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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Daddy Shift

Wednesday's Motherlode was a particularly enjoyable read for me. Jeremy Adam Smith is one of my favorite Dad voices around and he was featured in a two-part Q&A with Lisa Belkin. The topics included: gender patterns at home, how has the father role changed in recent generations, barriers to male caregiving, and how men talk about parenting differently than women. This last point was my favorite, not just because he uses me as an example, but because I couldn't agree more. I love hearing men sticking up for their own way of doing things around the home, describing what's important to them about caring for their kids, and generally embracing all the roles that are available to men these days.

Primarily, I appreciate Jeremy's historical perspective and vision for where parenting is going. He is a believer in ESP and paints an optimistic picture of the direction of parenting in his book The Daddy Shift. Not only does he poignantly describe his own struggles and joys of parenthood but is able to clearly articulate how men's choices today compare to generations past.

Jeremy continues to reassure me that ESP is both a reasonable and desirable path on a personal level and may even be a sign of things to come.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Doin' the Death March

Very interesting column in the Wall Street Journal this week by work/family journalist, Sue Shellenbarger. It profiles a few families that have cut back on outside childcare to save money in tough economic times, and have put a kind of ESP in place. I say 'a kind of ESP' because these families have got the equality piece right, but they've not quite embraced the other foundational goal of this lifestyle: balance.

The article starts out with an ominous tone - and the scary title of Extreme Child-Care Maneuvers - as if to warn readers that the economy was forcing couples with kids into a frenzied juggling act that leaves them both gasping for a moment's peace. But as you read further, the real story comes out. These tag-team parents who meet in employer parking lots to hand the kids from one to the other are really prioritizing their time beyond just making the maximum amount of money. And they may be tired, but they are kinda thriving on the challenge. Best of all, they are noticing a silver lining in the creation of an equal partnership:

Says one mother, "Good things can come from hard times. This has taught us to be more of a couple, really. Just managing our work and money and schedules is a skill. ... It takes a conscientious effort. The recession has forced our hand in making that change, which is ultimately really good."

The couples in this story were obviously handpicked for their crazy, hectic lives - lives they are not sure are sustainable. They are, as one of the full-time dual-earner ESP couples we interviewed for our upcoming book says, "in a death march." We don't advocate such an unbalanced life over the long haul, of course, but it contains much that is worthwhile too.

These parents are a true team. The kids get to spend plenty of time with both of their parents, and their parents both get everyday intimate relationships with their children. Both are contributing to the family income in equally meaningful careers. Respect and communication abound.

Now, to make this a happy existence for years to come, I'd prescribe a heavy dose of balance and further prioritization of time and money. Imagine if these parents could shave off a few hours of work each week and dedicate that time to enjoying a hobby or spend it together instead. Would this be worth the cost? Given the high price of overstress, this is definitely food for thought...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hangin' with Mojo Mom

Marc and I had the pleasure of being guests on the podcast of Amy Tiemann, aka Mojo Mom, this week. Amy is the author of the newly published book Mojo Mom: Nurturing Yourself While Raising a Family and a terrific parent-blogger/writer we've come to know over the past three years. We had been Amy's podcast guests once in the past, and it was fun to return to her show for a more in-depth discussion of ESP.

Talking with Amy was very satisfying because she 'gets' the important stuff about ESP. She's way past the common media glitch of 'exact' 50/50 chore division and on to topics like what it really means for two partners to take ownership of creating equality and balance in their relationship.

You can listen to her podcast with us here (download the episode dated 5/15/2009).

I'd also like to put in a two-thumbs-up rating for Amy's book, which I have just finished reading. While it is not meant to be a book about ESP (it is directly for moms - in any type of parenting arrangement), it is a beautifully written handbook on how to find yourself as a person in a world that wants to label you and treat you only as a mother. It is the book equivalent of a huge, warm hug from a mother who has been there ahead of you, and can give you really useful advice. The perfect read for new moms. Amy even includes a chapter on fathers, which is fully inclusive of their parenting abilities and includes a nice dose of full-out ESP discussion (we're listed as a reference too - thanks, Amy!).

By the way, we're now in the editing phase of our own book - and beginning to talk about exciting steps like cover design. We're going to be hunkering down for the next month to devote ourselves to this project. It is wonderful to see this all coming together, and we can't wait to share the final result with you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When Burgers Turn Bad

Marc and I have an ongoing battle (lest you think we never fight) about quality. It usually manifests as me insisting on the best of the best when planning for a party - the most bountiful spread, the highest quality ingredients, etc. Marc then automatically takes a stand against my wishes, often going overboard in his assertions that a few crumbs scraped off the floor will be perfectly adequate party food.

