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.