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

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Angry Wives

Check out this long rant at Parenting.com about what makes women (specifically mothers) mad at their husbands. It is actually funny, and I know guys who behave exactly as described in this piece. The article catalogs many sins of my gender - dads don't notice dirt, dads do dumb things when they are left alone with the kids (like feed them snacks 10 minutes before dinner), dads can't seem to multitask, dads get more time for themselves, dads need to be nagged to do chores, dads never keep to-do lists of household management tasks.

I'm willing to bet that a lot of this is true. The article is even full of statistics about the percent of women who are spitting mad about their lot in life.

But I'm not willing to say that men should take more than half of the blame here. For every complaint by women, there is the other side of the argument. Why are men so horrible? They aren't. They behave in ways that make perfect sense to the nature of all human beings. They don't spontaneously volunteer to do more work if they don't have to do it, or if they are likely to be criticized for how they do it, or if they aren't given half the authority to make the decisions about how a given task should be done.

The answer, this article says, is for women to talk with their husbands about how they feel. Yes, that is a start (necessary, but not sufficient). Talk, talk, talk, and listen, listen, listen. But the prescription must also include: don't judge, take a team approach to solving issues, make the solutions benefit both partners (not just dump on one), and work to become true equals - in responsibility, power and workload.

Do women want a partner, as this article says they do, or do they simply want a better helper? If they really want a partner, we have a solution for them. All those men avoiding those angry women...I'm wondering if they, too, might be thrilled to give ESP a whirl.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ESP Book Review: An Unconventional Family

It's once again time for one of our embarrassingly belated book reviews! While we're dedicated to staying up on what's currently being printed that relates to equally shared parenting, we often take our sweet time getting around to reading some of the classics. One of these is Sandra Lipsitz Bem's An Unconventional Family, published in 1998 by Yale University Press.

Dr. Bem is a professor of psychology, women's studies, and lesbian, bisexual and gay studies at Cornell University. An Unconventional Family is her personal story - her in-depth description of attempting to raise her two children in a gender neutral way with her then-husband, Daryl Bem. The book describes their courtship and the rules they set up for their marriage, one that they hoped would be fully egalitarian, and for instilling feminist values and gender/sexual preference-neutral views in their children.

The book is fascinating, especially the chapters on Egalitarian Partnering and Feminist Child-Rearing. The end chapters evaluating their success are also very enlightening, and include interviews with each of their grown children. And, to us specifically, Dr. Bem's vivid description of how the couple took their messages out into the world via lectures and papers really hit home - they are our foreparents in wanting to tell the world about ESP!

The Bems approached ESP from a decidedly feminist point of view - it's fair, it's right, it's how the world should be. We approach ESP differently, although we certainly believe it is fair and right; we are motivated primarily by how it simply allows us both to live our best lives. And the Bems' equality motives go beyond just ESP into gender neutrality (a stance definitely taken by a subgroup of ESP families). But despite these differences, we heartily recommend reading An Unconventional Family and have added it to our list of Resources.

Now you might have noticed a small detail in the words above. That detail is the 'then' before 'husband.' Yes, sadly, the Bems are no longer married. The book covers why in wonderful detail, and we found their story of separation to be a huge warning to us - and to every ESP couple.

Both Sandra Bem and Daryl Bem (in an epilogue) agree that they started out marriage with full equality. When their children were young, they parented equally and all was well. But they didn't appreciate how they needed to guard this equality with vigilence, and they slowly arched towards Sandra as the primary parent over time. The problem got worse during their children's teenage years, with Sandra gravitating toward the emotional nurturing and Daryl deferring to Sandra's accumulating 'expertise.' Daryl didn't stand up for his co-parent rights; Sandra didn't wait for him to exert them. As Sandra writes, "Over time, this interaction process transformed our family. No longer were we two reasonable happy and well-functioning, even if overlygendered, little subunits. Instead we were a mother-and-kids subunit struggling, sometimes well and sometimes not so well, with problems that required attention, and a husband-and-wife subunit still functioning adequately on the surface but with a new estrangement festering below." Sandra and Daryl, whose marriage was defined by equality, no longer had this core element in their relationship.

An Unconventional Family is an interesting study in gender bending for the non-ESP reader. For the ESP reader, however, it is a wake up call to stay on track with equality. Sandra and Daryl both say that they would not have partnered any other way, even if they had it all to do over. But their experience, so well detailed for us in this important book, can help the rest of us remember that the work of ESP doesn't end after a few years of successful childraising. Like anything different and worthy, ESP must be tended at each stage of the children's and parents' lives.

Thank you, Sandra and Daryl, for your wisdom and your story.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Misleading Near-Miss

I clicked over with interest to read an article posted on Babble today that bears the title Resentment: How an Equal Division of Labor Almost Destroyed My Marriage. Yes, I wondered, how exactly did this horrible almost-catastrophe happen?

