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, March 31, 2008

Commercial Free Childhood

This is off-topic, but worthy. One of my personal missions is to shield our kids from commercialism without being a nut about it. It started with avoiding logo clothing so they don't become walking billboards for Disney or The Gap, not patronizing Big Fast Food so they won't grow to associate a happy childhood with a Happy Meal, and avoiding commercial character playthings. Now, I notice advertising to our children everywhere!

And so I'm taking two days this Friday and Saturday (with opening reception Thursday evening) to attend the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's 6th summit conference in Boston. I can't ever remember attending a conference that didn't give me continuing education credits for my career, but it feels good to be going to this one as a first.

If any of you would care to join me - if you just happen to share this passion in addition to one about equality and balance - drop me an email and I'd love to meet up with you!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Breaking into the Sanctum

This Washington Post article says our country may be headed for a matriarchy, as more young women reach higher educational levels and earning power than their male peers. What will happen when/if this occurs? Will women be content to juggle a higher-earning job and the bulk of the housework and childraising, while their husbands play second fiddle in all three areas? This seems really, really unfair to me - both for women and men.

Enter ESP as a valid solution to this unfairness. But in order to get to equality, fathers will have to step up their share of housework and solo parenting time. The Washington Post says this isn't all that needs to happen though; mothers will have to step back too. And that cultural shift isn't a given - far from it. I agree with the WaPo - this change is a two-gender project and either gender can put the breaks on the whole evolution if so inclined.

As the article says, women will have to change their collective attitudes about men as parents. They will have to stop assuming that their way of parenting is 'right' and judging a man by how he measures up to their standard. If he is to be consider an equal, a man gets to create his own way of parenting, and go toe to toe against his partner's way to come up with the greater good.

But he has to earn it all too. No more feigned incompetence. No more "but you do it so much better, oh wonderful wife." No more pushing the responsibilities of remembering, deciding and doing onto our partners.

Motherhood is a social sanctum. It will take a big commitment to break in and claim our equal share of parenting. That commitment, I'd like to think, will come from a place of desire in a man's heart - when he realizes how great life can be as an ESP father - rather than from a grudging acquiescence to his wife's new power base. I'm hoping for a joint effort here - moms recognizing the depth to which they'll have to let go, dads digging in and getting competent in their own way, and both partners enjoying the intimacy and balance that equality brings.

p.s. Hat tip to Rebeldad for pointing us to this article, although his take is a bit different than mine.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fowl Play

So one day I came home from work and Marc had roasted a chicken for dinner (it was his night to cook). Yum. He followed a recipe he found online (we love Epicurious) and added some honeyed carrots and a bit of pasta on the side. We all gathered to eat. Only there was one problem - he had adventurously bought a fowl instead of a chicken. It was really cheap, and he figured what could go wrong? It was a mass of rubber.

This is about where we moms might be tempted to burst out laughing and ridicule our husbands for their pathetic cooking knowledge. Or, if we don't have a sense of humor, call them morons (like this Work It Dad story here about - oh the horror - boiling too much pasta; I'm starting to worry about author Avi Spivack). But ESP moms don't get to choose either of these options, unless of course we prefer to be treated this way ourselves when we don't quite do something perfectly.

Belittling our partners when they do housework or childraising tasks imperfectly tends to accomplish two things - it cements the sting in their minds for a long time, and it makes them that much less likely to reach for housework/childraising equality the next time they don't know exactly how things should be done. No one is born with the knowledge of how to boil the right amount of pasta or how a fowl tastes when eaten straight. Men are not to blame if they make mistakes; they are only to blame if they hide behind their 'incompetence' to avoid learning.

