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, September 24, 2009

Angry Wives with a Plan

If you recall, Parenting Magazine published a piece in January called Mad at Dad. They did a good job riling up the masses of women who are fed up with their lives in large part because they feel burdened with the roles of primary parent, homemaker, and often co-breadwinner as well. I have to admit that this would get me mad as well. At the time, we blogged about this piece with some suggestions for moms.

Since then, Parenting Magazine has garnered their own advice for moms to get past the anger. We were honored to toss in our opinions and really like the resulting piece released this week. Here are a couple points from some of our favorite mentors:

"First, recognize that equality is an attainable goal," says Francine M. Deutsch.

"You want to feel like you're solving things together instead of having dump-on-Dad time," says Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D.

Luckily, we don't sound too shabby either:

"Involve your husband as your partner, not your employee. Ultimately, this is a gift to your children," says Marc Vachon. "Moms and dads are different, but they both need to be equally valued," he says.

"The more you can build the sharing into your schedule, the less it becomes a contentious issue," says Amy Vachon

Hopefully, this will get people focusing on the solutions instead of the problem.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In the End, What Really Matters?

Warning: I'm feeling rather philosophical - make that downright spiritual. I've just finished reading Arlie Hochschild's The Time Bind (her 1997 follow-up to The Second Shift), which of course I should have read long ago but, well, didn't. I'm actually not sure I would have appreciated it as much if I'd read it a few years ago, so I'm happy to have devoured it now. Or rather, I'm glad I waited to have the nightmares I'm now having.

The Time Bind is like that old horror movie (and book) about conformity, The Stepford Wives, in many ways - only it's real. It follows Dr. Hochschild (sociology professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley) into a seemingly ideal, top-rated Fortune 500 company she re-names Amerco to protect the innocent. There, she is granted in-depth interviews with anyone she wishes to meet, from top brass to midnight assembly line workers. She follows them home and interviews their spouses, observes their children, and offers a therapist's view of what is really going on in their heads as they work themselves to the bone and sacrifice the well-being of their families at the same time their company offers them all sorts of work-life balance perks they generally ignore.

"What's going on here?", Dr. Hochschild sets out to answer. Not what many of us might think. The answers are chilling, and so completely sad. The Amerco employees work because their company has become their real home - much simpler, much more instantly gratifying or at least palatable than dealing with the messiness of home, kids and partner. They work because the work culture at Amerco has brainwashed them into thinking that work is w-a-y more important - often the only important thing in their lives - than the stuff that really counts. They've drunk the KoolAid that proves they are devoted workers first, and that...oh, well, yeah I have some kids but that's beside the point. They think that a balanced life is a crazy notion - or something they'll find a way to have at some future date, with some fictitious version of themselves they cling to but don't value by actions.

Amerco is American business. It is all the well-meaning but capitalistic-success-driven companies that offer flex schedules and work-from-home options and reduced hours that maybe 1% of employees dare sign up to take. It wants workers to be happy, and it feeds them its own brand of happiness in a 'workplace culture' that makes us forget we are people, parents, brothers, sisters, lovers, friends, neighbors too. It values face time, not results (even as it often says differently). It forgets that sometimes the best workers are those who are actually free to see their kids and cultivate happy marriages. And in this downturned economy that has those of us who are still employed working scared, it is alive and well.

Along comes the President of France. As described in the terrific new Work.Life blog over at True/Slant, Mr. Sarkozy is challenging nations (nevermind simply corporations) to think completely differently about their value. He's suggesting that instead of measuring the success of a country by its economic output, we also measure this by the general well-being if its citizens. In other words, happiness could possibly count for something! Imagine a world where the end goal wasn't how many things we buy, consume or produce. A world where a 'rich' country afforded its citizens more leisure and time with our families rather than a chance to work yet harder with each passing year.

Mr. Sarkozy's brilliant ideas will probably come to nothing. They'll end up in some metaphoric landfill somewhere, buried underneath the stuff we've consumed that took long hours at work for us to earn. After The Time Bind, I'm cynical.

But, at least for each of us personally, I'm very hopeful. With ESP, we chose differently every day. It gives us a chance to do good work, the ability stay connected intimately with our families and remember that this is our greatest joy, and the option to align our lives with what we each truly value most.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Feminism and the Immersed Parent

What a joy to read a recent post by Backpacking Dad called Feminism and the Immersed Parent. He cleverly argues that women who continue to perpetuate either the myth, or reality, of their bumbling male partners actually do a disservice to the goals of feminism. I couldn't agree more! He utilizes an analogy of men ridiculing women in the workplace a couple of decades ago and how that behavior has uniformly been rejected by society to the point of being used as a grounds for determining a "hostile work environment." I would suggest that the effectiveness of this terrific analogy proves the persistence of gender inequality: men own the work domain and women own the home domain.

Obviously, culture plays a huge role in the behavior that we each consider daily despite our wishes to do otherwise. Women in the US without shaven legs do so intentionally regardless of the expectation and men don't tend to wear skirts partly due to similar expectations. However, being genderless doesn't necessarily "solve" the problem either. Many same-sex relationships can attest to that. If gender isn't the deciding factor for family decisions perhaps earning power, geography, interest, or expediency will be used instead. Without the unemotional framework of what equity might look like we are likely to miss the mark for any number of reasons.

Unlike the ESP model, Backpacking Dad doesn't continue to push equity down to the details of our lives but instead allows the intention of equity to suffice. "An immersed parent doesn't have to be the one doing the cooking or the cleaning, but will care that the child is receiving good nutrition and living in a clean environment. An immersed parent doesn't have to be the one singing lullabies at night, but cares that the child sleeps well. An immersed parent doesn't have to be the one to attend school board and PTA meetings, but cares about the quality of education the child receives."