So, my ESP challenges are particularly great around party time.

This past week, our son T had his 4th birthday party - a barbeque at a local playground. Marc and I discussed the menu, I wrote up the shopping list, and Marc did the shopping. Then, I saw that Marc had bought store-brand pre-formed burgers in a box rather than hamburger meat we could form ourselves. The horror! I know, I know - some of you are thinking (or so Marc assures me), "What's wrong with that?" Yuck, gag, worse than cat food. Our opinions were not meshing here.

What to do?

I blundered - I acted horrified and insisted that the pressed cardboard be replaced with real meat before the party could go on. Marc reacted as any normal guy might, and defended his purchase by calling me elitist (in so many words) and telling me that this kind of talk is exactly what makes guys not all that anxious to take on the shopping. ESP not!

What could I have done differently? Happily serve what I thought was really bad food to our guests? I could have. But I think that doesn't have to be the answer. Serving good food (even simple hamburgers) is really important to me. Deliberately serving bad food was not Marc's goal, and he didn't buy the boxed meat just to tick me off - he just thought he'd found something convenient at the grocery store that would fit the bill. He didn't prefer his purchase over my wishes either. But somehow, I don't think that ESP means having to settle for a standard so far below your own at any moment's notice - on an issue that really matters to you. This isn't world peace, I know, but bear with me...

Marc and I dissected the issue later that day and came to some useful conclusions. He told me that it would have helped tremendously if I had not been so strongly accusing of him when I first noticed his purchase. If I had instead said something like, "Hmmm...I'd really like to use regular hamburger meat for the party, would you mind if I exchanged it?" Then, we could possibly have preserved our equality in the matter - Marc's choice being viable, and Amy raising a different suggestion - and briefly discussed the matter. We also realized that the important ESP take home message was that while both of us get a full vote in everything about our home and family, we vote in the context of our whole selves - not for the sake of mathematical equality.

When all was smoothed over, I went to the grocery store for my choice of hamburger (and trust me, much of the party was Marc-style too). T had a ball at his birthday bash, and we still both felt we put on the party together.

As luck would have it, I forgot to bring the dreaded burger pucks back to the store. They sit, in all their splendor, in our freezer now. Someday, I know one of them will be smiling up at me from my plate on Marc's night to cook dinner. And I'll smile back.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Appreciate This

I have a problem with appreciation. Occasionally I hear well-intentioned parents suggest that the best way to get your partner to do more around the house is to shower them with appreciation when they perform a certain task. At first glance it seems like this is a better option than the "stick" approach of nagging, complaining and the like but something still doesn't fit for me.

Today was a typical Thursday at our home. After biking home from work, I did some food shopping with the kids, went to the local playground, prepared dinner, cleaned the dishes, and packed lunches for tomorrow. Conventional wisdom might advise Amy to heap some praise and loving my way to encourage this behaviour in the future. That might work in the short run if my motivation was fairness or even a sense of obligation to lighten my partner's load. But neither of these factors inspire my actions fully.

My day was filled with exactly what I needed to live a balanced life. I got paid for work I enjoy, I got some exercise, I played a role in keeping my home running smoothly, and got to spend time outdoors laughing with my kids. I don't want appreciation from Amy for doing the dishes (or any other chore) any more than I want appreciation for biking home from work.

ESP gives both partners the opportunity to create balanced lives while they tend to their relationship together. Now that's something I can appreciate!

Monday, May 04, 2009

In the News - Updated

Tuesday (that's tomorrow) will be a big day in the global ESP discussion! First up, journalist Sharon Jayson, who covered a bit about equally shared parenting recently after our presentation at the Council on Contemporary Families meeting, will be showcasing ESP in more depth in a feature article in USA Today. Sharon interviewed each of us for this piece, as well as two wonderful ESP couples we've come to know as a result of writing our book - Catherine and Silas from Pennsylvania, and Brian and Corinna from Oregon. We haven't seen the article yet, but we'll link it up here once we do. Check it out! Update: Click HERE to view the article, which focuses on how mothers must let go of control at home and with the kids in order to make room for ESP.

Second, Catherine and Silas are also scheduled to Skype in for a followup piece on the TODAY Show tomorrow morning (scheduled to air around 8:00am EST)! If you're up and near a TV tomorrow morning (or can set your DVR tonight), you may want to tune in to see this segment. We'll link this up too, assuming it is available online after airing. Update: Click HERE to view the segment.

And we welcome new readers to this website who may have found us from either of these venues. Please have a look around and let us know what you think. We'd love to be a part of helping other parents think about how to create and sustain a life of equality and balance. Could that be you?

Lastly, we have an official title for our upcoming book! Drumroll, please....

Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents

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