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, August 26, 2009

Score and Win?

Working Mother magazine has a new online 'test' that allows you to compare how much housework you are doing with how much your lazy...I mean, sweet...husband does. In Cosmo style, you're invited to add up your points on such tasks as:

Tossing the two-week-old takeout from the refrigerator. 1 point
Scooping up scattered toys. 2 points
Washing the funk out of a sippy cup you found in the backseat. 5 points
Scouring splattered tomatoes sauce off the stove. 2 points
Walking the dog. 1 point
Walking the dog in the snow. 5 points

And so on. Then, you're invited to tally your score against that of your spouse and the veil is lifted. Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner!
Now isn't this just what we don't want to do if we're aiming for equally shared parenting? Who actually "wins" when one partner proves she's doing more? This kind of scorekeeping may serve to shed some light on a problem that both spouses already know deep (or not so deep) down, but it sure doesn't set the tone for solving it. Besides being a cute, far-from-validated test of unequal household labor, it takes a partner-based lifestyle like ESP and turns it into a he said/she said contest. Blech.

The rest of the article that contains this test is actually pretty good. It enlists the help of our beloved mentor, Francine Deutsch, who points out that couples should aim for equal time spent doing chores rather than picky individual chore division by so-called expertise. Dr. Deutsch also advises skipping old gender assumptions when choosing chores, approaching the issue with a spirit of cooperation rather than fighting, pointing out the benefits to your spouse of equal housework, not micromanaging his involvement, and meeting together to evaluate how things are going to tweak them over time. Amen to all of this.

p.s. One more nagging thought. Granted, the average person might consider walking the dog in the snow to be more onerous than doing so on a beautiful summer day. But is the weather really the sole determinant of our ability to approach a task with joy? I can imagine someone (not necessarily cat-loving me) who might actually like strolling down a quiet, snow packed street with his dog. As the saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Time is the only impartial measure of dividing chores. Go ahead and make the best of your own to-do list.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What Do Women Really Want?

I was flipping through the Harvard Business Review at work today when I found an article called Understanding the "Female Economy." It was written by a man and a woman who wrote the forthcoming book, Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World's Largest, Fastest-Growing Market. The article documents the main areas of opportunity for businesses to sell their wares to women who apparently make the purchase decisions for "94% of home furnishings...92% of vacations...91% of homes...and 60% of automobiles."

The authors also conclude that women "have too many demands on their time and constantly juggle conflicting priorities - work, home, and family." Their solution is for companies to focus on "time-saving solutions or for products and services designed specifically for (women)."

The strategies make perfect sense from a business perspective but from a practical or personal view none of these supposed products or services will help women or men get what they really want...a partner. Sure, they can save a few minutes with some fancy new gadget or streamlined grocery or dining options but if they continue to own most of the major purchase decisions around the home, not to mention much of the actual work that needs attention, satisfaction will continue to be elusive.

Henry David Thoreau weighed in on this issue about 150 years ago in Walden: "I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Name Conundrum

After we had turned in the first draft of our manuscript, our editor asked us how we wanted to print our names on the book's cover. Would we be Amy and Marc Vachon, Marc and Amy Vachon, Amy Vachon and Marc Vachon? Seems like a simple query, but we know it is actually a mini-minefield.

Over these past few years, we've gotten used to the occasional question about why we've placed one of our names before the other, or why Amy chose to take my name when we married. After all, we're all about bucking tradition. So why do we sometimes sound like Ozzy and Harriet when it comes to our names?

There's been plenty of discussion elsewhere about how no perfect naming solution exists for parenting couples (either for themselves or for their children). Many ESP couples indeed do buck tradition - giving one child a mother's surname and the next a father's, or making up a new last name that combines the two names, etc. Many ESP moms keep their maiden names, some take their husband's last name as a new middle name (with their husbands doing likewise)...and some do as we have done by appearing to stick with tradition. Truth be told, our shared last name of Vachon just felt right to both of us. Amy had several reasons for wanting to shed her previous name, and genuinely loved my family's surname. We both like the idea, for us, of sharing a last name. It's our team name, and ESP is all about being a team together.

So back to the 'simple' question of how to appear on our book cover. Do we go with the classic feminist (and in this case, alphabetical, too) approach of 'Amy and Marc Vachon,' or do we perhaps separate our names to retain our individual identity, or is there something meaningful about my name appearing first...something that might draw attention to the idea that equally shared parenting is not just a woman's desire (as so much of the parenting literature is positioned) - that it appeals equally to men.

In the spirit of Team Vachon, we decided to go with joined rather than separate names. But who appears first? This book was written by both of us. The order of our names doesn't matter to either of us; what's inside - our message - is the key. And our equality message is neither 'women first' nor 'men first.' In the end, we took a very scientific approach. We got out our highly calibrated equality data collection instrument and flung it high in the air. "Heads," we called.

It will be 'Marc and Amy Vachon.'

Friday, August 21, 2009

Taking Responsibility for Equality

Last month, I happened upon a blog entry at The Momoir Project from an ESP mother who is very thankful for her arrangement. It was a pleasure to read, but I was even more moved by one of the comments left on her entry. The comment was from another mother who has found herself in a much more traditional relationship. But rather than simply complain, she is extremely thoughtful about how she might have gotten there. Here is her comment, which I think is so beautifully written that I don't want to paraphrase it:

"Somewhere between dropping my wedding dress off at the drycleaners and extracting myself from the cocoon of my warm bed to nurse [my son], I lost a piece of myself. I stopped listening to Ani DiFranco and my dreams of taking down the system were exchanged for conversations about sleep and aspirations to find time for myself. I became wife and mother. Like stepping into a pair of yoga pants, I fell into the comfort of my roles. I took motherhood seriously and appointed myself chief caretaker queen without stopping to assess how this would all play out.

