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, February 28, 2008

Rescue Mission

I was picking up M from Kindergarten the other day, with T in tow. We lingered a few minutes so that they could play on the swings and slide while I supervised them and hung out with other parents. It was at this time that T chose to launch a tantrum, the cause of which has long since been erased from any of our memories. In typical fashion, he stomped off to the edge of the playground with a pouty face and then let out a wail.

The moms around me became visibly agitated, and it was maybe 3 seconds before one of them finally couldn't stand it. "Can I try holding him?" she offered, "I really like to hold crying babies."

Well. I took the gesture as an innocent one, but I knew no mother would ever offer this if it were Amy at the playground instead. Can you imagine a mom walking past an unknown child's mother to go pick up and comfort that child (unless perhaps the child's mother was incapitated)? I think not.

I'm sure that mom was only trying to help me out of what she thought was a situation beyond my capability. So I gently responded, "No thanks. I like to hold them too, and this one definitely doesn't want to be held at the moment." I know my T - my extremely reasonable but typical 2-year old son.

In his own time, T got a hug from his very own dad.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pretend Flexibility

Time for another dispatch from the job-search. As you likely know, I'm in job-search mode after having been laid-off in a corporate outsourcing effort from my long-term IT job. And I've been looking for something rather challenging - a reduced hours (or at least flexible schedule) position that pays well enough and provides meaningful work. I'm out to prove that a man requesting flexibility is every bit as dedicated and effective on-the-job as one who wants standard hours.

Well, I found something close to my goal a few weeks ago. An IT position in a company about three miles from home, with interesting work assignments and room to grow. Everyone I met during my three rounds of interviews stressed how the company was so family-friendly and flexible. I was assured that "people come in late, leave early, and no one cares." Stuff I was surprised anyone wanted to admit to me. I was also told that there was nothing about the open position that would require such fast turnaround that it couldn't wait until the next day or so. Perfect!

After I was offered the job, I opened up the negotiations for flextime. I asked for reduced hours first (32-36/week) - the answer was "no." I then asked for flexible full-time hours - perhaps four 10-hour days or three 10-hour days and two 5-hour days. Again, I got the big "no." I must have given these people 25 options, including on-call arrangements, and they wouldn't budge an inch. Except to offer me more money.

So much for flexibility. It seems that they can brag about cutting corners but they can't legitimately allow a guy to work the schedule that would give him a balanced life and time with his kids. I don't want a job where I'm sneaking out to make daycare pickup. I want people to be able to count on me, and me on them.

This job looked great on paper, but was not what it seemed. Pretend flexibility isn't what I'm after. Onward....

Monday, February 25, 2008

No Time for Golf?

Today, Leslie Morgan Steiner's On Balance blog and the WSJ's The Juggle blog both covered a recent NY Times story about the decline of golf. Less people (that's essentially less men) are golfing these days because it takes so much time to play. The reaction to this news on 'On Balance' was elation, riding on the assumption that men are valuing time with their families over hours and hours on the golf course (sans cellphone coverage) every weekend. 'The Juggle' just questioned whether other parents report giving up or cutting back on hobbies to be with the kids.

Two thoughts come up for me around this topic. First, if men are driving (pardon the pun) this trend because they truly desire to be at home more than they want to be golfing, we've got a winner. This serves to equalize the childraising domain, and perhaps the housework domain, between moms and dads. A nice tribute to the involved father, and to the quest for ESP.

My second thought is about those who truly love golf and are sad to give it up. Maybe they work 50+ hours a week in high pressure careers, can only really see their kids on weekends, and no longer have time for a hobby. That's unfortunate. We all have only 24 hours in a day, and we can either divide up those hours in a way that makes us feel balanced or we can lead lopsided lives in which we're defined by where we spend most of our energy and time. With ESP, balance is the goal. That means making all aspects of our lives fit proportionally into those 24 hours - downscaling as needed in order to make the math work. ESP parents spend ample time with their kids every week. And because they do, they don't feel guilty heading off for a round of golf on occasion if that is what makes them happy.

With equally shared parenting, balance is achieved in two ways: balance between two parents so that each one had approximately the same amount of time for each domain (breadwinning, childraising, housework, recreation) each week, and balance of the four domains within each individual parent. Golf, at least in moderation, remains a viable option - as long as our partners get an equivalent amount of time for their own passions.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


A couple of our favorite daddy writers have been discussing the newly coined word, choreplay. This refers to a man's ability to get his partner in the mood by stepping up his involvement in housework or childcare. Kind of a cute phrase, with more than a bit of truth to it. The word was created in a Parenting magazine article and discussed here.

