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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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.


Anonymous Jenn said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Jeanne. Trying to find a balance that fits for everyone is no easy feat. Good luck in your continued journey.

1:34 PM  

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