So, instead, I bit my tongue and we laughed together about the horrid tasting fowl. And Marc (and I) learned the lesson to avoid roasting one in the future without being put down for trying. When life hands you rubber chicken, make chicken soup!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Hard Road to Equality by Politics

"It is not possession of a womb that now holds women back, but its use." That's a line from a brilliant article published yesterday in the British magazine New Statesman. As journalist Richard Reeves explains, Britain has discovered what is likely true here in the US as well: the pay gap between men and women is virtually gone, until they become parents. The pay gap between mothers and fathers (or mothers and childless women) is still stubbornly large. Writes Reeves, "It is motherhood, rather than misogyny, that explains the pay gap."

Women earn less after they become mothers for obvious reasons, primarily their desire to work part-time so that they can be home with their children. Part-time work means lower hourly wages and lower status jobs. One in three female corporate managers in Britain lose their job status after having children, mostly because they reduce their hours and are downgraded to non-managerial positions.

But, as Reeves asks, "Is it bad news that women want to spend time with their children?" He answers his own question: "No - the overwhelming majority say they positively chose part-time work, and their job satisfaction is higher than that of mothers working full-time."

What to do about the economic problem that this job satisfaction creates? He rejects a pure economic solution, saying (I love this line), "Once we start putting a price tag on equality, we have lost sight of its value." The solution he prefers comes down to enhancing choice for both men and women, by addressing the facts that women still see childraising as their role in life and few men having the option to share childcare responsibilities. Reeves suggests that we must offer families "the maximum range of options from which to construct their version of a good life."

Specifically, he points to Britain's policy of 6 months paid maternity leave and 2 weeks paternity leave (pay negotiable). A policy like this is a set up for inequality, cementing the mother as the primary parent and saddling her with 100% of the couple's career hit when she returns (unless she returns full-time - a solution that typically means outsourcing a huge chunk of childcare). Instead, Reeves supports a British proposal to allow couples to share a set amount of paid parental leave between both parents. Yes, traditional couples will likely give most of this to the mother. But couples who want to achieve a more equal arrangement (even ESP!) would then have a fighting chance at doing so. Or, as Reeves so eloquently puts it, "It is high time the government stopped deciding for us which parent should raise our children."

Bottom line, Britain has much better work/family laws that we enjoy here in the US - ample paid maternity leave and the right of workers to request any type of flexible work schedule. But buyer beware - if we ever get paid maternity leave here, I highly suggest we go for shared paid parental leave instead (at least beyond the first few weeks for breastfeeding and medical birth recovery).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

ESP Canadian Style

Data were reported yesterday from Statistics Canada that point to a build toward ESP in homes north of our fair nation. Comparing 2006 to 1997, Canadian mothers are working more hours per week (average of about 33-34) and the number of Canadian men (not necessarily fathers) working more than 49 hours a week has dropped from 16.7% to 13.8%. In other words, women's work hours have increased and men's have decreased - on average.

The analysis of these data says that a significant factor in this change is men playing a more active role in housework and childraising - men and women becoming closer to equals at home. Another is couples' desire for a better balance between work and family life. That's our recipe for ESP, by the way...recognize it? Balance + Equality.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Laudable Goal

My company just announced a new Chairman for the Board of Trustees. The new Chairman then outlined his three-point plan for the Board, and Goal #1 was:

"To join with the CEO in prioritizing and communicating decisions and outcomes related to improving front-line job-doability and work-life balance."

Wow - work-life balance makes it into his top priorities! Do I work for a great company or what?! Truthfully, this makes a lot of sense from a business perspective. Allowing good and talented employees to manage their time empowers them not only to have balanced lives but to give back to their companies in spades. Happy employees also reduce turnover, which is extremely expensive for most businesses.

I'm very glad to be a part of a company that lists balanced lives for employees among its top goals. With my reduced-hours position, I've enjoyed such for about 6 years now - and this makes me feel valued for more than just the widgets I produce.

Friday, March 14, 2008

You Go First

Time for an ESP reader tip! This one comes from our Real Life Story writers, Gail and Lyn, who shared it with us when we first met them - and illustrates how they navigate the world of traditional expectations as an ESP couple.