Some of the reasons given for the effect of choreplay are that women are less tired if their husbands/lovers are picking more slack, and that women find a man unloading the dishwasher to be sexy because he's 'fighting for her love'. Okay, I'll buy these reasons (although they maintain the assumption that housework and childcare are primarily a woman's responsibility). But I would add that choreplay mainly works because men look really sexy when they are competent at housework and childraising. If your guy is loading the dishwasher with stuff that says 'not dishwasher safe' or so awkwardly playing with the kids that he's boring them to tears, I doubt this would be very attractive.

Competence in any aspect of one's life is sexy. It works on the job, in sports and in the bedroom. It certainly works in the kitchen. This is one of the many reasons why men might want to roll up their sleeves and get busy learning how to do stuff around the house, and give up the ol' pretend-we-don't-know-how tactic to avoid the chores.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Creative Balancing

We are fond, as you might know, of reduced hours careers for both parents while the children are young. Not because this is a requirement for ESP, but because it is simply easier to balance one's life - having enough time in the alloted 24 hours per day for kids, jobs, home and recreation - if one isn't working 40+ hours a week. The world of possibility really opens up when neither partner has to work full time, and we are huge fans of this option when it can be arranged.

But ESP is absolutely possible when full-time work is the only - or preferred - choice. Even if both parents have relatively demanding jobs. Take this couple showcased in Lisa Cullen's 'Work in Progress' Time.com blog today. With two children in elementary school, this pair has finagled their work hours around the school schedule and still enjoy challenging high-profile jobs. She works 6am to 2:30pm and he works 8:15am to 5:30pm. He handles the morning routine and school dropoffs and she does pickup and has the afternoon with the kids. With any luck, everyone can be around the dinner table every night. Both parents have ample (and approximately equal) alone time with their kids, and there is plenty of opportunity for family and couple time each evening.

Both parents also work from home, which eliminates commuting time and lets them make school dropoffs and pickups without cutting into their workdays. But with a bit of additional creativity, I don't think an outside job in decent proximity to home would be a stumbling block to this arrangement.

When both of our kids are in elementary school (less than 3 short years from now), this is the type of schedule Marc and I aspire to have. I love that an arrangement like this couple's is also coveted in Time.com.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Flexible Breadwinning in a Recession

With a potential recession looming on the economic horizon, one wonders what could become of flexibility in the workplace. Will employers stop considering our requests for reduced hours, compressed workweeks or decent paternity leave? Or will they see the financial wisdom in possibly even increasing flexible work options as they seek to operate more leanly?

This FastCompany take on the topic comes down on the side of increased flexibility - a positive prediction for those of us seeking an ESP life. The business argument for recession-time flexibility includes the fact that a happy worker is an efficient and productive one, that top talent will still be in high demand even when jobs are scarce, and that reduced hours (and unpaid leaves and contract positions) are beneficial to a company's bottom-line budget.

I believe strongly in these arguments, and can personally attest to the happy, efficient worker phenomenon. Receiving the right schedule - that perfect combination of the right days and enough hours to be a fully productive and effective employee (not discernable from a standard 40-hour, 5-day employee), yet enough time for family/self/home - makes a person happy, loyal and a great guy to have on the payroll.

If FastCompany is right, the future of equal breadwinning (and balanced lives) is optimistic. Along with the mass power of Generation Y demanding work/life balance, we might have a winning combination.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Daddy/Mommy Dating

Valentine's Day must be the height of 'Daddy-Daughter Dance' season, or so this editorial from the Dallas Morning News describes. This rather odd event consists of fathers formally bonding with their female offspring in a date-like way - complete with over-the-top prom expenses for some. Most of what I've glanced at in the press about these events focuses on the 'awe, isn't that special' motif. But this particular editorial takes a different view - one that had me nodding in agreement.

Dads and daughters (or sons) don't need a special formal event to feel connected. In my opinion, a real and lasting connection is much better accomplished through everyday intimacy that doesn't cost a dime. The way this happens is by dads purposefully and regularly making time to be with their kids alone and getting to really know their kids. And by us moms stepping back to make room for this to happen.

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with a father and his daughter having a special evening out. Done right, such an event can create warm memories for both for years to come. However, I love the above-referenced editorial for pointing out that it is mom whom dad should date, not his daughter. If a man is going to spend a fortune of money or time on a night out, his partner should be first in line for the opportunity (and vice versa).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Volunteer for an ESP Housework Study!

Are you trying to equally share housework? Do you live in San Francisco, Monterey or Portland (OR)? If so, please consider participating in the following opportunity to further the ESP cause. I'll let our guest blogger, Rachel Bryant-Anderson, explain more:

Greetings, Equality Blog readers. I am a graduate student in the Sociology Department at University of California Santa Cruz, and Marc and Amy have generously agreed to let me tell you about my dissertation research project in hopes that some of you will want to participate.

