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, November 28, 2008

Keeping Up the Conversation

We're back in the NY Times today, as guest bloggers for Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog. It feels great to be continuing the conversation about gender equal parenting, and reminding the world that ESP is a valid (and terrific) family option.

Our topic is taking a second look at those horrible 'martyred mommy' chain emails that laud moms as invincible and cut down dads. If you get a chance, stop by and leave a comment on Motherlode!

And thanks, Lisa, for letting us speak up again!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Equally Frugal

For much of my adult life I have prided myself on being frugal. Shopping at Goodwill was a treat for my ego, and a pot of soup could feed my body and my soul for a whole week. So it comes as a bit of a shock for me to admit that I've changed...for the better.

I'm not exactly a spendthrift now, but Amy's aesthetic sense has rubbed off on me. Amy claims she's frugal too - but in a much different way. Her buying decisions almost always cost more than my equivalent purchases, but she invests a lot more energy in picking just the "right one." She, and more recently I, can enjoy her purchase for a much longer period of time whereas, in the past, I would view my stuff as disposable.

What I hope I haven't lost in the process is my belief that the more money I need to be happy, the less likely that is going to happen. I never quite got to the extreme position of monasticism but felt there was a lot of joy to be had by checking out of the material expectations of our society.

What got me thinking about this today was an article about
The New Frugality on Boston.com. It describes how people are buying less expensive items these days, which sounds reasonable but doesn't quite match my new philosophy. But I like how the article describes that people are just plain buying less. This sounds like my new frugality. I'm now much more likely to put off a purchase until I can afford the "right" product than I am to continue my purchasing patterns at stores I don't normally visit.

I believe ESP has helped me make this switch. If I relied on Amy to make all the household purchasing decisions it would have been easy to just complain about her spendthrift ways. But since I have to use the vacuum just as often, my desire for a smooth functioning tool to get the job done well and swiftly allows me to evaluate this purchase to a different scale. I have come to believe that trust in Amy does not hinge on her changing but rather on me changing my perspective.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Equality and Overparenting

WSJ's 'The Juggle' covered a recent article in The New Yorker on overparenting this week. I clicked over to read the actual article because it sounded intriguing, and because I generally believe that there is pressure to become too involved in running our children's lives out of fear. It was an interesting and eye-opening review of several experts' opinions on the topic - all extremely anti-"death-grip parenting" as you might guess.

The expert theories on why parents are so much more involved, and in such a detrimental way, with their kids include the fact that former power career moms who now stay at home apply their managerial skills to parenting with a vengence. Hmmm...perhaps. I've seen some evidence of the latter, at least, in the occasional acquaintance.

But then I got to a little paragraph on page 4 of this long article. Here, the experts tackle the influence of feminism, and gender equality, on helicopter parenting trends. I'll quote here:

"Another discomforting matter in these books is the role of feminism in today's child-rearing follies. According to Gary Cross [author of Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity], one reason that young men are refusing to grow up is that the women's movement has eliminated the rewards for doing so. In return for putting on a suit every morning and going to work, men used to be the boss both in the office and at home. No more. So why grow up? Cross acknowledges that patriarchy and slackerhood are not the only available choices. As he notes, some people are saying that our society, by discarding sexism, can produce a new kind of man, one who is "nurturing and emotionally expressive," and who "abandons his old patriarchal privileges and embraces equality in private and public roles." Cross is not looking forward to such a development, however: "How many men (or women) can distinguish this approach from the stereotypical wimp?""

Huh? Please help me understand...so, overparenting is in part caused by men who refuse to grow up because they can't be macho men any longer, and therefore they settle for being wimps? Maybe global warming is caused by eating bananas because people like watching movies too. Yikes.

Here's my theory, in case you're wondering: Overparenting is probably a bad thing in general, and is caused by a host of cultural factors that have led parents, primarily women, to forget that they can't control everything and that they shouldn't anyway. And gender equal parenting, when both parents are equally, intimately involved in raising their kids, can act as a check against such overparenting by either parent.

I know this is true in my own home. If left to my own devices, I'd probably fall into trap after trap of cultural overparenting. I'd overprotect and smother and even push 'for their own good.' Marc is much more immune to the outside pressures to enroll M or T in kiddy classes or keep them away from any moving car ever. He prefers to teach them to have fun at home too, and to know the difference between a car 3 blocks away and one 3 feet away. Because of ESP, he's got equal say in how we raise them, and I have benefited from his wisdom more than once.

How do you think ESP might influence overparenting?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dads Trump Moms on Balance Worries

A new poll by the Rockefeller Family Fund asks parents how much they worry about work/life balance - it's being discussed here and here. Turns out this ranks up there with the economic crisis as a topic keeping us up at night. And the most surprising news is that more fathers worry about balancing work and family than mothers do. That's right! The poll press release says, "Daily worries about work and family responsibilities proved to be frequent for 72 percent of working fathers and 67 percent of working mothers with children under 18." Lisa Guide, Associate Director of the Fund, analyzes this result by saying, "This poll clearly shows that work and family balance is not just a concern for American working women, but one of the biggest daily problems for America's working families in general."

