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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don't Go Thinking It's Somewhere Else

Years ago, my dream was to retire early. The goal included lots of playing and relaxing whenever it suited me. I knew it was not a particularly unique dream. Many others have held out for the same vision with varying levels of success. However, I have come to believe that my dream of yesteryear was shallow and uninformed.

Retirement, in the classic sense, implies the attainment of sufficient financial resources to allow for the freedom to opt out of the work world. My experience tells me that this often leads to an unhealthy focus on the pursuit of money at the expense of other, more enjoyable, endeavors today. Indeed, my old dream was "the pill" I swallowed to justify my determination to succeed in my career - at almost all costs.

Today, my financial dreams are more modest and often revolve around making enough money to sustain my family (together with Amy), spending enough time caring for our home, getting enough time with our kids to really connect with them everyday, and sustaining enough leisure time for the foreseeable future. I don't wish for unlimited leisure time any more than a vibrant and passionate older person wants to be forced to retire at age 65. Instead, I try to stay purposeful with my choices for both responsibilities and fun.

I'm far from perfect in enacting this new dream. Despite my intentional creation of ESP with Amy, I can still sometimes view my time with the kids as a chore when things don't run smoothly. Or even to think of work or housework as burdens. I can still entertain that old desire for nothing but leisure. But it helps when I remember that my current dream of the good life (here and now) is accessible by a slight change in perspective. Having time to nurture my children and bask in their wonder, having a job that allows me to grow, learn and contribute to a group effort, sharing the running of our home with a true partner, and occasionally pursuing a traditional leisurely activity are together enough to sustain me for some time. I'm not sure that a large increase in "leisure time" would be a net gain for my life as a whole.

I often find myself reading the words emblazoned on a wooden snake that hangs in our home (a folk-art purchase by Amy at her hometown art fair years ago): "Don't go thinking it's somewhere else." A great life isn't somewhere over the rainbow - or when I can finally retire or take that trip to Fiji or dance the tango in Buenos Aires.

It's here, now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Go to Battle, Dude!

Amy ran across this article at DadsClub.com (Australia) last week, and read it out loud to me. I have to say, I agree with her enthusiasm for it - it's one of the best pieces I've heard for capturing a father's desire for a balanced life. It is common for women to write about their frustrations trying to balance it all, or having to give up work in order to carve out time to spend with the kids. But this article gives us the plight of the other gender, and I agree wholeheartedly.

According to the article, Australia is experiencing a 'renaissance in family values', with The Sunday Telegraph February 2010 reporting that "98.8% of [Dads] can't wait to get home to our families every day, ranking them ahead of wealth, possession and career in the important things of life." A DadsClub survey revealed that "When it came to the responsibility of work, many men felt trapped by work and wanted to spend more time with the family/friends, even if that meant downsizing or re-locating. As husbands get older many become more cynical about work. And whilst it serves to provide us money, we become increasingly jaded by the sheer fact of our dependency on it, often at the expense of time with our loved ones."

That last quote was precisely what I was most worried about when I thought about marrying and having children - before I met Amy and we solved the problem with ESP. I'd already decided I would rather downsize than consider my work to be my identity and sole purpose, and I'd done it as a single guy so that I could spend more time with friends, with my own parents/brother/sisters, and just having fun. My balance was well worth the price! I think there are more men out there who feel similarly. It just isn't particularly fashionable (yet) to say so. Which makes me all the more enthusiastic about this Australian DadsClub article.

The rest of the article focuses on how fathers could do well to bone up on their negotiation skills - both so that they can approach their bosses successfully when they want to downsize or flex their schedules to get those balanced lives, and so that they can harmoniously step up to their share of the responsibilities (and fun) at home and with the kids.

This last point is a good one. As men, we can't expect to enjoy more time at home without picking up our share of the chores and not-so-fun stuff. We need to earn our partners' trust in this area and work to help our partners make space for us to become true equals in decision-making and responsibility by becoming fully competent at everything it takes to run a home and raise our kids. Simply being home more isn't going to cut it. If we want to have a chance at lasting, happy balance, we need to step in as full partners - and learn to love doing our part without expecting (or wanting) direction.

The article concludes with a few thoughts that made me smile extra wide:

"Because truly equally shared parenting is a relatively new concept in today's families, Dads lack role models. When fatherless-ness costs the Australian economy $13 billion per annum it is not surprising that society is championing for more balance in the parenting equation. To truly optimize the balance of both worlds, work and home, dads need to posses heightened negotiation skills. Go to battle, dude!"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mom, Dad and Money

There has been a lot of buzz lately about the latest Pew Research Center results on men, women, and earnings. The big news is that the number of heterosexual couples in which the woman outearns the man has leapt from a mere 4% in 1970 to 22% in 2007. Historically, this is big news. Sure, a full 78% of these households still boast a male breadwinner with a bigger paycheck, but a sea change seems to be upon us.

The real impact of this change is in our definition of what it means to be a man. Forever, it seems, men's identities and worth have been tied up in their ability to provide for their families - and secondarily in their career success in general. The Pew data suggest that we'd better start thinking otherwise.

