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

Friday, April 29, 2011

Good Enough Is the New Perfect

"A balanced life is often ridiculed as impossible - a goal that many have abandoned because it makes us mere mortals feel bad when we can't achieve it." That's the opening line from Chapter 3 in our book - the chapter that describes the idea that balance is one of the two foundations of equally shared parenting (equality being the other). And it's true...we have long since lost count of the number of times we've heard or read or seen others making fun of 'work/life balance.'  Or read about cute, perky tips touted to cure imbalance - perhaps breathing deeply for 5 minutes a day or checking email only once each day or not making the bed or scheduling fake appointments to steal time for yourself or buying the latest time-saving gadget. These things may help for awhile, but then, well, they don't really make much of a difference.

Hollee Schwartz Temple and Becky Beaupre Gillespie don't laugh at balance, and they don't advocate short-term silly fixes either. They are the authors of the newly released Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, a book which advocates redefining success instead. As they explain in their book, their definition of "good enough" doesn't mean settling for mediocrity or tricking ourselves into thinking that a crummy situation is a good one; "good enough" is your own definition of a great life set against the backdrop of society's definition. Our culture has a rather narrow idea of smashing success, typically involving a corner office or world-expert status in some field or a top-5% paycheck with all the material trimmings. But neither happiness nor worth come from any of these achievements, and one size fits almost nobody.

Hollee and Becky's book is mom-focused because they have chosen to write to mothers - mothers who typically do have to make the career/home decisions more often than fathers and do end up with more of the home management work than men in our current culture. But their message works just as well for ESP fathers. And, as a bonus, Marc and I are featured in Chapter 4 (The Good (Enough) Wife) describing how equal partnerships can lead to fun lives; our mentor, Francine Deutsch, is also featured in this chapter with a really nice quote (she's reminiscing about Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works): "When I was writing the acknowledgments for my book, I wrote something like, I don't have to thank [my husband] for sharing equally because he got to have the kind of relationship with my son that I have. Who would trade that for anything?"

If you'd like an upbeat, encouraging read about real balance, check out Good Enough Is the New Perfect!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unshared Housework and Seething Resentment

Sometimes it feels like the UK is ahead of the US when it comes to creating an environment to foster a more gender neutral approach to parenting choices. It has policies in place to allow anyone to request an alternative schedule at work for any reason, and puts the burden on the employer to specify why it may not be possible in a particular job. It awards handsome parental leave (at least compared to the US). It even has a Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, "who advocates a philosophy of ‘equally shared parenting’ as the way forward for modern families."

However, I suspect that much of the work to create ESP still lies in the personal decisions of adults. Whether or not the sexes are equal in society does little to determine the roles we assume as parents in our own relationships. Tackling this kind of personal equality is a more thorny issue that is often avoided to preserve harmony in the home. But we all know that this sort of don't-rock-the-boat harmony comes at a price in terms of resentment, division, and/or score-keeping.

I recently read a review by Jennie Bristow on Spiked of a new novel by UK author, Christina Hopkinton, entitled The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs. The book itself is described as like this:
What's the thing you hate most about the one you love?
Mary doesn't know whether it's the way he doesn't quite reach the laundry basket when he throws his dirty clothes at it (but doesn't ever walk over and pick them up and put them in), or the balled-up tissues he leaves on the bedside table when he has a cold, or the way he never quite empties the dishwasher, leaving the "difficult" items for her to put away. Is it that because she is "only working part-time" that she is responsible for all of the domestic tasks in the house? Or, is it simply that he puts used teabags in the sink?

The mother of two young boys, Mary knows how to get them to behave the way she wants. Now she's designing the spousal equivalent of a star chart and every little thing her husband does wrong will go on it. Though Mary knows you're supposed to reward the good behavior rather than punish the bad, the rules for those in middle age are different than the rules for those not even in middle school...

Hopkinson pens a hilarious and acutely-observed novel about marriage, motherhood, children, and work. Readers everywhere will find Mary's trials hilariously familiar as they cheer her on in her efforts to balance home, work, children, and a clean bottom stair!
We haven't read the novel yet (it was just released yesterday), but in the Spiked review, Ms. Bristow points out many of the frustrations that women face with the enduring expectation that they own the caring of the home and even quotes Arlie Hochschild when referring to a "stalled gender revolution." Unfortunately, she was unable to embrace ESP as a possible solution and instead claims that, "'Equally shared parenting' does nothing to relieve the absolute drudgery of domestic work, and dragging men more into the domestic sphere risks creating an 'ambitions divide' between families and non-families, where the only people allowed to have proper, full-time, fulfilling careers are those without children. It was bad enough when only mothers suffered on this front - to push fathers into taking the same four-days-a-week, get-back-for-the-childminder 'mummy track' career path is a recipe for increasing resentment."