Now, two children under four later, I sit uncomfortably on my throne and I feel the hot orange wave of resentment as I drag my knackered spirit out of bed to get up with the kids by myself for the 250th day in a row since [my son's] birth. I've talked to friends who report that whoever hears the kids first gets up with them or that they simply take turns. I muse over what kind of miracle needs to take place in order for me to be able to sleep in. I sit silently and wonder where it all went wrong and how I ended up being the one who is constantly giving to everyone else around her at the expense of her own sanity. When did I become this person who can't negotiate her own needs? When did I become the kind of wife that lapses into the role of mother to her husband? I can't count the number of times I have said, "shh, Daddy's still sleeping." Somewhere between loads of laundry and wiping noses, I embarked on a journey to take care of everyone else's needs leaving my own almost unfulfilled. Should I be surprised that nobody has magically appeared to take care of them for me?

What is probably the most baffling part of all this is that I'm not married to some kind of uncaring lout who is unconcerned with my happiness and well being. Far from it. I'm married to someone who loves me deeply, someone who is happier when I am happy. And yet, somehow we have been delivered to a place that serves neither one of us. When we play the game of kid swap on weekends, we come together beautifully as a parenting couple. But recently when I listened to Ani DiFranco, I had my own mini Aha moment. She sang "and you will take the heavy stuff. And you will drive the car. And I'll look out the window and make jokes about the way things are." If I have misplaced small parts of myself then it is up to me to find them. If I want a tag team approach [meaning ESP approach, in this context] to parenting 100% of the time then I need to take the wheel and stop making jokes about the way things are."

It's Amy again. I love this mother's writing because it exposes how most of the world tends to approach why ESP is so rare - as a rude joke against women. "It's not fair that we're stuck with all the burden!" so many women and mothers scream or cry or laugh with sarcasm. Yet the problem is far from that simplistic. We are not just victims - of our husbands, of men in general, of even our culture. We're part of why things are not equal. No need to blame women, of course. But we do need to be at least half of the solution. We need to take responsibility, take action, take the wheel - and stop passively accepting the standard path for couples...it will lead to inequality, of that we can be sure. It is up to us, together with our partners, to turn that wheel toward ESP.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Child's Play

Our 7-year old daughter, M, came home from camp the other day and excitedly showed us a new hand-clapping game she'd learned. The lyrics started with:
It's as easy as 1-2-3
My mama takes care of me
My daddy watches MTV


We joined in her enthusiasm, and she taught us how to clap along. But later, we laughed together as a family about how those words don't make too much sense for us...how maybe 'my parents take care of me, sometimes we all watch TV' might work better.

It's a silly rhyme - not worth mentioning, right? In the grand scheme of ESP, probably not. But when our kids are subtlely buying into the idea that it's perfectly normal for moms to do all the caregiving and dads to tune out the family, we're setting up the next generation to unconsciously act out this age-old inequality (with both parents missing out on a lot of fun).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Update

We began writing the ESP handbook about a year ago. Much of the doubt, false starts, and anxiety are distant memories as we enjoy the march toward publication, scheduled for January 5, 2010.

Back in June 2008, Lisa Belkin brought ESP up for discussion with her cover story on the NYT Sunday Magazine called When Mom and Dad Share It All. We heard many of you excitedly weighing in saying that you lived this way too. In turn, we interviewed close to 50 couples who wanted to share their flavor of ESP in hopes of bringing the priorities of an equal partnership and a balanced life to anyone who wanted to listen.

We are honored to have Lisa Belkin kick off the topic again with the Foreword and are happy to reveal the cover that was recently approved by Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Guest Blog: Don't Let Old Gendered Power Trip You Up

In the wide, wide blogosphere, there's something for everyone. Countless parenting blogs are now entertaining us and giving us a glimpse into the private family life of so many. But it is a special treat when you run across a blog that fits so perfectly with your own - matching thoughts, same concerns, similar ideas. With respect to this Equality Blog, we haven't run into such an animal (although we follow a growing list of wonderful blogs)...until very recently. Anne Mahoney, Professor Emerita of Sociology at the University of Denver, has started writing together with Carmen Knudson-Martin, Professor and Director of the PhD program in Marital and Family Therapy at Loma Linda University, at Equal Couples, and we are so happy to welcome them to the world of blogging. We've recently reviewed their new book, Couples, Gender, and Power, and now welcome Anne to ESP.com as a guest blogger. Anne...the microphone is all yours!

Don't Let Old Gendered Power Trip You Up
by Anne Rankin Mahoney, PhD
In the 21st century when most women, including mothers, work beside men in the labor force, it seems obvious that men should also be working beside women in the family. Nevertheless, this part of the change has not really happened on a large scale. Research shows that men do more family work than their fathers did, but still way less than their wives. Why hasn't the shift to equally shared families happened with the same speed as other 21st century changes like Internet shopping or textmessaging?

A big reason is that family equality involves a major power shift. For generations, families have been organized around gender. Women took care of the home and this "women's work" (in spite of all the nice things everyone said on Mother's Day) was considered lower status. As long as men just "help" women with housework or kids, they can keep a distance from women's work. When they "share parenting," they're doing it. Men who have overcome this old-fashioned attitude about family work have discovered that the shift positively affects them in a variety of ways. Marc regularly regales us here about the joys of equally shared parenting.

If we want an equal relationship and equally shared parenting, the first thing we need to do is become aware of the ways old gendered power can trip us up, despite our best intentions. For generations, men have been and felt entitled and women have served. If we want equality, we can't just say we are equal. We have to understand how the system has been, and still is, stacked against equality. And we have to do a lot of talking together to search out the ways in which those old gender roles are still stuck in our heads.

Then, we have to throw them out.

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