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, June 24, 2011

Shattered: A Book Review

A couple of months ago, I heard about a new book, Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality, that is advertised as "a call to arms for a revolution in parenting." Published in England only, it is described as a rant against the unfairness of modern role-based mothering - with the 'call' being toward equally shared parenting. At the time, not having yet figured out how to obtain a copy, I only hoped that it would be a forward-thinking, solutions-based book rather than yet another big, long, loud complaint with no instructions for how to make life better.

Soon after my initial mention of the book, I did in fact here from its author, Rebecca Asher, who generously sent us a copy along with her good wishes. Yay! And over the past few weeks, I've slowly chewed through the chapters - which are packed with information and well written descriptions - and I learned a lot.

Shattered does indeed do its share of complaining. I can't get you out of that one, Rebecca, but I'll mitigate my comment by saying that the complaining is really, really important. It is completely justified, and best of all, it fully includes fathers in the discussion. For many, many of us, the usual state of parenting shuts doors we'd rather were left open. It squashes women's career dreams or squashes their hopes for motherhood (or both). It also relegates women to 'foundation parent' status, and men to junior parents and family ATMs. It pits couples against each other in a race for fulfillment, leaving their relationship gasping for attention and care along the way. And none of this can be great for the kids either.

So Rebecca spends much of the book outlining this sad situation - what she aptly calls "our current state of parental apartheid." Unlike other books to have done so, however, she very clearly describes how men (not just women) lose out in the present state, and how the answer must come from what will work better for both sexes.

The author's aim is "to discover if there is another way of organising our homes, communities and workplaces which would enable both women and men to give wholeheartedly to their children and to experience the joy of a deep connection with them, while retaining other fulfilling elements of their lives."

Chapters are devoted to what happens to couples after they have a baby (including, interestingly, how many hospitals in Britain apparently do not allow fathers to sleep overnight on the maternity floors), how mothers judge each other and contribute to the problem, the effect of parenthood on careers, the work/life conundrum of new fathers, and maternal gatekeeping and denigration of father's contributions.

Then comes my favorite chapter - one describing how other countries are successfully (and sometimes not so successfully) moving toward a more ESP-based society. I learned the most here, and found this chapter the best synopsis of what works in governmental solutions that I've ever read. The UK, with its seemingly generous maternal leave policy, is actually making gender equality less likely as women stay home longer and men eschew leaves to keep their careers on track. In other countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland, use-it-or-lose-it paternity leaves are working to vastly improve equality and equal parenting. The US, with its 'nobody gets nothin'' attitude, actually prevents an equality meltdown as both parents struggle to come up with their own solutions to "who will take care of our children" and "who will work." Not that I'm advocating for the no-help-for-you situation we're stuck in at the moment, but it will be very important not to push simply for paid maternity leave if we want to avoid enhancing gender inequality!

Rebecca's book does end on a hopeful note. And while she focuses primarily on solutions that involve government or workplace changes (it should be required reading for UK policymakers!), she pushes us to take control of our own destinies - ESP-style. "Moving away from the orthodox model is hard: it opens up uncharted territory that exposes us to ourselves and to others. Rather than unthinkingly sticking with the familiar, we must engage with the full range of options in how we organise our parenting. We must be prepared to step into the unknown: giving up ground and claiming a stake in other areas." She recommends shared leave in a baby's first year, for example.

"Sharing the care of children throughout their dependent years, and moving between the public and domestic spheres as equals, may seem daunting and difficult. In practice it requires reciprocity, energy and patience - probably more so than clearly dividing the jobs of cash and care. There may be more daily negotiation but there is also the underlying satisfaction in a joint enterprise. And it is worth reminding ourselves of how this effort is repaid. The benefits of equally shared parenting do not just pay dividends for women...fathers form meaningful relationships with their children of significant long-term benefit to both; children learn that both mothers and fathers can provide care; couple relationships are more likely to last; and mothers and fathers spread their bets, so the family isn't dependent on the father for income or on the mother for care, if either of them leaves, dies or is unable to provide one of these functions for any other reason." Rebecca also lists wider benefits of a government that supports ESP through flexible working, high-quality affordable childcare: lower rates of child poverty, greater family stability, less crime, richer community life, rise in the fertility rate to allow for resources to care for our aging society, and keeping educated, qualified workers of both genders in the workplace as full contributors.

As the book concludes, "Men and women must come out of their corners, meeting in the middle to share all the responsibilities and pleasures of life. Together we can create a more equal society of which we can all be proud." In short, Shattered is indeed a manifesto for equally shared parenting. It narrates a compelling, urgent argument for the UK government, workplaces, and parents themselves. And if any of those parents happen to want to take on the challenge...well, we've got just the tool for them!

We are proud to add Shattered to our Resources page (and now it is available in the US on Amazon, although in a limited sort of 'other distributor' way).

Thank you, Rebecca, for sending us your brilliant book to read, and mostly for getting it out there into the world.

World, are you listening?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Best Medicine: A New Real Life Story

We are happy to bring you another story of an equally shared parenting couple for our Real Life Stories page! Our newest ESP family is Debi and Noam, raising their four young boys and supporting each other's careers as physicians. Debi tells the story of their plans, hatched when they met in medical school, to prioritize family first - even as they trained long and hard during school and their residencies for a demanding career path. Today, with a little perserverance, they have created work schedules that allow them to care for their boys together with just a little outside help from grandma.

Please click over to read their inspiring full Real Life Story, and others on our RLS page. We hope you will find a story that can resonate with you and give you the motivation and courage to pursue your own priorities.

A big welcome to Debi and Noam!

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