I came across this Equally Shared Parenting website a few weeks ago. I've been interested in family models such as this for several years - first, on a personal level (my husband, Jacob, and I are not parents, but we've been working to create a fair and equal relationship for about seven years) and, later, on an academic level.

My graduate studies showed me that "revolution" in women's occupational roles, with women now accepted and expected in the workforce to a much greater degree than was the case in the mid twentieth century. What hasn't changed is that most women are still performing the vast majority of family work, such as household labor and childcare: men are not engaging in "women's work" inside the home to nearly the same extent that women have taken on "men's work" outside it. Of course, there are many structural, ideological, and personal reasons that serve to maintain these "traditional" arrangements. But, however compelling these reasons may seem, the general outcome is that women end up overburdened by their heavy combined load of paid work and family work, men end up deprived of the rich family connections and experiences that come from full participation in family work, and women and men feel their worlds becoming increasingly separate from their spouse's (her world is based in home and family, while his is based in a career outside the home).

But while sociologists and others have published a tremendous amount of work documenting this "problem," we have relatively little information on couples who have reorganized family roles and responsibilities in fair and equal ways. This is where my own research comes in: I am interested in learning from/about couples who are trying to create an equal/fair division of family work within their own homes.

I suspect that many of you readers of Marc and Amy's Equality Blog are just the kind of people I'm hoping will participate in my study: heterosexual couples (married or not, but living together) who have been in a committed relationship for at least three years and who are trying to equally share your family work (including housework and, if you have children, childcare). Because I would like to interview folks in person, right now I am limiting my study to the places near where I reside or frequently visit - the San Francisco Bay, Monterey Peninsula, and Portland, Oregon areas. Participation in this research will involve both partners being interviewed and keeping a month-long daily log pertaining to household labor.

If you think that you and your partner meet these criteria, I invite you to participate in my study. I also welcome you to pass on information about this project to anyone else you know who you think might qualify for participation. I am excited to begin this research, and I think that those of you who share your experiences with me will be greatly helping academics, as well as other couples, understand how equal/fair divisions of family work develop.

Please contact me at rbryanta@ucsc.edu to request further information or to volunteer to participate.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What a New Dad Wants

Paul Nyhan from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's 'Working Dad' blog penned an interesting article on the topic of fathers' support groups recently. He describes the comparative lack of training on how to be a father and lack of gatherings for new fathers with the volumes of books, classes and support groups available to new mothers. Why is this? Nyhan answers his own query by saying that perhaps us guys don't seek out this type of training and coordinated bonding - in other words, "maybe we don't need no stinkin' daddy groups."

I have to agree. I like to hang out with other dads, absolutely, but I would generally consider it a chore to show up at a class with them every week. Back when M was a baby, Amy and I did take a New Parents Class and met some other clueless peers - one couple of which are close friends today. But I can't imagine signing up for something like this if Amy hadn't suggested it.

Is this because Amy's in charge and I'm along for the ride? I beg to differ. I just don't do the class thing, but if you ask me how I learned to clean up projectile vomit or handle a ripe diaper without a spare at the park, I can assure you it isn't because Amy instructed me.

Nyhan has another great quote in his 'Working Father' blog that references his article on support for new fathers. This from Jason Avant, author of the blog Dadcentric: "My mantra when we had our first kid was 'I am not an idiot.' As in, 'Jason, remember, when the baby has a poopie diaper, he needs to be changed!' 'Thanks, honey, I am not an idiot.' We don't actually need a lot of 'help.' What we do need is encouragement and support." Spot on, Jason. Thank you.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Is the Payoff Worth It?

My fellow ESP friend Lisa sent me this classic Mom's Rule email chain letter today because she knew I would get a laugh out of it (thanks, Lisa!). You've probably seen it before, and I've blogged about its ilk in the past. Here it is, in all its glory:

Mom and Dad were watching TV when Mom said, "I'm tired, and it's getting late. I think I'll go to bed." She went to the kitchen to make sandwiches for the next day's lunches. Rinsed out the popcorn bowls, took meat out of the freezer for supper the following evening, checked the cereal box levels, filled the sugar container, put spoons and bowls on the table and started the coffee pot for brewing the next morning. She then put some wet clothes in the dryer, put a load of clothes into the washer, ironed a shirt and secured a loose button. She picked up the game pieces left on the table, put the phone back on the charger and put the telephone book into the drawer. She watered the plants, emptied a wastebasket and hung up a towel to dry. She yawned and stretched and headed for the bedroom. She stopped by the desk and wrote a note to the teacher, counted out some cash for the field trip, and pulled a text book out from hiding under the chair. She signed a birthday card for a friend, addressed and stamped the envelope and wrote a quick note for the grocery store. She put both near her purse. Mom then washed her face with 3 in 1 cleanser, put on her Night solution & age fighting moisturizer, brushed and flossed her teeth and filed her nails. Dad called out, "I thought you were going to bed." "I'm on my way," she said. She put some water into the dog'' dish and put the cat outside, then made sure the doors were locked and the patio light was on. She looked in on each of the kids and turned out their bedside lamps and TVs, hung up a shirt, threw some dirty socks into the hamper, and had a brief conversation with the one up still doing homework. In her own room, she set the alarm; laid out clothing for the next day, straightened up the shoe rack. She added three things to her 6 most important things to do list. She said her prayers, and visualized the accomplishment of her goals. About that time, Dad turned off the TV and announced to no one in particular. "I'm going to bed." And he did...without another thought. Anything extraordinary here? Wonder why women live longer...? CAUSE WE ARE MADE FOR THE LONG HAUL..... (and we can't die sooner, we still have things to do!!!!).

Phew! Martyrdom at its finest - with all of its shallow perks. By doing all of the housework and household remembering, we gain admittance to a club of martyred, burdened mothers. We get control over how everything is done in the house. We get sympathy without a solution. But we don't get to complain. No - we earned our misery. We're no victims.

With equally shared parenting, we give up the payoff and we recognize that it isn't all that special anyway. We stop acting superior under our heavy burdens and decide to share the burdens instead. We let go of controlling everything and, together with our perfectly capable husbands, we create a team approach to all these little chores so that both of us can get to bed, get everything done, and die without someone else's responsibilities on our to-do list.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cupcakes at the Bake Sale

Today being Super Tuesday, elementary schools across our state were holding bake sales during the primary voting hours. And ours was no exception. A notice went out to all parents to request baked goods.

Finding myself at home this morning with a 2 1/2 year old who was pulling out the cupcake tins from the cupboard and suggesting we put them to use, I decided to oblige. T and I prepared and frosted a batch of cupcakes and then drove them over the M's school to donate to the bake sale (after consuming one each, of course). I put them in a handy device Amy had bought recently - a doubledecker holder that I had dismissed as frivolous but that came in quite handy when juggling a toddler and 24 frosted cupcakes in the rain.

As I set down our offering at the bake sale, the mothers running the table rushed to help me. One saw the cupcake holder and gushed, "Oh, just what every mom needs." I smiled and replied, "How about every family?" Okay, so Amy bought it, but I was the first to actually use it. The mom agreed, "Yes, dads too." And that is how we'll change the paradigm - one person at a time, without a big fuss.

Monday, February 04, 2008

We Attract How We Act

I watched a taped segment from The Oprah Show the other day that has me fuming. Now generally I enjoy Oprah, and highly admire her as an example of how absolute power needn't corrupt absolutely. But she had matchmaker Patti Novak on her show earlier this week, and some of the advice dispensed by this 'expert' was truly horrible.

Ms. Novak apparently hosts her own show on cable somewhere, on which she helps hapless women discover why they can't seem to find Mr. Right after years of trying. The impression she gave on Oprah's show is that she teaches these women to discover why they are attracting inappropriate men. I agree with this approach, in general - self-analysis and self-work to become ready for a genuine healthy relationship. But her advice also included:

  • Expect the man to pay for the date, and allow him to orchestrate the whole event.
  • Act as if we 'need' him for our daily functions, something that she calls the Pickle Jar Principle. In other words, hand him a jar to open and ask for his help because we want him to believe he is needed.

She spent most of her show segment bashing men as evolutionarily inferior to women. So her message became "Girls, men are stupid but we have to make them feel as if we're the ones who are stupid if we really want such pathetic creatures in our lives." Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

Ms. Novak kept saying that her principles allowed women to be their true selves. But how is pretending incompetence going to allow us to be real? And how is starting a relationship with paternalistic views going to lead to equality? I think we need to simply be real - not feign incompetence nor ooze superiority. I don't believe in fighting about who is picking up the dinner tab, but I also think that we need to stop expecting men to do this just because they are men.

Pepper Schwarz, reknowned sociologist who studies equally sharing marriages, says that to attract an equal partner we should date peers and act as equals from the start. A man who wants an equal partner doesn't find it important to rescue women from stuck pickle jars. His satisfaction doesn't come from the surface-level appreciation he might get by paying for dinner or doing heavy lifting; it comes from mutual respect and from a partner who knows and deeply appreciates him - period.

I agree with Ms. Novak that we need to pay attention to whom we are attracting, but I disagree wholeheartedly with the falsehoods she recommends. Men are neither superior nor inferior to women, and if we act and believe this we can attract an equal partner.

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