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, January 26, 2010

Evening the Score

I think Amy is slacking off on her laundry duties. I mean, I've washed two loads this week to her one, and her batch is still sitting in the dryer with permanent wrinkles by now. It looks like I'll have to make M's lunch tonight too - even though it's Amy's turn...after all, it's almost 10p.m. and she hasn't done it yet. And another thing: I gassed up the car the last 3 times. Is it too much to ask that she swing by the pump sometime? Jeez.

Sound familiar? I sure hope not! But yet this horrid scorekeeping mentality is the Number 1 complaint we get from commenters on articles written about equally shared parenting. That, and its close cousin, the accusation of ESP being possible only between two highly neurotic people devoted against all else to exactly splitting every (that's every) household chore down the middle.

Well, we finally got to face these myths down yesterday in our guest post on Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog in the New York Times. And boy does it feel good! Huge thanks go to Lisa for giving us this powerful platform to do so.

Now, back at the ESP ranch, we know there really isn't much need to address the issue. If you're an equal parenting afficionado or practitioner yourself, you already know the truth - that ESP is probably the opposite of scorekeeping and rigidity. It's about breaking out of the rigid molds that society would have us fit, and teaming up with our best friends (that's our partners) to come up with a new way of sharing both the burdens and the joys of life together. It's about wanting the best for our partners, not micromanaging them or keeping track of their contributions. It's about trust, and puzzle-solving...together.

But now that I'm here in ESP-friendly company, I do have one more beef with the 50/50-scorekeeping myths. And that is that splitting a task exactly down the middle, and even checking on how well one might be doing with that math over time, is totally fine. Laudable. Smart. See, it's all in the motivation.

As ESP couples, we want an equal partnership. We know this brings us both our best chance at lives we can honestly say we love. And yet thousands of niggling societal pressures push us into inequality every day. The boss that expects a man to stay late because his wife can pick up the kids (right?). The school that always calls Mom about the kids' progress or when they become ill - even if Dad's name is first on the call list. The neighbor who shares housekeeping tips with Mom and makes fun of how men can't cook to save their lives. To stay the course of equality, ESP couples have to be aware - consciously choosing it over and over in a culture that expects otherwise. And doing that often means either continually noticing and correcting course by talking, talking, talking together...or putting autopilot equality in place whenever possible.

Autopilot equality is a great thing. But the crazy part is that, to an outsider, it can look like the most petty of 50/50 division or scorekeeping. Mom cooks on M/W/F, Dad cooks on T/Th/S and Sunday is pizza night. Dad wakes up if the baby cries before 2 a.m., Mom handles cries after this cutoff. Mom drives to the party, Dad drives home. Silly? Or a really easy way to keep things - a few things - nice and equal. Which is just what both of you want anyway.

So here's to the beauty of the 50/50 split...when executed ESP-style!


Anonymous Juli said...

The societal pressure examples you mention have all happened to me! Also, I've had the "you're probably going to quit soon since you have a child", "you don't have the time to put into this class because you are married and have a child", and the classic "you really trust your husband at home alone with your child?!" There are a lot of misconceptions to overcome! Thanks for underscoring some of them, Marc.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Michelle Barry Franco said...

I maintain that ESP, for us, is such a perspective, a foundation, a place from which we come... it truly is NOT about splitting specific tasks 50/50. In fact, as long as we both know that the other is perfectly capable of handling a task, we DO have things we are definitely NOT splitting. He does almost all of the laundry. I buy virtually all gifts for family and kid parties (though he attends more of the actual parties.) The important thing is, I CAN do the laundry (and I do sometimes) and he CAN buy gifts (and he does sometimes), we just prefer this arrangement. Overall, we split house chores, kid care, outside work and personal time 50ish/50ish.

I understand how we could fall into traditional roles through this method of choosing our tasks by preference. But this IS where the talking and checking in comes in for us. We have to stay in conversation about what's working and what's not, always with the primary goal of expanding the experience of family time, personal time, and financial responsibility for EACH of us, equally.

I am always disappointed when I see the focus on nitpicking that comes up around ESP conversations - AND I want to reassure those inclined that they CAN, in fact, practice happy ESP life and still hold on to/not have to do specific tasks that are currently working as less-than-equal in their relationships. It works great for us that way.

1:52 AM  
Anonymous Michelle Barry Franco said...

Most importantly, YEAY!! for your guest post on Motherlode! Just read it and it is a fabulous rebuttal to all of the misguided assumptions about ESP out there - thank you! (should have read it before my last comment, really, since you basically say all that there in that guest blog post :-D)

1:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks, as always, for your comments. I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear that a couple can successfully do this, that women do not have to worry about giving up their economic autonomy, that children can have the benefit of a dad fully engaged and helping them with their lives.

I only wish there were more men willing to do this, less discrimination against women in earning, and less discrimination against men who attend to their family responsibilities.

2:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea Marc! Bust those myths! Shoot, we're too busy to waste time keeping score over here. In fact, I would say sharing everything has made both of us more grateful to the other and more sensitive and motivated about doing our share. Cultural stereotypes die hard though - even our close friends who know how we operate default into calling or emailing me first for anything related to our daughter. I just include my husband on the next email or call and move on.
Kristin Maschka
Author, This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood To Get the Lives We Want Today

11:08 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Really there is too much to do, and so little time to do it that as long as both parents are doing something then you're just wasting valuable time if you're keep score.

As I read the passage about societal presumptions the local childcare came to mind, who are constantly saying "can you tell your wife..." when it is me who takes care of most of the childcare related things.

Great post, and I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of your book in the post!

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Scott-

Bummer that you call your site "father's privilege" If you had said, father's role, or something less presumptuous you might get my interest. I think we're all done with men trying to assert privilege just by being men (and women as well in their role as mothers). That's what I suspect Equally Shared Parenting is all about. No room for superiority complexes here.

10:50 PM  
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