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, May 27, 2011

ESP: The Novel

Marc posted recently about a review by Jennie Bristow on Spiked of new novel, The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs. Ms. Bristow's review focused, sadly, on the plight of women burdened with the bulk of the household management and husbands who don't lift a finger to 'help.' And on the idea that equally sharing this burden means that neither partner gets a fulfilling career (which Marc points out is emphatically not true!). Not a pretty picture from the point of view of either gender, and complaining in this manner is not a good recipe for affecting lasting change. Even if just in a juicy, chick-lit novel.

So I was braced to dislike The Pile of Stuff - from the awkward title to the promotional text that describes it like this: "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." Yes, the bulk of the novel is about a mother complaining about her clueless, no good, lazy spouse and how awful her life is as a result of partnering with him. In the name of research, I pressed 'Add to Cart' on the Amazon e-book version and started reading...my very first foray into electronic novel reading, by the way.

It started out as all that I had expected. Complain, complain, complain. Funny stories, well written prose - light beach reading designed, it seems, to give angry women something to relate to as they go about their angry lives. As the story progressed, the author threw in some poignant moments, as her protagonist mom-of-two, Mary, reminisced about the couple's early dating days and all that she loved about her husband in the beginning and all the good that others still see in him. Still, the appreciation was spiked with venom as the list of her husband's "sins" (read: things he didn't do to her expectations) grew into a longer and longer file on her laptop.

Here comes the spoiler alert...if you think you'd like to read The Pile yourself, it is best you click over to another website at this point.


I'll meet you back here in my next post.

Or, if you really don't mind knowing the ending, keeping reading....

Fast forward to months and months of misery between these two parents, involving near infidelity for each and the discovery of Mary's laptop file of anger by her husband (who then starts to mess with her mind by committing the same sin over and over a la the movie Groundhog Day just to see what she'll write about it). They separate. But just as Mary is tallying her results to determine if she should request a divorce, and her husband is at his lowest point of feeling unloved, they finally begin talking. Aided by a good friend who truly sees their problem for what it is, they begin to put together the pieces that got them to this tough place. And then, they actually begin to come up with a solution.

This is where the story of two fictional parents got personal for me...I began to well up as I read what they came up with as a way out. Equally shared parenting. They scrap Mary's list and start a new one - not a list but a pledge for a new beginning. The new pledge includes things like "Neither of us will make jokes about male household incompetence, either as denigration or as an excuse.""Two laundry baskets. Colors and whites." (be still my heart!) "Mary to not use the phrase "It's not fair."" "On days that both of us are working or both not working, responsibility for children to be absolutely equal in terms of picking up from childcare, cooking boring food, getting up for breakfast." (well, I'm not sure we really need the word 'absolutely' but I'll go with it for now) "Both parents to be allowed equal amounts of time for a chosen hobby, e.g., the "band," going to the gym, shopping."

Their mutual friend helps them think of their lives in three buckets - earning, childcare and housework (sound familiar? add in 'time for self' and we've got the 4 domains of ESP) - and the need to treat each bucket equally for a balanced life. They dig into the exact tasks that go into each category so both have an appreciation for the big picture and the details. They rework Mary's career from a dead-end job she doesn't enjoy to a plan for her to pursue her career dream as a film producer. They develop family standards for their hot-button chores, with results that work for both of them.

They add a fourth bucket: their relationship together (which we consider a part of 'time for self'). They start to feel the energy of supporting each other's dreams rather than focusing on getting their own fulfilled despite each other.

And their friend/therapist names their new pledge their 'affidavit of equal parenting.'

If you have the fondness for ESP that I obviously have, you will enjoy The Pile. Even after I've spoiled the ending, it's a great journey to read.

I'm sending loud blog applause to its author, Christina Hopkinton. And I'm adding our very first novel to our Resources page.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Welcome Boston Globe Sunday Magazine Readers

We have had a great time working with journalist, Jenna Russell, on her piece in today's Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and look forward to "chatting" with you live on Monday, 5/9 @ noon ET. Here is the link to the chat site if you can join us.

And if you are new to our website, we invite you to have a look around for much more material on equally shared parenting. In addition to this blog, you will find a number of reader contributions in the Real Life Stories section - each story has been submitted by an ESP couple, and can give you a flavor of the commonalities behind this lifestyle. But you'll also notice that there are folks from many different walks of life who are striving to create both an equal partnership between parents and a balanced life for each - and succeeding!

We hope you return often and join in the conversation. We are pleased to have you here!

- Marc and Amy

Thursday, May 05, 2011


When some hear of ESP, they immediately think that it is an option only for the very lucky - couples who happen to have fallen into just the right work schedules with kind-hearted bosses who grant them flexibility at every turn, and have picture-perfect harmony in their relationship and housework standards, a grandmother living next door, and of course plenty of money to cushion all of life's blows. These naysayers are quick to dismiss the idea of an equal partnership and balanced lives for themselves, and we can envision them secretly chuckling about how the seemingly ideal lives of real-life ESP couples are all bound to end at some point.

But what they are missing is that ESP is not a fair-weather choice. And while we can all expect some small, big, and even downright enormous barriers to anything we hold dear in life, ESP couples continue to hold the ideals of equality and balance as priorities even when the going gets rough. We experienced a bit of this ourselves during the 11 months in 2007-8 when Marc and his entire department were laid off in an outsourcing move by his previous employer, and endured the uncertainty, belt-tightening, and anxiety as he hunted for another job that fit our ideals. A challenging, interesting, well-enough-paying, reduced-hours position for a man in this culture is not the easiest thing to come by...and yet it did materialize.

Many other ESP couples we've met or interviewed have similar stories of having created and then lost and then created again the work schedules that allow them to be equal partners in breadwinning and in caring for their children and their homes. The process is not always easy. But just as with any other principle upon which one builds one's life, ESP becomes an imperative to a couple who believes it represents their best life together, and returning to it is like a homing instinct to those who own it in their souls.

Other stories are not so rough, but nonetheless illustrate the enduring quality of this lifestyle and how couples who hold it dear tend to guard it carefully. As an example, we recently heard from dual software engineers, Shankari and Tom, one of the ESP couples featured in our book (Chapter 2 - Equality) with an update on their lives. In the book, you meet them as they share their decision to sequentially take the maximum allowable parental leaves (12 weeks) offered by their employers and then negotiate flexible work arrangements that optimize their efficiency on the job and their time with their daughter (and now a second daughter as well). This meant Tom worked most mornings and Shankari worked most afternoons, while they passed their daughter between them mid-day. Extra work hours in the evenings and tag-teaming on weekends allowed them both to maintain full-time employment, and they were able to shine on the job for their results-based, efficient work output.

Today, Shankari tells us:

"Our daughters are now 5 and 3, and are in part-time parent-participation preschool five days/week. Each of us gets two fixed full days at work, and the remaining full day is assigned out based on whose turn it is to participate at school that week. The parent who does not get the full day goes in to work in the morning and picks up the kids in the afternoon.
 Our older daughter will be starting a progressive, parent-participation elementary school this Fall. We can't believe that we've been able to maintain our flexible work arrangements in the high pressure world of Silicon Valley for 5 years! At this point, I think our work schedule is sort of accepted and factored into people's calculations - I think we will be able to continue it at least until our younger daughter goes to school in a couple of years."

It felt great to hear from Shankari and Tom, and to know that they've held fast to their dream lifestyle and their full partnership. While they might make things sound easy, it wasn't the norm for their professions when they requested the work schedules that made their sharing possible at the outset of parenthood (with zero outside care initially) and now it has grown into an accepted 'given' by their bosses and co-workers.

They are changing the world.

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