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, March 31, 2009

Getting to 50/50

I just finished reading the new book Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober. Sharon (former managing director at Goldman Sachs) and Joanna (managing director of a private equity firm) are two moms with a strong message about equal sharing as a means to juggling work and family, and their book speaks to many working mothers who want reassurance that their chosen path will neither hurt their kids nor their spouse (and can even be the best option for their marriage).

Much of Getting to 50/50 centers around the breadwinning domain - why it is important for women to stick with their careers after they become mothers, why two careers make for happy partners, why outside childcare is not harmful to children. But they also cover many of the benefits to sharing the housework and childraising too, with lots of quotes and anecdotes from working moms and stories from their own marriages.

One thing I especially like about Getting to 50/50 is that it provides the reader with lots of data to support an egalitarian marriage and describe the state of American families - something our own forthcoming book will not focus on but is important to understand. At times this book feels like an argument against stay-at-home motherhood - which, of course, doesn't mesh with an equal relationship unless both parents don't work at all - but it makes these points in the context of partnership with one's husband rather than in a vacuum (avoiding one of the faults of so many other parenting books). Also, the book feels rather weighted toward full-time careers - not uber-power ones that the authors name '24/7' careers, but regular 40-hour jobs nonetheless - although examples of meaningful reduced-hours careers are sprinkled throughout.

In Getting to 50/50, Sharon and Joanna have offered themselves up as a cheerleading squad for women who want to believe that their careers should be equally valued and their role as mothers can be remolded to fit the vision of equality at home. Ditch the guilt! Embrace your partner as your equal and ask that he do the same for you! Stay on top of your game at work despite the odds! You can do it!

Overall, we are thrilled to see Getting to 50/50 enter the scene. It will appeal most to women who desire equality and a shot at high-level careers for both partners. It skillfully portrays highly accessible equality for the career woman, and does so in a manner that is respectful of men. The fact that it lists ESP.com in the back as an online resource is a bonus, of course. We'll be adding Getting to 50/50 to our Resources section as well.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Aversion to Equality

Sometimes I catch myself being turned off by talk of gender equality. Maybe it's just my mood or perhaps my frustration at the lack of progress toward this goal, but lately I'm starting to understand some of our critics when they say, "Why do we care so much about being equal?" OK, it's time to come clean...we don't!

Well, let me clarify. I have never had much interest in convincing couples that they should equally share all the household chores or even have equal time with the kids for that matter. If, however, they want to be equally happy and care about creating a team of equally valued parents, then I'm more than motivated to discuss ESP. Not as an artificial way to keep score, but rather as an equivalently valuable path to a balanced and enjoyable life.

I am encouraged today after reading in Motherlode about a study released by the Families and Work Institute. In particular, this study looks at the "ambition level" of both men and women age 29 or younger, as defined by a desire to achieve greater responsibility at work. It turns out that the responses are closing in on gender equality and reflect a downward adjustment to the importance of paid work in their lives. Lisa Belkin calls this "a change that seems consistent with a growing desire by both men and women for balance in their lives."

Desire for this kind of balance at a high level is the foundation that will make sharing in all life's domains more equitable. This is fertile ground for ESP.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Men Are Alright

Interesting Domestic Disturbances column today. Judith Warner tackles the idea that the recession has led to SAHMs complaining about having less disposable income and laid-off power career fathers sitting around like slugs instead of embracing the nurturing duties at home. Judith isn't buying this scenario - one that she says has been given way too much attention in the media. It may be true (or partly true) for a small percentage of the most wealthy families (the 'yummy mummies' and the $800,000/year investment bankers who support them), but the vast majority of families affected by the recession are caught up in simply keeping themselves afloat.

Judith interviews marriage historian extraordinaire, Stephanie Coontz, on the topic and says: "Increasing numbers of working class women now - in a downturn where 82 percent of the job losses have been among men - have become their family's sole wage-earners, it's true. But their husbands, very often, are holding their own at home just fine. For while the stereotype has long been that working class men won't do "women's work," Coontz said, the truth is that in recent years they've had a better track record than the most high-income men in sharing domestic duties. Twenty percent of these men, in fact, actually do more housework and child care now than their wives. "These people have been doing it for some time and they're much more ideologically committed to doing it," she said. "I think your worst offenders are in that top 5 percent. I've been a little irritated by the slams on men."

We have often suspected that the wealthiest of families are among the least likely to create - or desire - ESP. Dr. Coontz's words add meat to that suspicion, and a ray of brilliant hope in this crummy recession...that men are ready to embrace and value their full share of down-and-dirty childraising and housework, and are doing so. And as they decide how to figure out their best return to the work world, we hope they'll get a chance to realize their home duties are far more than chores - they are a means to a balanced and enjoyable partnership.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Equally Shared Breast-Feeding

Since there are so many ways to be equal partners, we don't often dive into the specifics of any one detail of parenting. We prefer to focus on the building blocks and philosophies behind creating an ESP lifestyle. However, in the recent flurry of news around breast-feeding we were honored to weigh in on the NY Times online column, Motherlode, as to how an ESP-minded couple might deal with the early days of feeding their children. You can check out our comments here.