Well, a sigh of relief later, I discovered that it was really an unequal division of labor that nearly did this couple in. The article, written by Babble blogger Hanna Otero, describes her frustration with a reverse traditional marriage - she worked full-time and her husband stayed home full-time with their two children.

In the beginning, life was good. They chose to send her out into the workforce for the most common (albeit not always the best) reason - she made more money. And they chose to keep him home for another common (albeit not always the best) reason - they felt one parent should stay home with young children. As time went on, however, she felt pulled in two and overworked and guilty, and he didn't always consider meal prep or housework to be part of his duties. She started making all the decisions; he started to fade into the wallpaper. The problem came to a head and this couple realized they needed to think up a different way of life or else.

Enter communication. They talked and talked. They decided together how to spend their money, when the kids needed their booster shots and who would take them, what 'dinner' meant to them and who would cook it. They set some standards as a team. Ah....harmony.

She still works full-time; he still stays home. But their next step is to address this too - by getting him back into the workforce even though he would make far less per hour than she does, and by finding ways for her to cut back at work.

So, if you take the red pen to the title of this article, what you're left with is a lovely tribute to the power of equal sharing and balanced lives. In other words - ESP!

p.s. While the now article seems to say that SAHD families 'almost destroy' marriages, I hardly think this is the case either. When either parent stays home while the other takes full reponsibility for breadwinning, imbalance and inequality will result. Some families enjoy the perks of this arrangement while others wind up resentful. The right arrangement is the one that works best for each individual couple - and makes both partners happy. For us, it's ESP. For some, it's a traditional or reverse-traditional plan.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Guest Blog: The road not planned for..., by Jeanne Brown

We were introduced to Jeanne in December when she interviewed us for a piece at BabyZone.com. It was fun to talk with her, and although she does not have an ESP family, she was genuinely interested in what we had to say and has been following along here ever since. She has generously offered to share her struggles in balancing a life she had originally hoped would be more equally shared with her husband, and how she has made peace with her arrangement nevertheless - at least for now. Jeanne's words poignantly show us the way many traditional marriages are built, how hard it is to do it all when you don't have an equal partnership, and how ESP does require two willing partners. Thank you, Jeanne...and enjoy!

The road not planned for...
By Jeanne Brown

My husband and I used to be equals.

We graduated from the same college -- I, with a degree in English and he, with one in PoliSci. We were equally naive when we started dating -- I lived in New York with a roommate and he lived with three other guys in Boston. We were equally broke when we got married -- I had a 12 year old Ford Tempo and he had $1,000 in the bank. And for many years, we had equally promising careers.

All that changed in 2002 with the birth of our son. He was a gorgeous little guy, blonde hair, blue eyes, and fat rolls that begat fat rolls. But while I was smitten, my husband was scared off. That first year, he traveled a lot for work, heading to DC almost weekly. Back home, I would work a full day, pick up my little cherub and seemingly single-parent him. Somehow, it worked for all of us. My son was a great baby who inspired others to get pregnant. My husband landed the big deal with a huge sales commission. I was ready for baby #2.

What I couldn't see at the time was how the balance was shifting.

Fast forward to 2004 when my daughter came early and audibly into the world. She was cute as a button, of course, but she was also a hellion. She was jaundiced, had acid reflux, wouldn't sleep, and could only be comforted by me. She was so difficult that my aunt, who raised eight children, has 17 grandchildren, and babysits to make ends meet, declared she'd "never met one like her." If my husband was scared off by our first little angel, this princess of darkness had him nearly screaming for mercy.

I, on the other hand, took it all in stride. Or, rather, I did what I had to do to survive. In four months, I lost the baby weight plus 10 pounds due to the constant nursing, lack of sleep and overall stress. When I went back to work -- three days a week, fulfilling my fantasy of working part time -- it was a relief. In reality, I found that it was almost
harder to work part-time than full-time. I had one foot in the working world, one foot in the playgroup world and I was completely off-balance trying to straddle the two. I didn't know who I was.

At the same time, because I had scaled back my hours at the office, most of the responsibilities at home fell to me. I was the primary caregiver, domestic engineer, social secretary, and family CEO. I chose what we ate, who we saw and where we went. Having our roles so clearly defined made life with two children under the age of two much easier.

A few years later I was offered a promotion and a return to full-time work. While I loved my time with the kids, I still had a fire in my belly to succeed at work. Plus, I didn't really like the idea of being "dependent" on my husband. I took the job.

And that's when all hell broke loose. I was on conference calls at midnight and then again at six the next morning. I'd rush to pick up the kids from daycare only to plop them in front of the TV. so I could get more work done. Evenings, my husband and I would sit on the couch, tapping away on our laptops.

