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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Common Courtesy

Marc is making his solo debut today as a guest blogger over at Motherlode. I'm excited about his post because I think it brings up a really sneaky barrier to equal partnership. Marc's topic is about the ways in which 'appreciation' can keep us unequal. It is an expansion on the blog post he did earlier right here.

But as might be expected, many of the commenters have interpreted his message as recommending that we skimp on common courtesy and kindness to our partners. There is much poetic talk in their comments about how thanking each other teaches our children manners and demonstrates love. And about how life is sweeter when we lavish appreciation on our partners for the simple things - like loading the dishwasher or cooking a warm meal.

As our 6-year-old daughter, M, would say, "Come on, people!" Courtesy should be a given in an ESP relationship (and in all relationships). Marc is hardly advocating rudeness or ignoring our partners' contributions. Kindness, too, is a lovely thing; no couple could live happily together without loads of it. The world would certainly be a better place if we all practiced courtesy, kindness and gratitude continuously.

But showing appreciation for our partners as a means of manipulating them (even with the most innocent of intentions) into doing their share of housework or childcare, or expecting appreciation for doing our share, are what Marc is unearthing with his post.

It's controversial stuff, we know! But that's what makes it so fascinating to dissect.

Marc ends his blog by saying he has no need to be appreciated for cleaning the toilet. As the recipient of this message, I have to say this brings a sense of relief. How great that I don't have to add 'build up husband's esteem' or 'don't forget to tell husband you noticed his efforts' or 'make sure husband knows how much I love him today' to my list of mental to do's. Phew! The best part about this deal is that it frees me to truly and simply love him. That might even include the occasional 'thanks, honey - you're the best' comment, but I know that he'll keep on cleaning those toilets even if I lapse. He's not cleaning them to please the 'boss' or prove he's doing his part (which begs notice from me); he's cleaning them because cleaning them is a part of his (and my) life. And he'll still clean them even on days when I am grumpy or snappy or generally hard to live with.

It's almost enough to lavish him with immense gratitude. But, in Marc's world, that wouldn't be the kind thing to do, so I will do so in the depths of my own heart instead.


Blogger JohnMcG said...

I think you and Marc are at a point where it may no longer be necessary. For couples further up on the road, I’m not so sure that’s the case.

If Marc doesn’t need appreciation, that’s fine for him, but I’m still uncomfortable with the notion that this should be universal, and that if people desire appreciation, there’s something wrong with them. Different people need different things.

And I also think this advice is often given to couples where the default response to an act is criticism, and this appreciation is medicine designed to break that pattern, similar to teaching a beginning bowler or golfer to exaggerate the follow-thru. I think some fathers only receive negative feedback when they attempt a task, that they didn’t do it right, and thus stop doing it. This advice helps break that cycle. For a couple like the Vachons, that may no longer be necessary, but some of us aren’t there yet.

9:11 AM  
Anonymous michelle said...

I LOVED Marc's post on the Motherlode! And, I love to tell my husband how much I both adore him and appreciate all he contributes to making my and our life so fabulous. But that's the point - we are in partnership in this life we've co-created. He and I both expect the other to get up in the middle of the night with any one of our three babies, make a meal when we are with them, do the laundry when it gets piled up. Sometimes one of us steps up and the other of us gets to concentrate on a task we really want/need to do right then (stay in bed, while the other responds to a nighttime need, work harder on a work project while the other takes care of laundry) and when this kind of thing happens, we often feel particularly appreciative. Then, we might say, "Thanks so much for taking care of dinner last night while I finished my article."

The point is, we are in partnership (as I said in my comment on the Motherlode blog as well) and genuine and ample appreciation for that partnership feels fantastic. Acting like doing the normal, day-to-day care of babies and home is some extraordinary accomplishment in one instance (we all know that the overall care of house and kids is a huge accomplishment!) doesn't serve the partnership, it's promotes inequality in the relationship.

12:28 PM  
Blogger chicago pop said...

I *do* think that different folks will all have different styles in this regard, but I see where Marc is coming from and the deeper issue it points to, and for me his point is well-taken: the general sense that caregiving men can get thanked or appreciated or commended more easily than their wives/partners for doing the same or less amount of work. It's something my wife has commented on. When you internalize a set of values or behaviors, which is what ESP represents, they become things that are valuable in and of themselves. They're done because they are right, not for the reward.

Again, people can have different ways of communicating these things, but on the deeper issue I think Marc makes a valuable point about how fatherhood as a sense of duty can be adapted to a consciously egalitarian household.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Marc said...


I don't think our viewpoints are as different as you might suspect. I agree that women criticizing men for doing a chore wrong is counter-productive. However, I feel moving all the way to the other extreme doesn't exactly help the cause either. I suggest we meet in the middle. Appreciation, gratitude, and warmth can be a worthy goal regardless of how well, or even if, the chores are done.

Appreciation for the person should be independent of the tasks that are performed. I have never stated that I don't want to be appreciated but I prefer it to be for who I am and what we are creating together instead of any individual task.

And, yes, if a couple is stuck in a relationship death-spiral where everything is criticized I would recommend therapy. ESP won't be an attractive option if you don't actually like your spouse.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Marc said...


I couldn't agree more. Thanks for weighing in.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Chicago Pop,

It's great to have your voice here. I agree with the different styles perspective. I couldn't dream of prescribing how each interaction should play out in any home.

The blog came from a genuine desire to figure this stuff out. Where it gets confusing is where to draw the line. Everyone I ask agrees that I shouldn't get praise for doing things I love to do. As the chores and responsibilities get increasingly burdensome the more praise is expected. I find this fascinating.

I'm usually trying to find a way to enjoy my days. If not the individual task at hand, then maybe the task in perspective with the rest of my life. I expect this is one of those things that will brew for some time to come.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Sierra Black said...

My husband and I have had many conversations about the word "help", as in, "I want to help you with the children," "I'm just trying to help you by doing laundry," "Do you need

He genuinely wants to 'help' me, and it took a few years of careful communication for him to understand that I don't see 100% of the childcare and housework as my responsibility, so I don't see him as helping me when he does a share of it.

I read Mark's column in that light - I often thank my husband for genuinely helpful things that he does, but I don't thank him for taking the kids to dance class on Saturday mornings, because that is his responsibility.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Amanda Shankle-Knowlton said...

Nice post. I often read columns about sharing housework, and the advice is typically to lavish praise on your partner for doing a task. That has always left a bad taste in my mouth, since it makes me feel like I'm supposed to treat my husband like a dog that I am teaching to sit. One - it undermines the fact that he and I are supposed to be sharing these tasks equally - so he shouldn't need to be thanked (unless he goes above and beyond his half or does something I can't or don't want to do). Two - my husband at least is too smart for that. He will feel like he is being manipulated and the whole exercise will be counterproductive.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Sierra Black,
I'm glad you read Marc's post as he meant it to be read. We can certainly still thank our spouses, but when we feel the need to thank them for simply doing their part, we're setting up a brewing inequality and doing a disservice to both partners. Thanks for weighing in!

I feel likewise! Extremely well said.


7:25 PM  

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