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, August 26, 2010

Why 50/50 Matters Very, Very Much

We've spent countless hours typing out blog posts to counteract the myth that equally shared parenting means dividing the household chores right down the middle - and keeping score of which partner does more dishes, laundry, diaper changes, etc.  And every time we think maybe - just maybe - this myth is finally dead, up it pops again in full regalia.

So, recently, when we were on a public radio show with a very nice host who nevertheless kept referring to us as the couple who divides everything down the middle, and when the author of recent Chicago Tribune piece on ESP very sweetly stated that, "I don't know if we want to spend the amount of time they [meaning Marc and I] do making sure everything tallies up to a perfect 50-50," I begin once again to try to think of other ways to explain this whole 50/50 thing.

And apart from saying, for the millionth time, that ESP has nothing to do with dividing any particular chore in half or with keeping score in anything - and apart from trying to point out that ESP is about far, far more than chore division and that the more a couple focuses on chores the farther they actually get from ESP, I also find I want to say that there is something deeply important about the balance that 50/50 conveys.

Not in chores, but in power.

In most relationships, there is a 'one-up' person and a 'one-down' person.  The titles may be universal throughout a relationship, or different depending on domain.  For example, there is usually a household manager who gets more say at home, a primary parent who directs the show with the kids, and a spouse with the more important career when push comes to shove.  In ESP, however, we strive to live so that there is no such imbalance.  Power is held, in each domain, by both partners and by neither more so than the other.  Decisions, when push does come to shove, are made together (which, of course, is not to say that every tiny little decision requires consensus...if so, I doubt anyone in our house would ever make it out the door dressed and ready each day!).

You can easily see how anything other than 50/50 is simply unequal power.  A corporate shareholder who owns 51% of the company's stock is in charge.  A manager who entertains the opinions and ideas of his underlings but then makes the final decisions himself wields all the power (my old boss used to say he had 51% of the vote).  It matters - a lot - if the scale is tipped even a tiny bit when it comes to power.

This is the 50/50 that we want to hold onto when we build and nurture an equally shared parenting relationship.  And when the power is evenly shared, both parents have a chance at developing competency in all domains of their lives together and get equal access to the joys (and challenges) of each domain.

p.s. Nice article by Robert Franklin at Fathers & Families as a response to the Chicago Tribune piece (which we actually generally liked) here. He makes the very important point that you can't achieve equally shared parenting if one parent works significantly more hours than the other.  You can have a good relationship without this balance, sure, but it just isn't called ESP.  When Mom is home more hours than Dad, Mom will likely take charge at home and Dad will likely be the spouse with the primary job. And again, scorekeeping the hours isn't the goal...it's that equal power, dual competency and equal access to each domain that we're going for.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review: Men Can

"Fighting to gain power feels better than giving it up." -- Donald Unger, Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT

Right in chapter one of the new book, Men Can, we hear the above explanation of why narrowly defined gender roles persist in our culture. Men have historically been in a position of power in this society while women have been steadily gaining power in the workforce, politics, and elsewhere. As a result, there is some inertia from men to giving up this power.

Despite this belief, Men Can does a fantastic job showing us how men are both fully capable and also how they benefit from such a shift towards care-taking. The book has excellent examples of men breaking out of the traditional model and dives in deep to help us understand their motivations and challenges along the way. Unger looks at where the male stereotypes come from and how they continue to evolve through the lens of TV shows and commercials, movies, and language itself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and Unger's advocacy for broader lifestyle choices for both men and women. Unger would like to break down the barriers that keep men, in particular, from reaching beyond the standard options. He has done a great job highlighting "the changing image and reality of fatherhood in America."

We will be adding this book to our Resources page. Thank you Donald Unger!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why Persist with the Dream?

I'd like to pickup where the Chicago Tribune left off today in a fine piece on how the division of household labor hasn't changed much over the last century. Alexa Aguilar correctly points out that many of us want something different but often slip right back into the culturally gendered roles laid out for us instead. Her comparisons to ESP are right on the mark and she even references us as role models for this lifestyle.

However, I expect many readers may be asking, "why bother with any particular split of chores?" In fact, if the goal is to reach any particular percentage of work done by each spouse, the result is destined to fail. Worse still, if you're at X% and Y% and your goal is (X-1)% and (Y+1)% (using any measure you wish) there is a possibility for bean-counting, resentment, and frustration.

ESP is so much more than "who does what." Essentially all the couples we interviewed for our book are driven by the dream of a true partnership where each parent gets equal access to all the joys and responsibilities of raising a family. Not a single couple told us how proud they were to have reached a perfect split. These are real parents with messy lives just like the rest of us. We know things don't work this way. Who would want them to? Instead, they bask in the delight of walking in each others shoes on a daily basis. No need to get frustrated that our spouse doesn't understand the pressures of maintaining a viable career, no need to worry that our spouse might never feed the children if we weren't around, and no need to feel alone in our narrowly defined roles.

ESP holds out for Equality in the broader sense. Grab your partner's hand, shake off the gender expectations, and build the life of your dreams. No spreadsheets, scorecards, or tally marks needed. Sure, there will need to be some interesting discussions to make it happen but isn't that a requirement for any healthy relationship, regardless of the model chosen?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Movie Review: Ramona and Beezus Choose ESP

We took our kids to the movies today - a rather rare event given that they are usually unhappy to sit in a dark, cavernous theater and watch the typical zam-bam, in your face, designed-to-sell-the-toy animation that passes for kids' movies these days.  But this one was different.  A real-actor, G-rated, sweet movie based on the Beezus and Ramona books by Beverly Cleary that Marc and I have had such fun re-reading with M over the past 3 years.  We know all the stories by heart, and T knows a lot of them too.  So off we all went.

The new Ramona and Beezus movie is a compilation of many of the book series' stories, altered a bit to fit into a few months when Ramona is 8 years old.  It is cute and charming, even though several reviews may rightfully complain that it doesn't give Ramona quite enough spunk or naughtiness to match her book character.

For Marc and me, though, the best part was watching what the screenplay writers did with Ramona's parents relationship.  In the books, Ramona's dad is laid off and spends many months trying to find work again while her mom takes part-time medical secretary work to keep the family afloat; finally, he settles for a less-than-stimulating full-time job in a supermarket and her mom continues part-time work because she finds that she likes working.  Fairly typical family arrangement (although not for the time in which the books were written - Ms. Cleary was definitely ahead of her time in portraying a matter-of-fact working woman).

But the movie departs a bit from this scenario.  Spoiler alert.  Ramona's dad is offered a high-power job in a start-up company that would require the family to move - ending Ramona's mother's satisfying job and uprooting Ramona and her sister, Beezus, from their schools. Instead, with his family's support, he chooses to follow his career dream as an artist, and takes a part-time job teaching art in the family's hometown public schools.  Ramona's mother is able to remain at her part-time job.  The path of most income is not chosen; instead, this couple chooses to share responsibility for bringing in enough money with two jobs that fit the wishes and interests of both parents.

On the housework and childraising front, Ramona's dad steps up to full partnership as well - not relying on his wife to show him the ropes, and even telling Ramona proudly that he's gotten to be a pro at laundry in one scene.  Her mom does a small amount of primary-parent instructing early in the movie, but then steps back and lets her husband flounder and succeed of his own accord. The respect between the parents creates a lovely vibe.

So here's to a children's movie that doesn't pander to commercialism and fast-action violence, and shows us how two parents can choose their best life together with shared breadwinning, shared housework, and a true partnership in childraising.

Something the whole family can love!

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