During this time, I didn't get any relief from my parenting and household responsibilities. Guilt-ridden, I didn't ask for help. Stressed out and frustrated, I instead created a "
what you do vs. what I do" list and emailed it to my husband. Soon thereafter, inspired by a Penelope Trunk blog post, I quit my job.
So here I am in an unequally shared parenting situation. This is not what I planned for when I was going to college and grad school or flying all around the world for work, but somehow this is how it's worked out. My husband, who is in sales, has the potential to make more money that I ever could in marketing. He also would have been content without ever having children, whereas becoming a mother felt like coming home to me. Thus, the traditional roles fit.

Don't get me wrong: my husband is a good dad and a good husband. And while I may feel like I'm making most of the sacrifices, I'm also making peace with my decision. Maybe I'm doing what women for years and years have done: thinking of the greatest good for the greatest number. My kids are happy, my husband is happy, I'm content. A friend of mine, a working mom whom I admire, once gave me this advice about balancing work and family: "as soon as you get it figured out it changes."

And, as I often tell my kids, not everything in life is fair, but I truly believe that it evens out in the end.

This is the Life

That's the sweet title of the current article in Jugglezine (an e-zine devoted to work/life balance, sponsored by Herman Miller) about equally shared parenting. I was interviewed for this article several weeks ago, and looked forward to seeing it on the screen. Now that it has been published, I couldn't be more happy with the result.

Writer (and Jugglezine editor) Christine Maclean did a wonderful job of catching some of the keys to ESP, such as the concept that ESP couples build balance into their schedules rather than try to achieve it from quick-fix band-aids like vowing to leave work each day at 6:30. Or the fact that ESP takes a certain amount of courage, inner strength, resourcefulness and chutzpah when confronted with all the cultural forces pulling us into traditional roles. Or how balance comes from partnership - from leaning on your spouse to do his/her share, and supporting your partner in creating his/her own balanced life.

By the way, if you like reading soulful and meaty articles about work/life balance, consider subscribing to Jugglezine (it's free). Despite the fact that it is sponsored by an office furniture maker, it is commercial free and top notch - some of the best stuff on the topic I've encountered.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Daddy's Home and the Family is Lost

I'm not sure where to begin commenting on a NY Times article from last Friday called "Daddy's Home, and a Bit Lost." It's a sad commentary on the traditionally successful couple in which the executive dad is the sole breadwinner and the stay-at-home mom controls the rest. The article spotlights one such couple after dad loses his job. Here's a sampling of the text :
  1. The Berrys have been at this long enough to make light of the well-worn nature of their disagreement. "It goes like this," Scott said. " 'How can you complain about me not earning an adequate income, when you can't control your spending?' " On cue, Tracey chimed in. "And I say, 'How can you complain about my spending when you don't have an adequate income?' "

  2. At times like this, a big house helps. "We go to separate corners," Scott said. "I have a big glass of wine and watch TV for couple of hours or do a sudoku puzzle to clear my head."

  3. "The danger is that we'll have saved enough money for our retirement, but I won't like him enough to want to spend it with him..."

  4. "My job was to run the household and the children's lives," she said. "His job is to provide us with a nice lifestyle." But his bonus has disappeared, and his annual pay has dropped to $150,000 from $800,000 a year. "Let me just say this," she said, "I'm still doing my job."

The article also covers some standard knee-jerk commentary on dad not doing his share around the home, mom ramping up her breadwinning to help out the family finances, and mom having to deal with a bumbling man around the house.

Shudder. This story is sad on so many levels that I don't even want to jump on board and kick these poor souls when they're down. But it does give me a chance to say that ESP is just about the opposite of what is going on here. The heart of ESP is teamwork, prioritizing time over money, respect for your partner who walks in your shoes every day, weathering layoffs and other storms of life together, and not nitpicking about who does what.

Even before the featured father's income plummeted from $800,000, I wouldn't want his life for one minute. Ruled by his wife at home, barely seeing his kids, pressured to keep his end of the bargain as a money machine....

Is it really any wonder that guys don't live as long as women? Is there really any doubt that ESP can appeal to dads as much as it does to moms?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Culture Clash

Several of the comments from recent posts have got us thinking. They've been about the way that specific tasks reflect on only one gender in our society, such as how the kids are dressed (Mom's kudos or fault) or how the lawnmowing is kept up (Dad's pat on the back or shame). As one reader so aptly suggested, this can cause us to focus on the chores for which we'll take the heat if they are done poorly - and put off or ignore those that will reflect on our partners.

All of this very true social stigma and very human behavior can work to undo ESP over time, unless a couple happens to assign all tasks along gendered norms. And what's the fun of that?!

