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, June 01, 2010

Is Money the Biggest Barrier to ESP?

I found myself at a playground this past week overhearing a conversation between a grandmother and her grown daughter.  They were talking about some recent changes at the older woman's workplace - it seems that management just instituted a mandatory 4-day workweek and grandma was not sure she liked the change. She admitted that she liked the day off but was struggling with the longer days. The conversation reminded me of a couple of guys I worked with years ago who had similar sentiments when offered a compressed workweek. They both rejected the opportunity in favor of five "normal" days, preferring to see their kids each workday for longer stretches before and after work to being given a full day with them every week.

I understand the trade-offs and can't presume to know what is best for each family, but I like the 4-day workweek idea as long as people get to choose it rather than have it forced upon them. And better yet, if both parents are on the same team working towards an optimal family solution, the likelihood of success is greatly increased.

After a bit I was included in the playground conversation and offered a simple question to the grandmother: "Would you like four "normal" days along with a 20% pay cut?" Her response was short and to the point, with a bit of indignation: "No way!"  Was this because she loved her job/career so much that 32 hours per week just wasn't enough, or did she feel that 32 hours was beneath her somehow, or perhaps she felt that she could not afford the pay cut (or benefits cut) involved?  With her rapid dismissal, I never got to probe further.  But her vibe was all about the money.  Her body language shouted, "Are you crazy? Who would take a paycut?"

We begin the Money chapter in our book with a quote about ESP's requirement for flexible or reduced work hours that we hear regularly, "Gee, must be nice, but we could never afford that." It seems to me that the cultural ideal of "more is better" is alive and well despite the literature to the contrary. In the popular book, Stumbling on Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert tells us that the amount of family income at which happiness plateaus is relatively low; true poverty makes us miserable, but a family income of about $50,000 can make us as happy as one much, much larger. Once basic food, shelter, and a little extra is obtained, more money just doesn't seem to satisfy. Sure, we can all think of things we could purchase with more money than we have now - like a bigger house, more elaborate vacations, a top-ranked college education for our kids, maybe a new outfit now and again - but the truth remains. These things will not make us (or our kids) any happier.  And there is no end to how relativity can trick us; a surgeon's salary looks like the answer to a nurse, a nurse's salary looks like the solution to a teacher, a teacher's salary looks like heaven to a short order cook.

I also like to look at this from the other end of the spectrum. I'm confident that a person can be miserable at any level of income. If money isn't all it's cracked up to be, maybe it's time to optimize our lives instead of expending so much energy on maximizing our income. Perhaps grandma really does need every penny, but I'm willing to bet that is not the case for many of us.

What would your ideal life look like? Can you imagine it without putting a dollar value on it? Or better yet, what would you pay for a life in which you woke each day loving what lay before you whether it be a day at work, a playdate with your child, a mountain of laundry, or dinner with friends? I'm not suggesting that we like each of these equally but instead recognize that a life with healthy doses of work/play/chores/relationships can be pretty darn nice.

Money is not a worthy god.  Sometimes, the best decisions are not simply the ones that bring us the most cash.


Blogger N said...

It definitely is for us, in practical terms. And still, I'm taking the plunge and interviewing for jobs that are less time in the office, and less money. Not sure how we'll afford it, and it may mean putting off having more kids for longer than we'd prefer. But there's one thing we do know: it's not working how it is now.

I have to say that, without your book, I probably wouldn't have even thought of going for a different job, let alone had the guts to apply for them, whether I get one or not.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Good luck pursuing your dream. You are not alone! It may take some time but, like you said, the alternative is not acceptable.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts.

One additional barrier is also the traditional "man breadwinner" psychology where the man has this sort-of heroic and fearful position of being the source of income for the family and the woman's income somehow doesn't count. I think this is part of why people are scared about not making enough money money-

Men because it becomes the most important role (and sometimes the only role) and measure of the success of their lives and their existence, and women because they feel it could be taken away from them at any second because their jobs don't matter as much as men's.

I imagine in a co-earning, co-parenting house there is less of this emotional stress because you know this is a cooperative effort and you have an ally to relate to?

2:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great post Marc. This was one of the biggest hurdles for us, coming to the conclusion that it's ok to earn a little less to gain more time at home with our son, and therefore more happiness. We enjoyed our disposable income over the years, and really got used to stashing away for retirement. But a few less "toys" and vacations won't be missed right now. And retiring a few years later to enjoy raising our son now while he's young is a worthy trade-off. It's an interesting choice to make as we watch our friends race to make more money by putting in long hours in hopes of a promotion, just to be able to afford that big house or the leased cars or a big vacation. But when we look at their level of happiness, it tends to be lower than ours, they have far less calm and sanity in their world and are stretched very thin. How we spend every waking hour has taken on a whole new level of importance now that we have a baby. I find it much more critical to be doing what brings me the greatest joy - which for me is spending time with my son, and not spending excessive amounts of time at work. If the price tag is a lower income, I will make that sacrifice and adjust my spending accordingly. I agree that money does not equal instant happiness, yet most people have been trained to believe money equals happiness. Our society needs to reevaluate what it truly means to be happy.

2:51 PM  

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