Gail and Lyn are lesbian parents of a young daughter. In typical fashion, it is Gail (biological mother) who is asked about their baby when the family is at social gatherings - how she's eating, sleeping, acting these days - while Lyn is somewhat ignored. When this happens, Gail makes it a habit to look at Lyn and respond with, "You go first." Lyn is then able to reply to the inquirer with up-to-the-minute details of their daughter's development and activities.

Gail's sweet yet meaningful gesture reminds strangers that she and Lyn are equal parents. Give it a try next time someone looks only to Mom for the answers to childraising questions!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is 'Helper' All We Can Be?

What if you had a job that piled on the work but gave you no authority? Every day, you'd show up and do what someone else expected of you. Every little step orchestrated by someone else's rules. Your mind would not really be required because you'd just move from assigned task to assigned task, checking them off as you go.

I'm sure many of us have had jobs like this at some point, but ideally most of us want to rise above them because they are not particularly fulfilling. We go out and get educated or trained so that we can land jobs that value our skills and let us take charge of our own destinies to some extent. This is true whether we're white- or blue-collar workers. How many carpenters want to be told all day long which tool to use for what task?

This is how it goes with men and housework. We can stay in the 'helper' mode and take directions from our wives - living by their rules for how the house is run. That's how this fully involved dad portrays his homelife. Or, we can get competent and take on a full partnership in running our own homes. Yes, this will require learning the mental jobs too - like remembering and organizing - and standing up for our own way of doing things. But we get a whole lot more satisfaction if we quit the menial helper schtick.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Latino Influence

And speaking of Scott Coltrane (see previous blog entry), some of his thoughts on the high level of equal parenting done in Latino families were recently described by Jeremy Adam Smith of Daddy-Dialectic. Data on the lifestyles of Latino men suggest that they place a high value on family togetherness - and are willing to forego material comfort for more time with their children. This, then, leads to a greater chance of gender equality when it comes to childraising (but not housework).

Surprised? With all the macho images of Hispanic men we're used to seeing, it is indeed a lovely surprise to read that they are often more involved fathers than their Caucasian counterparts. Jeremy's story points to their deep desire to provide what really counts for their children as their motivation for involved fatherhood. I'm just happy to know another group that can lead us forward to equally shared childraising. Now to get them to consider the benefits of equal housework....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Slow But Steady

A new paper on gender and family roles was released this past Thursday by the Council on Contemporary Families and sociologists Scott Coltrane (University of California, Riverside) and Oriel Sullivan (Ben Gurion University). This research analyzes 4 decades of data on how many hours men vs women spend on breadwinning, housework and childraising. It is the authors' attempt to answer the feminists' cry of a stalled revolution.

Coltrane and Sullivan clearly respond that the revolution to equalize men and women is not stalled - it has just moved more slowly than some had anticipated way back in the '60's when it began. Men have been slow to take up more housework and childraising tasks, but they are doing so none-the-less.

Here are some particularly ESP-related quotes from the summary paper of this research, as well as several news commentaries:

"These trends are occurring in much of the Western industrial world, suggesting a worldwide movement toward men and women sharing the responsibilities of both work-life and family life."

"Men and women may not be fully equal yet, but the rules of the game have been profoundly and irreversibly changed."

"All these trends are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. According to national opinion polls, belief in gender equality within families continues to gain acceptance among both men and women. And with greater belief in gender equality and more equal sharing of tasks comes the possibility of more equal and open negotiation about who does what in families."

"Couples in the USA who have more equal divisions of labor are less likely to divorce than couples where one partner specializes in breadwinning and the other partner specializes in family work."

"American couples have made remarkable progress in working out mutually satisfying arrangements to share the responsibilities of breadwinning and family care. And polls continue to show increasing approval of such arrangements. So the revolution in gender aspirations and behaviors has not stalled....American couples' beliefs and desires about gender equity have grown to be among the highest in the world."

