you look over your responsibility, Amy, and see what you might do differently next time. Isn't that all we can do? It's a nice follow up strategy.
Thanks, as always, for sharing your experiences. They always inspire Jim and I to discuss our own.
Happy Holidays to you and your family.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Amanda and Michelle that essentially, the holiday cards don't appear to be as important to Marc as they are to Amy. It also seems that one of the main tenets of ESP--open communication--wasn't followed, leading to resentment. Isn't that often what happens in a relationship? Just because you're practicing ESP (equally shared parenting) doesn't mean the partners have ESP (I crack myself up!).

I also wanted to draw your attentioin to another article on this topic from yesterday's Boston Globe Magazine: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2008/12/21/mr_do_it_all/

The problem here seems to follow more of the theory that "mom can do it better"...so it's a control thing.

So I'm wondering if it's the sharing part that was the problem or the task itself. Is this an issue ripe with emotion? Are holiday cards so important because this is your one chance to show people how great things are? In the age of facebook, flip videos and email we are always connecting with our friends near and far so maybe this shouldn't even be an issue. The bigger issue is the communication.

But, take this with a grain of salt, as my husband and I do not practice ESP. I did all the holiday cards this year. They didn't come out great, but they were out on time and with no resentment on anyone's part.


8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy, my wife and I have the same problem of often not verbalizing our thoughts. It's amazing how many problems that causes. :)

4:03 PM  
Blogger Dorea said...

In our house we just both decide that no one will do holiday cards. Perfect ESP!

I know that's not your point, and that really you're trying to see what you can learn from this situation, but I have noticed you and Marc do tend to do lots of things we would consider "extras"-- and this is one of them.

However, we are finally making H's baby book!

She's 2 1/2.

4:37 PM  

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