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, 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?


Anonymous ND said...

Interesting - and too bad - that she seems to have chosen ESP as a scapegoat for complaining about life.

It is true that childless people may get ahead of ESPers careerwise - or maybe not, because we don't have the motivation that comes from children.

Most people do have children and will probably continue to do, so you can swamp us out politically anyway - since we have a democracy - if we try to take over the place.

I would think a primary concern is how ESP benefits children, anyway.

I may be biased, though, because the only reason I don't have children is that we were having this revolution to sex/gender equality during my 20s, 30s and early 40s (I am a woman). Even though I am childless and may be further along in my career because of it, I am very supportive of ESP and measures that allow people to do it. I might even take advantage of ESP working schedules - if they become more common - in order to have work/life balance for my own interests.

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I am only 17 years old when I had to accept my duty as a young father when my girlfriend and I accidentally did an adult kind of thing. Our parents got mad to us because we were young then and my wife was only 15 years old. It's really hard providing the needs of my family at our young age. Though we made them angry, our parents didn't gave up on us and they still advice us to pursue our studies even if we have a baby.

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