First of all, she is correct that housework still has to be done if ESP is pursued (outsourcing aside). An equal partnership is not a miracle cure for the dirty laundry, but rather a way to share the inevitable responsibilities of running a home (among other things). The alternative is to continue to saddle women with most of the chores - which is apparently not what most women want either. Her second point is misinformed. There is no research that states the only way to a meaningful and rewarding career is to work full time. In addition, of the dozens of couples that we interviewed for THE book on equally shared parenting, not a single man resented the choice to remain peers with his wife in all the domains of parenthood, including breadwinning.

I have said many times that I did not sign up for this lifestyle just so I could wash more dishes. Changing diapers, cooking meals, and folding the family's clothes are small prices to pay to be able to say, "I love my life" because we love the balance that only sharing each domain of our partnership can provide. The practice of ESP can be messy at times, as can any lifestyle, but we maintain that it is well worth the effort.

Care to give it a try?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Does Competition Kill ESP?

Marc and I were surprised to find a substantial piece in The Independent (UK national paper) yesterday about equally shared parenting, and, well, those crazy, over-serious, torchbearing Vachons. The Independent has covered us before, also without notice or without interviewing us, but actually we've found each instance to be a nice piece of writing that provokes thought and discussion. The only thing we find unfortunate about this new article is the title (which we know all too well usually gets written by someone other than the article's author and aims to stir up negative emotion): Shared Parenting: A Disastrous Double Act. Gee golly, makes sharing the childraising sound downright sinister!

The article is written by a mother who describes her husband as the type destined to love being a stay-at-home dad; yet, when their son first arrives, she surprises herself by falling in love with their baby and wanting to spend at least equal time raising him. A perfect set-up for ESP, one would assume. Unfortunately, this couple approaches the sharing as a tug of war - each competing for 'best parent' status, butting heads over their very different parenting styles, and butting in when they each needed to let go to honor and learn from the other's contributions. By the time their son reached the end of his first year, they were seriously discussing divorce.

What we have here is a detailed account of something well worth discussion: the fact that the first year as new parents can wreak havok on a couple's relationship. Plain and simple. To then choose to truly share equally this experience with your partner can add even more stress if you aren't both prepared to connect as an intimate team. And if you both grit your teeth and poke each other with your elbows as you share the diapering duty, you may even find the whole experience more unbearable than doing it alone or with a checked-out, mostly-absent partner. This is not the spirit of ESP, although on the surface it looks like the work is being shared.

We loved this piece because, more so than any other account we've read, it is an excellent, poignant illustration of the fact that ESP is anything but the easy way out. Sharing two lives to any extent can be a challenge, and ESP accentuates this by the level of intimacy that it creates and requires. It leaves no stone unturned, and no hiding places in the relationship. Because of the high level of communication required by both partners, and the need to work out all the bumps together along the way, it is a life of brutal honesty. And we'd have it no other way.

Any major life change can bring challenges to a couple who wishes to share it as equal partners - be that traveling together around the world, starting a business together, or having children and choosing to share equally in their care. The alternative to ESP is to split the experiences and power, relegating one partner to junior status as a parent (something that can work well for many, but we suspect would have brought even more misery to these two parents who both so clearly wanted time and a deep connection with their son).

We would like to offer that ESP itself - the true equal sharing of breadwinning, housework, childraising, and time for self - is not the core of the problem that this article describes. And that when two parents want the same deep connection with their kids, the bravery of addressing this head on might actually be more satisfying than the lives that a traditional arrangement might have provided. The author blames the inherent competition in her relationship for their miserable first year of parenting together. And competition turned inward in a relationship can indeed poison the trust that ESP requires. We've seen plenty of extremely competitive ESP parents (and some who are the opposite); but competition doesn't stop them from having a great relationship - it actually fuels their desire to succeed together because they turn their 'must win' energy toward fortifying their ESP lives against outside forces rather than competing against each other.

The author mentions that both she and her husband wish our book wasn't so downright serious about equal sharing. We kinda do wish we could be fluffy and light about the topic, but then the important stuff wouldn't get addressed. ESP is a model; models are not any particular couple's full-time reality - they are aspirations. And so much of what is written about equal sharing gets stuck in the surface stuff - the unimportant 'how to divide up the laundry' silliness. ESP is a substantial lifestyle choice, based not on charting out laundry division but on a shared willingness to walk in each other's shoes on a daily basis and a shared desire for equality and balanced lives. With all the pitfalls and difficulties, we had to be serious about the philosophy behind ESP to get at why a couple would want to work through everything it entails to reach lives that they love.

Toward the conclusion of the article, the author describes some light at the end of her stress-filled, fight-ridden tunnel. She notices how their son is free to choose either of his parents when he needs or wants anything, and that her husband has grown into an amazing father. She begins to appreciate how his skills can actually complement hers - how he is so well able to bring out strong, positive traits in their son that she is less inclined to encourage, for example. And she believes in the vision of ESP - still.

