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, September 21, 2010

The Wrong Stuff

Way down under, Lisa Pryor from the Sydney Morning Herald examines a "study comparing the demands on families with young children, including the gender division of work and care, in five countries, namely the US, Australia, Italy, France and Denmark." I found her article on the online news resource, stuff.co.nz. She quotes two researchers, Lyn Craig and Killian Mullan, of the social policy research centre at the University of NSW as confirming "that in all the countries couples found themselves working harder once they had children. This is not surprising to just about anyone with, or without, children.

However, the explanation of why this is the case is very interesting. It "had little to do with stereotypes about men being lazy - they were working very long hours in paid work - and a lot to do with our obsession with mothers working part-time rather than full-time."

Ms. Pryor goes on to elaborate on the problem of the inherently unequal position of women scaling back their hours and careers in hopes of a more balanced life. As expected, these choices often exacerbate the problem. Men don't tend to share the childcare and home responsibilities when they are expected to be the primary breadwinners. Instead, they have justification to focus more on their careers knowing that their partners have given up the promise of more lucrative options.

So far, I found little to disagree with in this article. As we have been saying for years, the ESP goal of equal time investment in the main areas of breadwinning, childcare, home and self is a worthy endeavor. Intentionally skewing any one domain can wreak havoc on the overall balance attainable for a couple. This article does a good job of describing the problem.

Still, I was dumbfounded at the author's conclusion - that women may want to reconsider the option of part-time work in favor of full-time careers on par with their partners. Sure, for two parents who want full time work, ESP can be an invigorating lifestyle choice. But, why not consider the possibility of two part-time breadwinners working as a team to meet the family obligations as well as gifting each other with enough time to embrace all the joys as well. I'm not sure who is holding onto the sacrosanct man-as-breadwinner role more - women or men.

This seems like a classic case of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't believe it's men or women that are holding couples back from each having a part-time job - it's society and employers. It's so simple to say that couples should strive for this but my husband's industry (city management) and many of the industries our male friends are in (community college president, aide to elected officials, etc.) are full-time professions that will not go part-time, job share, etc. In fact these 3 professions are 55+ hours/week because of community night meetings. Many professions lend themselves to part-time and job share, but so many more don't. Seems a bit simplistic & arrogant to think it's one gender or another that isn't willing to just go to 2 part-time jobs.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Granted, society and employers are not yet set up to capitalize on the benefits of offering more flexible schedules. However, I disagree that the dream is simplistic. Numerous studies have shown that many people (of both genders)want more flexibility in their jobs.

There are more women than men in the workforce now and it seems rather simplistic to assume that "only" women can achieve flexible careers. As our mentor Francine Deutsch, from Mt. Holyoke College likes to point out, "men and women were not born in the careers they end up pursuing."

The point of my post was to question why we, as a society, continue to believe that men are primarily breadwinners and women are primarily caretakers. I am not sure we know the answer yet but I'm confident that the dream of an equal partnership in all areas of parenthood holds great promise as a viable lifestyle.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Bek said...

Anonymous...it is true that many careers are inflexible, mine is one of them...I am a doctor and have battled since graduation to get part time or job share work. For 3 years of work I have only succeded in getting 6 months of flexibility, however, if more people strive for flexibility society will have the chance to adapt.
My husband and I strive for equal parenting but due to my inflexible profession we have periods where the balance is out.
When we have a balance life just works.
Each family finds their own solutions, Amy and Marc do not shy away from the challenges, they simply present an alternative which in my opinion is worth the battle.
I love that my kids have two primary carers, WHen I was recently unexpectedly hospitalised for 4 days (my youngest is 6months) I didn;t need to worry that the family would fall apart in my absence, I love seeing their relationship with thier dad and believe that our endeavour to have 4 kids is only possible because we are a strong team!

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post.

I think the problem lies in the continuing myth that children don't need engaged fathers (or two parents).

I also think people really have to get tough negotiating and navigating their careers. Saying that "it is impossible" to get reduced hours is often, I think, just a cover for thinking that you're going to get ahead by working more and you will then have more money (or power or status) for better schools for your kids, etc. I think unfortunately there is truth in this, but I think there is more weight in the other truth that children who do not have healthy relationships with both parents will likely face compromised success in life. Or so it seems to me.

2:18 PM  

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