Not that I want my gender to win the war on worrying or anything. But I like that this is a piece of evidence that women don't own this department either. Think about it.... We're used to thinking that working women live their days torn between work and home, while men blithely come and go without regrets. Women get to sob about their plight, and they get to belittle or nag their husbands about not doing enough at home. These data kind of turn that whole cultural argument on its tail.

I realize that women's rate of work/life worry is probably lower in this survey because many more women than men work part-time. This would lower women's scores. But the important thing is that men's worry is so high.

Now...hmmm...what to do about it? ESP.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

It Ain't Perfect

We created this website for a couple of distinct purposes. First, we wanted to bring the idea of ESP to all parents - to make equal sharing a fully doable option amid other, more common parenting lifestyles. Second, we wanted to create a community of like-minded parents. And third, we wanted to outline, in practical and philosophical terms, exactly what it takes to create and sustain ESP amid a culture that doesn't often make it easy.

In our attempts to fulfill these purposes, we've focused our writing on the positive - the 'how to' rather than the complaints about how something isn't possible. This approach contrasts with a lot of what is written in blogs and articles about parenting or household labor division. It is cool to be edgy. To write in an f-you style about how hard it is to be a parent and how keeping the house clean and keeping your sanity are overrated. To offer 'life sucks' mentality rather than solutions.

We've been accused from time to time of excessive perkiness. Occasional readers may wonder, "Who are these people? It can't be all that perfect." Blogger Penelope Trunk even labeled the NY Times article on ESP as 'mommy/daddy porn' - her phrase for writing about picture-perfect parenthood when we all know that raising children is crazy-hard.

So, here's the newsflash. We're regular people - we fight, we pout (well, I do), we tune each other out (that'd be Marc), we act in ways that don't make either of us very proud. We struggle with ESP all the time. Why just this week, I got mad at Marc for leaving T's clean laundry in piles on the floor of his room rather than putting it away as we'd agreed...how petty of me. And we get unbalanced despite our quest for balanced lives. Again, earlier this week, I got so overwhelmed with my to-do list that I literally cried when a rude car-wash manager wouldn't do what he'd promised (give me a donation to T's preschool fundraiser) after I'd driven all the way across town.

We could fill the blog entries on this website with the trials and pain of the Vachon household. We could spend hours writing about how we fail to live up to perfection. Occasionally we do think it is useful to share with you how we've seen the light on some new aspect of equal sharing, or gotten through a tough spot in our own equality.

But rather than turn ESP.com into a hip-mama/funky-dad ode to the trenches of bad parental living, we're more interested in offering up a real alternative to a daily life in those trenches. A model that can be dissected and analyzed. For us, and for many other families, equally shared parenting is transformative. It is a real, practical, sustainable way of life, and we focus on writing about it rather than about our own daily lives.

Complaining isn't really our thing. It is actually not very common among other ESP parents either - a group we find to be rather principled and grateful. We're far from perfect, but we're pretty happy most days. So if you've come looking to be entertained by sarcastic, edgy, sighing prose, you've definitely clicked over to the wrong place. If, on the other hand, you want to build a hard-won but fantastic life as a parent (complete with imperfection), we hope you'll hang with us.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Tom Can Cook

We recently enjoyed a dinner out with friends at a nearby restaurant called Tom Can Cook. Of course many top chefs are men, but the restaurant's name is a nice ESP reminder that men are perfectly capable of domestic duties - cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping or buying gifts.

This article in a San Antonio newspaper this week entitled 'Yes, Men Can Cook and Clean' speaks to the issue nicely. Several experts weigh in, including our mentor Francine Deutsch, to describe how stereotypical gender roles in the home are breaking down at a considerable rate. It also touches upon the question of whether ESP marriages make for happier partners than traditional marriages. Marital happiness data are hard to collect, say researchers, but anger levels tend to be higher in traditional marriages and especially high in marriages where women work but also do the majority of the housework.

The article ends by describing the ideal of equally shared housework: "[Evergreen State College marriage/family expert Stephanie] Coontz says young people raised in families where the labor is divided equally increasingly identify that arrangement as the ideal family format. Deutsch says couples come to such a balance in many different ways - there's not just one path to equality."

How nice to think that our kids will idealize an ESP household when they grow up. And yes - ESP happens in many, many different ways; for proof, just meet some of the couples in our Real Life Stories.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Jumping Monkeys

Marc and I were the featured guests on the Internet TV show Jumping Monkeys last week, with Megan Morrone and Leo Laporte of TWiT.TV. Jumping Monkeys is an online parenting talk show with the tag line of "parenting in the digital age, featuring lots of helpful links and advice, plus interviews with other geek parents, web site designers, and bloggers."

It was fun to talk with Megan and Leo about ESP, and we learned later that Megan and her husband equally share parenting of their three toddlers. Hooray!

If you'd like to listen to the podcast of the episode, click here.


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