This article touched us. We felt the author's genuine emotional struggle and her wish to learn the lessons and make peace with the terrible moments. It so clearly illustrates how ESP can bring out the truth about our relationships - whether we're ready to see this truth or not. I've never been a fan of hiding from the truth, however, and I know it makes us better off in the end. I hope that this couple can reap the rewards of their struggles so far, and see how far they have already come. And I hope that readers can get past that damn title and start talking about the truth in their own relationships...and reach for the beauty that ESP brings.

Friday, April 08, 2011

We have a new Real Life Story!

Welcome to Wendy and Michael, a really cool ESP couple who have joined our family of advocates for this lifestyle. Michael has written a new story for our RLS webpage that describes their unique arrangement and their absolutely infectious desire to have fun, meaningful, individual lives even after parenthood. Not that being a parent isn't all of that too, but the beauty comes when you can sustain a life as a mother or father plus a spouse, a worker and a fantastic, interesting, crazy, courageous human being. This couple is in the process of actively showing us how it's done, with their year-long experiment to have it all that began this past January.

Michael and Wendy are both writers who have the luxury of flexible, at-home careers...yes, that's true. But so do many other people who don't step out of the usual path the way that they have done, and who aren't nearly so purposeful in their wish to stay co-parents and co-breadwinners mentally, physically and emotionally. They even ask that payments from clients for the writing of one of them be written in both their names, to really cement the idea that no matter who actually does the breadwinning on a given project, both of them have contributed to making that possible by balancing the writing work with the work of nurturing their two young children and caring for their home. And they are off on tons of fun adventures this year - pursuing their dreams now rather than waiting for someday. They are a picture-perfect example of balancing and sharing each of ESP's four domains!

Enjoy their Real Life Story, and follow along on their year of personal fulfillment at their blog: Party of 4.

We're in Paperback!

Just a quick note to announce that Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents is now in paperback! It now has our much-cherished quote from Gloria Steinem on the cover and slightly updated artwork. Innards are still the same; we feel good about the fact that they remain our best work and true to our beliefs since we wrote the hardcover.

If you have time, we would be grateful for a review of either on Amazon, and for any way you can participate in spreading the word.  Let's tell the world about what equally shared parenting is really like, and how it is fully possible!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Preparing the Next Generation

We recently received a great letter from fellow ESP mom, Chandelle, with a story that she has graciously allowed us to share below. We found it to be a powerful example of how our society preps boys not to be equal parenting partners, and how we might be able to open their eyes to new possibilities. As ESP parents, I feel this is part of our duty - paying it forward, as they say - so that our own kids and their whole generation might find it just a little easier to create their own equal partnerships one day. Enjoy Chandelle's story, and let's all be in the lookout for those chances to teach a child!

Hi Amy and Marc,

I'm Chandelle and I've been following your work for many years now. I live in Northern California with my partner, Jeremy, who teaches at a Waldorf school, and our two kids, I. and W., who are 6 and 4. I discovered your parenting model very shortly after I. was born and immediately latched on to it as the philosophy that most closely matched my own instincts. As a feminist I felt very certain that it would be healthiest for our children to have equally involved, equally committed parents who were "whole people."

Truthfully, it's been a struggle to get to the point where I feel like we're sharing fairly equally. Financial problems, health problems, job loss -- all sorts of issues have cropped up to make this path difficult. But much has cleared up since our kids started school. I went back to school myself and now Jeremy and I spend fairly equal amounts of time with the kids and on various homemaking duties. I'm so happy with the progress we've made and I've been doing my part to spread the word about the benefits of ESP.

I wanted to share a discussion I had with one of Jeremy's 4th-grade students yesterday. He asked me if it's hard to be a mom. He said he'd just realized he'll never know what it's like.

So I said, "Yes, it's the hardest job in the world; you work 24 hours a day, every day, for the rest of your life, and nobody ever really thanks you for it, much less pays you for it, and sometimes it's just a lot of labor, like cleaning up poop and cooking pureed food, that isn't necessarily very fun. But we do it because nothing is more beautiful than your child. When our kids were little we would just about cry when they farted. That's how amazing they were to us."

We laughed about that a bit and then I said, "But you WILL know what it's like if you're a dad like Mr. B. [Jeremy]. Some people think that dads can't love their children as well as moms can, but when you watch Mr. B. with our kids, or [a few other dads in our community] with their kids, you can see it's not true. Not everyone can make it work, but I think it's pretty great if a kid has two parents with the same commitment to being around, keeping them happy and healthy."

And he said, "I guess I'd never thought of that, but I could be around just as much. I bet my kids would like that."

Of course my heart melted when he said that. What if it could be as easy as this, just opening a kid's mind to the possibility of being a constant nurturing presence in his child's life instead of a mostly-absent monetary provider? Of course it's not this easy, but just imagine how children would benefit if given a different picture of how parenting works, and how parents work together. I think it could be an amazing thing. I feel very grateful that our children are growing up with that different picture.

Thank you so much for the example you set and for fighting the good fight for ESP. Whenever possible I turn people on to your book and website and tell them that THIS is why our relationship seems so healthy and our kids are so happy and secure.

In gratitude,


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