Personally, we decided to feed both our children breast milk up until they were about 8 months old. Most of this was delivered via the breast while a consistent bottle per day allowed me to be involved as well. This was by no means a requirement, or even a substantial aid to creating our ESP lives, but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I didn't love getting up in the middle of the night, as I'm sure very few people do, but I saw it as a small sacrifice to have access to the fundamental nurturing of our children.

I have no idea if spending that time in the early morning hours with my children paved the way for a closer relationship with them. I'd like to believe that all the moments in the last many years are more important than a few months of once-a-day feedings. However, I'm quite certain that my participation in those early days was beneficial for me. Nurturing was never my strong suit being a typical, logical male, but feeding an infant at 2:00 in the morning did wonders for getting me out of my head and into the game. Logic told me that I was providing nourishment to my child but I couldn't escape the fact that more was happening in those moments.

Owning my participation in those early days of childcare felt like the only way to honor my promise of partnership with Amy. I didn't marry her to solve the problem of "who would raise the kids" but rather to share an enjoyable life. For me, that meant embracing the challenges of sleep deprivation, gender expectations, and the resulting uncomfortable scenarios.

Yes, I wanted to participate.
No, I did not love it all the time.
Yes, I would do it all again.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Breastfeeding Trap

I just finished reading an article entitled 'The Case Against Breastfeeding' in the Atlantic. And although I'm by myself in my quiet kitchen (the kids are asleep and Marc is away for a few days), I want to stand up and applaud. Bravo to journalist Hanna Rosin!

Lest any of you get too uncomfortable, I breastfed both M and T just as any new mother is bound to do in this day and age in our culture. I bought the arguments that 'breast is best' and did my best to make it work. My pump was a big part of my life once I returned to work each time (although I figured out a way not to pump at work the second time around - an accomplishment of which I'm particularly proud). I gritted my teeth through those tough first few (make that six) weeks of soreness and pain, a bout of mastitis, nursing bras, leaking, etc. I made it through to when it becomes easy and quick - and it was pretty smooth sailing for the many months I breastfed after that. I never quite made it through to not wincing if I needed to feed in public; although I fully support the rights of breastfeeding mothers, I personally felt I needed to protect my own rights not to have to breastfeed in front of strangers sometimes.

Anyway, my own story is not the point here. Rosin's article is long, but it is excellent. I urge to you to click over and read it if the topic interests you at all. From an ESP perspective, breastfeeding can often interfere with a father establishing himself as an equal parent early on. It doesn't have to, by any means, but even well-meaning mothers and fathers can use breastfeeding's intimate and time-consuming bonding opportunity to set mothers on the course of being the 'better' parent if they don't consciously work to overcome this issue.

Rosin describes a friend who refused to breastfeed because she "felt that breast-feeding would set up an unequal dynamic in her marriage - one in which the mother, who was responsible for the very sustenance of the infant, would naturally become responsible for everything else as well." Rosin goes on to say: "We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding? Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift. Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on."

I think that the breastfeeding effect on keeping couples from ESP is much larger than most of us realize. And somehow, the La Leche League, Dr. Sears, and so many others have made it taboo to even speak of not breastfeeding our children. Given the paucity of actual well-done scientific research to prove any true benefits to breastfeeding, not breastfeeding ought to be an option. This would sure make ESP a whole lot easier in the first year of parenthood. There, I said it!

But I know most of us aren't quite ready for that message. And we don't have to be. There are many ways to get around the breastfeeding period with your equal parenting intact. In fact, I've yet to meet an ESP mom who didn't breastfeed at all, and I know many who have done so well beyond the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended time period. How they did so is a subject for another post. But today, I'm just glad to see one journalist explore the issue so that perhaps we can all be better armed to get through it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Women and Girls Only?

President Obama announced that he has established a new White House Council on Women and Girls. This mission of this new committee is "to provide a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls and to ensure that all Cabinet and Cabinet-level agencies consider how their policies and programs impact women and families." Issues such as equal pay, family leave, and childcare will be on the group's agenda.

On the one hand, this is yet a bit more tangible proof that our new Administration is taking family issues seriously and wants to put action behind Obama's campaign trail promises. Hooray! On the other hand, the title of this new Council is a bit dismaying. Why are these issues (except for equal pay) women's or girl's issues rather than parents' and children's issues?

Obama even says the right words himself: "...I want to be clear that issues like equal pay, family leave, child care and others are not just women's issues, they are family issues and economic issues. Our progress in these areas is an important measure of whether we are truly fulfilling the promise of our democracy for all our people. "

As long as we keep labeling these topics as 'women's and girl's' issues, we'll marginalize them. And heaven forbid that the solutions developed by this extremely worthy Council focus on just one gender! Come on, Obama - harness the power of BOTH parents!