So we've been thinking of a possible way out of this dilemma. Let's say a couple decides to sign up for bringing cupcakes to their son's school holiday party. Then, let's say that they assign Dad to take on this duty. Like a good ESP mother, Mom then lets go of the task - no laying out the ingredients, reminding Dad of the party date, or interfering in any way. And then Dad forgets. Whether he will admit it or not, we suspect that culture would have played a role in his 'forgetting' since even the most well-intentioned of males might have prioritized remembering just a bit more if it was clear to the world that he screwed up. It's not that he's incompetent, but that the task never rose to an importance level in his mind that kept him on his toes. So he forgets and the party goes on cupcake-less.

What if, being a fantastic ESP father, he realizes the cultural consequences of his goof? And what if he then actively made an effort to take the social fall for his actions? This could take the form of a simple comment in drop-off line to the room parent the next day about how bad he feels for having forgotten the cupcakes yesterday followed by a clear, "And it was fully my responsibility, too." Or perhaps he does this in an email or phone call.

This would go both ways, of course. If Mom was supposed to haul out the trash to the curb this week and forgets (again, probably influenced by the fact that neglecting this task will not hurt her outside image one bit), she could tell the family she'd been the one to forget as a way to show her children that this job was indeed her responsibility - not Dad's. She could, if applicable, laugh about her lapse in memory to the next door neighbor who notices overflowing trash cans over the next few days.

Each of these small gestures would take back ownership from the grip of culture - not entirely, but as a start. They may make each parent more likely to remember his/her duties in the future too.

What do you think of this idea? Should it be recommended to ESP couples who might want to crack these culture barriers?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Our Government to the Rescue

We'll admit that it isn't always easy to find two flexible-enough jobs that fit together to allow for ESP - equal breadwinning, childraising, housework and recreation time. And once you've actually snared these prize positions, an economy like we have today will make you wonder just how long it will take before one of you is out of work - like I was until last May - and now in search of the ever elusive flexible job once more. And we want these jobs to be rewarding and fun too, right?

Yet ESP couples do it. They manage to find/create/negotiate these jobs and excel at them. Sometimes they work tremendously hard to earn them, and sometimes they are in the right place at the right time. It is their drive toward equal partnership that makes most of them weather the sacrifices; many ESP couples can't imagine living any other way. They, we, are the pioneers.

But help is on the way for less driven couples who still want to reach for ESP - maybe. President-elect Obama has announced the formation of a White House Task Force on Working Families, headed by VP-elect Biden. Among its 5 goals is "improving work and family balance." Now, this goal could take many forms - some of which (like expanding childcare options or maternity leave but not paternity leave) don't help ESP-interested couples at all. But other actions, such as anything that gives workers of either gender more negotiating power to create their own family-friendly work schedules, or that allots parental leave to the father in a use-it-or-lose-it policy, just might be the push these couples need to give ESP a try.

And once couples taste the benefits of ESP (beyond the mundane splitting of tasks)....

Thursday, January 01, 2009

In With the New

Happy New Year to all! Wow - 2009 already. There is something persuasive about a fresh new digit to write or type - something that causes us all to pause, look up, and think about the next 12 months that lie stretched ahead of us. All the things we'll do, think, say, wrestle with, figure out, ponder!

Today seems like a good opportunity to pause this blog to think ahead too. And there are some fun things in store! Here's a sampling of what we're planning for 2009:
  • Guest blogging: We will be turning over the Equality Blog to a few other spokespeople on a regular basis. If you would like to be a guest blogger, please let us know of your interest by writing to info@equallysharedparenting.com.

  • Conference appearances: Marc and I will be panelists at two upcoming conferences. If you're in the area, we'd love to see you there! First, we will be at Yale Law School for a conference entitled "Opt Out" or Pushed Out: Are Women Choosing to Leave the Legal Profession?, March 27-28 in New Haven, CT. Then, we're in Chicago for the Council on Contemporary Families' 12th Annual Conference, April 17-18 at the University of Illinois.

  • Book chapter: We're in an anthology! Rebecca Walker, author of Black, White and Jewish, Baby Love, What Makes a Man, To Be Real, and other powerful books, has compiled 18 essays on different types of families in her latest book, One Big Happy Family. This book will be released on February 19th. We're the authors of chapter 15!

  • Our own book: We've been hard at work drafting chapters for our own book, to be published by Perigee in 2010. This next year will be a flurry of writing and rewriting as we polish chapters into their final form and finish interviewing ESP couples across the globe. We have met many inspiring, unforgettable couples in the past 6 months! By the way, if you identify with equally shared parenting but have not yet contacted us, please drop us a line now at info@equallysharedparenting.com so that we can connect with you. We want to fill the book's pages with as many practical tips and ideas as possible.

We'll be writing more about each of these topics throughout the year. But we'd also love to hear from you.... What would you like to see on ESP.com? How can we make this site better meet your needs? All ideas most welcome!

All our best wishes for a fantastic year ahead.

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