The news has been greeted with mixed reviews. One complaint comes from men who aren't quite ready to broaden their horizons - those who feel emasculated by partnering with a woman who earns more rather than either nonplussed, happy to be relieved of their age-old burden to chase a paycheck above all else, or eager to embrace all of the other things beyond career-building that make up a life well led. Another whine rises from those who would rather not deal with the difficulty of change - wanting, instead, to make relationships nice and simple...by turning them into purely role-based agreements (big yuck). Then, there's the "us vs them" discussions. These take the form of "the person who makes the most money gets the most power in the relationship" or "finally, women are putting men in their place" or "make room for the alpha wives."

Both of these thought lines are rather shallow, don't you think?

The ESP take might go something like this: Hold on, everyone! We're coming to that moment we've all been waiting for, when gender doesn't dictate a specific role in the family. When men and women are free to define their relationship and their family by what works best for them, rather than by what society says makes a successful man or woman. When both partners get equal access to the joys of each aspect of their lives - the joy of maintaining a career and providing for the family, the joy of everyday intimacy with the children, the joy of caring for the home and of taking care of themselves as individuals. Of course, we know we can have all of this now - by bucking tradition and setting up ESP lives instead. But when women and men have equivalent chances at earning enough to provide, and when caregiving is valued as much as working for pay, the rest of the world might rise up to meet us.

Let's not make these data about men vs women, or about battered egos. This is gender equality, and it's about freedom, my friends - for all of us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From HuffPo to Ireland

We're excited to share that we made our debut yesterday as bloggers for The Huffington Post.  Our first post there tackles the issue of "fairness" as a point of argument for sharing the chores.  For decades - make that centuries, surely - women have been arguing that they handle an unfair burden at home and caring for the kids (nevermind snagging an unfair portion of the joy to be had in each of these domains).  And it's true.  But where do all these logical arguments get us?  Usually mad at each other, or at best they let us reach equitable sharing by mild coercion - usually not a sustainable or happy state for either partner.  With ESP couples, a different strategy is at work.  Check out our post and let us know what you think!

And across the Atlantic, The Irish Times is covering the ESP life.  First, in this article by journalist Sheila Wayman, based on interviews with Marc and myself.  Sheila does a really nice job of pointing out some of the key underlying philosophies of equal sharing.  The article is then paired with a look at two Irish couples.  The Mansergh/Wrides rate themselves pretty equal in household chores and caring for the kids, but less so in breadwinning - here they succumb to traditional logic and value the career with the most stability and money-making power (his).  They understand this trap, however, which is the first step to courageously choosing otherwise if they do decide later on that equal breadwinning is a positive goal for their relationship.  The other featured couple, the Carens, could easily write one of our Real Life Stories (wouldn't that be great if they contacted us to do so!).  Instead of settling for the gendered approach to breadwinning (meaning inequality), they "radically reshaped their breadwinning after the birth of their first child."  Their solution was to become entrepreneurs, a common option for ESP couples (although certainly not the only way to equalize breadwinning).  Their family income has dropped, but they consider the sacrifice well worth the time they can spend together as a family.  We're willing to bet they are happier now than when they made more money - a classic "time over money" theme for ESP couples.  Go, Carens!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Driving Home the Point

Long ago - far before this website existed - I was talking with one of my best friends about who drives the car on family trips. His wife was present and was soon sucked into the conversation. We soon realized that the topic struck a chord for all of us. Despite the best intentions of both Amy and I, and my friend and his wife, the driver's seat was a guy thing! I remembered this conversation last week when I stumbled on Eric Morriss' NYT blog Freakonomics, on which he took up the same topic. It is one we've blogged about here before, too.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a couple deciding to allocate all of one task (any task) to a single parent. However, there are some inherent risks with this approach. The more this strategy is implemented, the less likely it is that you will both reap the benefits of walking in each other's shoes on a daily basis. Using "divide and conquer" for large swathes of the household tasks can also restrict the freedom of each parent, making it more difficult for your partner to pinch-hit for you when the opportunity arises.

And finally, if all the "manly" tasks are assigned to Dad, and the home and childcare tasks are assigned to Mom (even if they like this arrangement), aren't we teaching our kids that chores are gendered? I'm not sure, but I do recall T asking why I was in "Mommy's" seat when I jumped in the passenger side of the car and Amy took the wheel one day. Ouch.

Regardless of who drives - always, today, this week - being conscious of our actions is the first step toward owning our lives. Driver's seat patterns may seem like small potatoes compared to figuring out how to share in raising our children, but they reflect what we stand for nonetheless.

Here's to driving with our eyes wide open!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Book Love

This wraps up another full week of book activities, the highlights of which have been:
  • A return visit to our fellow parenting writer and friend, Amy Tiemann, as guests on her Mojo Mom podcast.  We love talking with Amy about ESP because she gets past the obvious surface questions and into the nuances.  We have had the pleasure of being interviewed by her prior to our book publication days, but it was especially nice to speak with her now about our hopes for the book and some of its details.  If you have about 30 minutes, this one is well worth the listen.
  • Part II of our 'radio tour' of 10 minute interviews across the country, and a final stop on Montreal's Kim Fraser Show (CJAD 800).  We really enjoyed talking with Kim about the realities of ESP, and of course we love how she pronounces our last name with French panache.  This high-energy, fun segment is about 20 minutes in length if you'd like to listen along.
  • An extremely thoughtful review of Equally Shared Parenting by family/marriage therapy academic Carmen Knudson-Martin, who blogs with her sociology professor counterpart, Anne Mahoney, at our sister site, www.equalcouples.com.  Carmen understands ESP down to its very core, and her comments about intentionality and ownership are music to our ears.

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