Hat tip to Lisa Belkin for her the excellent coverage of this topic on the
Motherlode blog.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Supergirls, Meet ESP

Today, we have the pleasure of being the landing place for Liz Funk's Supergirls Speak Out blog tour! This new book, subtitled 'Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls,' is a fascinating look at young women who turn themselves inside out to be perfect at everything - their looks, their grades, their extracurricular resumes, their social status.

What does this have to do with equally shared parenting? A lot, if you think about how the things we tell ourselves as we're growing up shape the lives we find ourselves leading as parents later on.

Liz's book follows five girls who are driven to success, and includes information from almost 100 more. It tells us that, although these girls make perfection look effortless, they often trade their souls to do so. And lose themselves along the way. If they could slow down and stop doing what they feel the world expects of them, they would have a hard time answering the question, 'Who am I?'

We asked Liz a few questions to get her thoughts....

ESP.com: What happens to a Supergirl when she marries and has children?

Liz: You know, I think it all totally varies depending on each woman. I observed a lot of Supergirls who tended to date guys who were less ambitious than they were and they were sort of the powerful ones in the relationship, career-wise, and I observed some Supergirls who were attracted to equally ambitious guys. It all depends. I think what happens when a Supergirl goes to have kids depends on whether she's confronted her Supergirl self. If a woman has had an overachieving-related breakdown, usually she changes her ways and adjusts her approach to life, which would compel a woman to try not to be an alphamom. But I think these moms who we hear about in the media, who make homemade decorated cupcakes for bake sales and homemade Halloween costumes are Supergirls all-grown-up, who busy themselves to the point of exhaustion to feel like they are valuable.

ESP.com: How do Supergirls feel about our culture's gender roles? Do they seek to bust them up or do they follow them because this is what they think is expected of them?

Liz: One of the ironies that I encountered over and over again as I researched this book was how young women who were intellectually conscious of the pressures on women in society still weren't immune to these pressures. Lots of girls I spoke with identified with feminist beliefs, but didn't have much in the way of suggestions to ameliorate the high demands on women in our sexist society.

ESP.com: How difficult would it be for a Supergirl to create a relationship with her husband based on true equality and balanced lives?

Liz: I think that if Supergirls would be open to having an equally shared parenting lifestyle, they'd probably find that it would be much more fulfilling than trying to singlehandedly do everything! I think it would be great for them, actually! So perhaps the key is that today's parents need to adopt ESP so today's girls see a healthy, egalitarian model of parenting.

ESP.com: What is your overall prognosis for a Supergirl to have a happy life?

Liz: I think that realizing one's intrinsic worth is the most important thing in the world. So many Supergirls don't have a sense of why they matter outside of what they look like and how others perceive them, but having a positive, loving relationship with themselves and having a sense of identity could save them! It all goes back to self-esteem and liking what you hear when you listen to your thoughts.

It's Amy again. Talking with Liz made me think about how important it is for all parents (all people, actually) to watch out that they don't begin to live a role rather than a life. ESP is about being a real person in partnership with another, rather than garnering our identities from the roles we take on. I hope seeing an ESP relationship in action can be a useful model for our daughters so that they live their best lives - not the lives they think others expect of them.

Thanks, Liz, for sharing your wisdom, and we hope your book reaches the many girls who need to hear your hopeful message.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Child Support

A new study was released online today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that examines the effect of co-parenting on the behavior of hard-to-manage 4-year olds. Ninety-two sets of parents were videotaped interacting with their children for 1.5 hours, while researchers judged the quality of their relationship - as a cooperative 'co-parenting' one vs a critical or one-up one. The children were evaluated on their behavior at this time, and then one year later; this evaluation was done by asking the children's mothers (which I'll begrudgingly agree makes sense since the non-co-parenting families in the study probably had mom-focused childraising).

It turns out that the strength of the co-parenting relationship was a strong determinant of the behavior of the child at the end of the study. While levels of aggressive behaviors increased during that year in many children, the notable exception was children whose parents showed supportive co-parenting. Primary researcher, Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan at Ohio State University, doesn't know exactly why cooperative and supportive parenting worked this magic, but points to a fairly obvious theory: "...it may be that good co-parenting promotes a sense of family security in children that makes it easier for them to focus on controlling their own behaviors and emotions."

These findings extend previous work by Schoppe-Sullivan and others that showed supportive co-parenting also strengthens marital relationships and leads to better individual parenting. "Co-parenting has a central role in families with children," she said. "If you can improve that relationship, there are all kinds of positive effects on the children and on the other family relationships."

Now, 'co-parenting' is just a piece of full ESP, and it is not necessarily fully equal parenting. And we generally don't like to take a stand on the effects of ESP on children because it hasn't yet been studied (and because we believe that any parenting lifestyle can produce happy kids). But it is nice to see this study lend some science to what we believe - if two parents team up to care for their children as peers, good things are bound to happen.

We'll continue to keep an eye out for more co-parenting research and keep you up-to-date as we discover it.

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