Of course, these statements are mostly true. Sure each parent should be fully emotionally invested in his/her role as parent in all aspects. But if an "immersed parent" never cooks, cleans, sings lullabies OR attends PTA meetings, full equity has little chance of prospering. Time is the frontier feminism could embrace. Equivalent time pursuing a career, equal access to experience the wonder of childcare, sharing the responsibility for the home and jointly creating opportunities for rejuvenation.

I expect that there are quite a few men, and women, who could embrace that model.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Parent of Record

Now that we're in the thick of the back-to-school season, it's time to fill out all those forms sent home with our children that ask for our names, addresses, cellphones, emails and places of work. Oh, and that determine which parent will be the lucky recipient of those automated phone calls alerting us to our children's tardiness, absences, the school spirit day family gathering, the next PTO meeting, early release days, the start of the book fair and bake sale, and any number of other announcements. Who to pick? Mom, as usual? Dad, just to freak out the school secretary? Both (but that could be rather inefficient for you)?

We've typically defaulted to me as the parent of record, only because our work schedules mean I currently do more of the drop-offs and pickups than Marc does. But that does leave me either holding the responsibility for taking care of the news, or feeling petty for passing on this job to Marc when it is so easy to handle myself.

At T's school, we're both listed on the general contact list. And at M's school, I'm the auto-call recipient but both of us appear on the class contact list (the only set of parents on the list, by the way).

Today, one of T's friend's parents called Marc's cellphone with a birthday party invitation. Since calls like this usually come to me, he hesitated a few seconds before diving in to check our schedule, tell me about the event, and then respond with a "yes, T would love to come" and book the date. His hesitation? Men don't own this stuff - they pass it on to women to do. Recognizing his slight urge to pass it on was interesting for Marc to observe and then push past.

How do you handle the 'parent of record' issue?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Can We Say "Enabling"?

Oh, no! Mom is going away on a business trip. How will Dad ever make it at home alone without her direction? Will the kids go hungry? Eat only junk food? Leave for school unwashed, uncombed and in badly matched outfits? Be abandoned at the end of the school day because Dad forgot to pick them up?

These are the worries of a female work/life balance expert in a recent Working Parents blog entry (a parenting blog we usually love). To combat her fears, she suggests that moms plan ahead before boarding that plane. Start with a well stocked pantry - one full of fully prepared meals rather than individual fresh ingredients so that your hapless spouse can simply heat them up. Then, make sure you've got plenty of paper plates and plastic utensils on hand, because God knows a man can't be expected to wash dishes and feed the kids. Next, leave out explicit instructions about when each child needs to be where every day. Add in emergency contact numbers because, well, he surely should not be expected to know or find these on his own.

Then, prepack the diaper bag and kids' backpacks (he would never do this right). Wash the kids' clothes so, heaven forbid, your poor kids won't be without their T-ball shirts on game day because your husband couldn't possibly be expected to think ahead for this responsibility. Then, and only then, you'll have a shot at relaxing during your business trip - knowing that the kids are okay because once again you held up their world.

The blog author actually forgot a few useful tips. She should have filled up his car with gas, laid out her husband's outfits for the week, called his work colleagues to make sure they reminded him to get to the office on time each morning, left him messages explaining how and when to brush his teeth, and alerted a neighbor to stop by the house each day to make sure he's moving his bowels.

Pardon me...the lack of subtlety in the Working Parents blog entry carried me away for a minute.

This work/life balance writer seems proud of her tips. I'll bet she also hopes for an equal partner in raising her kids. Yet she sabotages her chances at such by treating her husband like a child so that she can relax on her business trip - because she remains in control. She takes on a huge amount of extra work, but the work is easy compared to the discomfort of letting go and actually allowing her husband to take on any decent parenting responsibilities.

I'd be embarrassed to be treated this way.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Letting Men Into the Experience

We've said countless times on this blog that women who want to share in the work of parenting with their partners need to let go of running the show at home and with the kids. Don't make more than your share of household or childraising decisions, don't direct your husband or belittle his way of handling the kids or chores, etc. In fact, we've said more than once that there are only a couple of things that you can't share as a mom: pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

Well, maybe you can share these too. Not physically, of course. But sometimes the most important things aren't confined to the physical. Take pregnancy, for instance. It's pretty common for pregnant women to kind of fold in on themselves and take in all the changes going on in their bodies - the wonder of those first fluttering movements, the cravings and repulsions, the careful eating, the strange aches and odd proportions and unique clothing requirements. Sure, they might involve their partners peripherally by letting them know when the baby is kicking or inviting them to join in at an ultrasound visit. But they typically focus on the pregnancy as theirs alone - later, the baby will be shareable.

All of this woman-focused baby-making is understandable. Yet, in a very small way, it sets the tone for the future - or at least it can. "My baby" can become a way of thinking that extends past birth. And it allows the woman to slowly become better prepared, emotionally and mentally, for motherhood over 9 months - while her husband can more easily ignore the enormous life change in store until, say, he attends childbirth classes with her. Or maybe until the day their baby is born.

Joe Kelly, aka The Dad Man, advocates in a recent blog post that men and women think of their baby as 'theirs' from the first moment they know they are expecting. He suggests using language like "we're expecting" and even "we're pregnant" rather than "she's expecting" or "I'm pregnant." You may object - in fact, I can see pregnant women out there rolling their eyes and saying, "Hold it right there, honey...we're not pregnant...I am." And then sending their husbands out for mocha fudge brownie ice cream. But Joe is onto something. Yes, for the next few months, a baby is growing inside of one of you and not the other. But if you want that baby to grow up in the equal care of both of you, perhaps the experience of anticipation can be a primary focus for now...and this can be fully shared.

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