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

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tell Him What You Want Him to Do?

That Parenting.com 'Mad About Dad' article sure has been making the rounds on the parenting blogosphere! It was covered last week at the Motherlode, and also here and here. Reading through many of the comments left by readers of these blogs - at least the ones that are attempting to be constructive - I'm left wanting to shout some ESP principles into a megaphone.

So many commenters focus on making fathers do their share of housework by suggesting that mothers need to ask their husbands explicitly to do what they want them to do. They aren't mindreaders, these commenters say; so stop complaining that your husbands don't cook and clean and do the laundry - sit down and communicate with them instead. Ask for help! Easy answer, right?


We need to back up here. Back way up. Do we mothers want to be in charge of our husbands' housework assignments all the time? Do we want to be always asking them to help us with what should fairly be shared? Did we sign up to be their hiring managers, trainers and supervisors? Yuck. And did our husbands sign on to be our underlings? Ick. Communication is great - it really is. But if 'communication' is defined as "Honey, could you please help me by loading the dishwasher tonight (and please make sure the knives go in the right way and the glasses are all loaded downward on the top shelf), and could you help me get through this pile of laundry (and please make sure that you fold it properly and put it away too, in the right drawers)," I'm not feeling the love.

We all know a better answer. And rather than type it out myself, I'll let a reader tell you in her own words (with her permission). This is from Margret, who wrote to us earlier this week:

I'm in my third trimester of my first pregnancy at an Advanced Maternal Age (41).

I realized as I was browsing your site and reading through things which piqued my interest that I have a lot of unstated assumptions about how having a child is going to go down, with respect to the mommy/daddy dynamic and the division of labour/fun and the work/life balance.

It occurred to me that in all my musings about what is to come, and in my discussions with my husband, I have had an implicit assumption that even were he to take on the lion's share of the household duties (including being the primary care giver for baby-in-progress), I've been thinking I would be the Alpha Parent and he would be essentially an unpaid assistant making sure that my will is enforced. Devolving responsibility, I have discovered in reading articles on your site, means devolving ownership rather than task completion.
[bold mine]

This is a phenomenal resource which I will be sharing with my husband tonight, so that we can discuss what it means to balance and which version of ESP looks right to us. Of course, I expect that the realities of baby-having will adjust our theoretical balance in a couple of months. Nevertheless, I am gratified to have a set of issues to start talking about and through with him. The whole parenting world is new to us, I am a control freak, and it didn't occur to me that I was going about THINKING the wrong way (making mental lists, assigning tasks based on the best seeming "natural" fit, and believing that come hell or high water I'm the one with the ultimate say-so).

So, thank you. As scary as this all is, you've let me see I'm doing it wrong before I start doing it. You're going to save someone years of therapy and seething resentment (maybe all 3 someones involved).

Margret, you definitely made our day - heck, our week! As we can tell, you know that ESP means true equals working together as a team - sharing the work, the responsibility, the remembering, and the decision-making. Then we can transcend telling anyone what to do, or asking for help with what together we decide should be shared.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree that the real issue behind this is shared responsibility and control over household and child care. But I think it's important to note not just the downside of a mother being the head in the homemaking department but that there is also something gratifying to those who are in charge in this way. How did they end up there in the first place? Why did they marry guys who seem so incompetent/uninterested/unmotivated? There is privilege and authority as well as burden.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her Bad Mother also wrote about this recently on her blog (i.e. about the unequal parenting in her home and how it creates anger): http://badladies.blogspot.com/2009/02/other-side-of-anger.html

You'll see from the many many comments there that a lot of her readers are in that same situation. I think it is too bad.

Here is what I wrote about our situation:

"I think perhaps in our family we've found the balance that keeps the anger away. I am a WOHM and my husband is a SAHD. However, many of the responsibilities that you described above with regards to medical appointments, school related responsibilities, kids friends, buying clothes for the kids, etc. do fall primarily on my shoulders.

However, I do also get to walk out the door in the morning, wave goodbye, and say "see you later" to my husband and daughter and I get to drop my son off at school and say "see you at the end of the day". My job is stressful and its hard. But it is also rewarding and gives me a change of pace from parenting. It is hard in all the ways that parenting is not and easy in all the ways parenting is not.

And my husband does take care of many things that I might have to if I was a SAHM. He does almost all of the laundry (we cloth diaper and I can't remember the last time I washed a load - that is love!!!), he does the dishes, he cleans. I cook and do the grocery shopping, school related stuff, and clothes shopping.

My husband is also doing his PhD and goes snowboarding with friends, so he has some intellectual and physical relief from parenting.

I think this balance allows us not to get angry. It doesn't mean that we never get upset with each other, but I don't think either of us harbours any deep resentment about the division of labour."

2:10 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Thanks for directing us to Her Bad Mother's post on this - it is really good (and I agree that all the comments are sad - gee, we have a lot more work to do to reach more people with ESP!). Glad you wrote in from a different perspective!

Yes, agree - there are perks to every lifestyle choice, and poisons too. No matter how we structure our lives, however, we can't have both Alpha status and ESP. My hope is that every couple gets to choose with open eyes. Thanks for writing.


8:11 AM  

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