"The younger set of dads have their own expectations about themselves as to being helpful and participatory. They haven't quite gotten to equality in any sense that a woman would say 'Wow, that's equal,' but they've gotten so much farther down the road." This last quote is from Carol Evans, founder and CEO of Working Mother magazine.

It's me, Amy, again. Reading this stuff makes me happy - and so fortunate to live here and now, and to be among the couples who can already say "Wow, that's equal." ESP.com is all about showing others that it is fully possible to have a gender-equal marriage. Yes, there are challenges (the authors of this paper say the biggest challenges right now are to get workplaces to align better with family priorities), but the rewards are amazing. Not just less divorce, but in our humble opinions, more well-rounded, happier lives for both men and women.

It is a great time to be an ESP believer!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

It's All Better When We Share

A recent survey sponsored by MSNBC shows that men want partners when it comes to financial matters, rather than the privilege (and burden) of primary breadwinner status. And they don't seem to mind if their wives happen to make more money than them either.

Several experts weigh in on these findings, saying that gender roles are definitely in flux. A career has so typically defined men in the past (and still does). So it is nice to hear some evidence that this may be changing - that men are willing to share this domain just as women are hopefully becoming more open to sharing childraising equally with men.

The commentary includes descriptions of how shared breadwinning leads to equal say about financial matters in a marriage. This is the essence of equally shared parenting; when we become equals in our involvement with not only breadwinning, but childraising, housework and recreation time, we have equal say about everything.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What Draws a Father Home?

An article in the latest issue of The FatherLife, an online magazine, has both Amy and me cheering. Tim Myers writes eloquently and passionately about the reasons why a man would want to spend more time at home with his kids. In a era where we hear so much about the drudgery of parents trying to balance their lives and the huge amount of time and effort it takes to raise kids, this article is like a blast of fresh air.

Mr. Myers lists his reasons, which I won't regurgitate here because I want you to click over and savor the whole article. I'll simply add a few more I think he could have included:

1. Being home with your kids, at least in an equally-shared-parenting way, increases intimacy with your partner. The two of you are in step with the little rhythms of your family life and appreciate each other for your equal involvement.
2. Being home with your kids elevates you from stand-in to full partner status in childraising.

Bravo, Tim Myers. Your words don't judge or attack, they stay authentically poignant rather than Hallmark sappy, and I hope they inspire men to see all there is to gain by carving out lots of time with their children.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Love is in the Details

Being in the 'business' of trying to outline a whole parenting lifestyle in practical terms, Marc and I find that we spend a lot of time talking out the details of task-division on this website. How to equally share daily chores or equitably divide up who is 'on' with the kids or make sure that both partners are getting the same crack at career time and recreation opportunities. Getting into all these details is important, surely, since ESP falls apart if it isn't lived in the details. But who wants to dwell there when the big picture is so much more substantive?

We do. But sometimes, it makes us seem somewhat...how shall I say it? Superficial. At least if you subscribe to the if-you-love-each-other-then-everything-else-will-work-itself-out philosophy of marriage. Here we are nit-picking about watching your housework equality when we could be talking about more important issues like simple love and respect and cherishing each other. But the reason we persist is because everyone already knows the big stuff - of course we want to love, respect and cherish our mates - but no one is talking about the less-sexy building blocks of an equal marriage with kids. And we're finding that these details take a lot of explaining and examining!

Stepping back from the details, we have to remember the big picture - why we would even attempt to create an equal marriage with the father/mother of our children. The answer is that ESP is, for us, all about love, respect and cherishing each other. We give each other the gift of a balanced life with equal sharing, and we respect each other as true equals.

In the middle, between the details and this big picture, is all the emotional sharing of ESP. After we've communicated the hell out of each other and divided up all those mundane tasks, we are left with emotional intimacy - day in and day out. Are we always 'in love' with each other? Of course not. But we're enjoying the process!

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