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 25, 2012

The Richer Sex: Money Makes the World Go Round

Be still my heart...I've picked up the virtual pen again! It has been almost 1 year since our last blog post here. And let me start by assuring you that we've been busy living our lives, as you have...working out the ever-changing nuances of ESP with growing kids. Equal sharing is as strong as ever as the foundation of our relationship and our family. The only big news is that our kids have gotten to the age where they talk about it too! I can't believe we now have a 9-year old daughter and a 7-year old son. Crazy!

I have a small pet peeve about bloggers who go on and on apologizing that they haven't been writing (as if the reader sits waiting for their posts) and makes promises to write again with high frequency (and then doesn't, but no one is counting anyway). So I'll just say that our long absence from this blog has been a good thing for us - a reconnection with lots of other wonderful projects (Marc is building a deck and pergola on our house), immersion in new kid stuff (T's now on a boys' gymnastics team and grinning ear to ear about it; M loves playing violin and making new friends in her youth orchestra), and job challenges (my department is growing and growing and I'm seeking the courage to keep my own work-life balance as a result). But for today, I'm back!

Now, on to the reason for today's break-blog (like breakfast is break-fast, get it?): a review of the newish book, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and Family by Liza Mundy. This book was released a few months ago, and is an investigation of the new trend toward moms with power jobs and stay-at-home husbands. Ms. Mundy has a journalism background and tackles the subject thusly; this is not a prescriptive book, but rather a vehicle for describing a sociological trend. In this regard, the book succeeds and is an eye-opening peek into the lives of families that have made this reverse-role decision.

As I read The Richer Sex, I felt two conflicting emotions. The first was relief that gender roles are really being busted - that both men and women are becoming more and more free to connect, start families, and choose the roles they feel best fit their situations without basing them on gender. The more that we take gender out of the 'who-does-what' equation, the closer we get to using metrics for our decisions that better align with our priorities.

The other emotion I felt, however, was sadness. The Richer Sex depicts yet another shallow, money-based view of how families make decisions. I'm not naive about the importance of money, and I understand how money will correlate with decisions when you take a global, data-trend view of how families are structured. But money doesn't necessarily make the best judge of happiness when it comes to one's own individual situation. Example after example in the book describes women who outearn men - leading to a decision that, well, of course the woman's career should take precedence. Money is king. Never mind that by saddling a mother with being the sole breadwinner, she gives up having time with her kids. Never mind that by saddling a father with keeping the home and raising the kids, you rob him of the satisfaction of a career that makes a wider contribution. Let's just always follow the money...right? Ugh.

Ms. Mundy dismisses ESP with one wave of her pen, saying, "Each partner doesn't need to be interchangeable, doing exactly the same things, half-work, half-family, dividing the work according to a strict egalitarian notion. Sometimes it really is preferable - and necessary - for one spouse to be the high-powered partner and the other to provide behind-the-scenes support."

Well, that's true in general sort of way, of course. Some couples want non-equal relationships, and always will. Traditional or reverse-traditional role-based families are great options if they fit the desires of both partners, and they often do. But many of us want all the nontangible, nonmonetary things that come with true equality. Not for the sake of equality but for so much more, including balanced lives for both partners that include all of what each considers important. And to choose equality (and balance), we often need to dethrone Money as the reason for all decisions. And dethrone its friend, Prestige. We have to decide how much money is enough, and exchange the neverending prestige quest for the joy of being an artisan worker in whatever career we choose. Then, the whole world opens up for both partners.

The Richer Sex is a facinating look at couples who choose powerful women/subservient men models in various forms: the responsible, capable woman married to the shiftless and lazy man, the superpower woman who yearns for the newest trend in stay-at home husbands (I kid you not), and mostly the couple who realizes that the woman's career is far more financially promising. It tells of a world in which all of these decisions are fully possible - which is a good thing. But its shallow focus irked me as I read, and I kept wanting to object - to ask these featured couples to think about their long-term happiness together, and about making sure that each of them gets to fulfill their dreams and live their lives so that they will not have major regrets after their kids are grown.

Ms. Mundy describes our collective future as one in which women rule, and the sexes trade places. She cheerfully says that this will be a good step, since afterall, men and women will remember their old roles and thus have lots of empathy for each other in their new reversed roles. That we'll eliminate the mistakes of past generations, with men who barely know their kids and women stuck at home in mindnumbing lives as homemakers. But think ahead a bit...how does a reversal of the problem actually solve the problem? It doesn't. The one good thing about a world in which women rule and men serve is that it is a step closer to one in which we realize neither sex should rule the other and we should both serve each other. If the world must go through this interim step to get to equal sharing and balanced lives for both genders, shame on us...but we'll get there.

I say if you want an equal partnership, skip the role reversal. Don't load up men with what women are trying to get out from under. Don't saddle women with what men would like to be relieved of. Let women thrive in satisfying careers alongside men; let men parent and tend their homes alongside women. Share the joys and the burdens.

Go right to the good stuff.

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