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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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Review: Men Can Do It!

Hello, world! It has been so long since we've posted a blog entry here that I've almost forgotten how to do so. That's pretty sad. But I'm back in the saddle, if even for a brief moment, to give you an update on the world of equally shared parenting. Marc and I continue to live this lifestyle every day, happier by the year that we've made this choice. Our kids are older now (11 and 8) so the challenges are different than when we had to figure out how to share diaper changing, feedings and midnight awakenings, but in a way our equal sharing seems more important than ever - at least to our kids themselves, who really understand now what it means to have two involved parents who can provide them with the same, yet different, things. We each have our own equivalently special and important relationship with both of them, and continue to try at every opportunity to break gendered expectations.

Why haven't we been blogging and speaking and writing about ESP in the media? Mostly because we feel we've got a book and the archives of this website out there to offer as wisdom to anyone who would like to pursue this wonderful life. And because we want to spend our own lives living ESP rather than putting our Time for Self domain on hold to write about it. But we're right here, cheering all of you on, happy to speak up if anyone wants to ask!

And someone did recently. We were contacted by the author of a new book on equal sharing - Men Can Do It! by Gideon Burrows. Mr. Burrows' book is available only in the UK, unfortunately, but is a loving, forceful, funny, and tell-it-like-it-is ode to equal childraising, breadwinning and housework. He's an ESP dad himself, and makes a compelling argument that all this talk in the media about the new 'involved father' is mostly baloney - and why men aren't really jumping to share much about raising kids at all. The basic premise of Men Can Do It! is that men have 1000 excuses about why ESP is for everyone else but them - excuses that boil down to cultural expectations and nothing more. He argues that all the governmental and corporate father-friendly policies in the world will make no difference if men don't want ESP in the first place (we agree!). Men, he says, need to first step up and just do their share, then realize how wonderful it is to be an equal partner at home, and then demand workplace change. Not the other way around, as some countries are trying to do by plying men with increasingly generous paternity benefits.

Men Can Do It! initially argues that fathers should do ESP because it's the right thing to do. That old argument is as flawed and its fruits as short-lived as my own promise to cut down on chocolate. But Mr. Burrows changes his tune near the end of the book, stating that men should embrace ESP because it is the bomb. Now that's more like it!

In general, I really enjoyed reading this book. My favorite parts were those in which the author skewered social expectations, revealing them for the artifacts they really are. My least favorite part was the section in which he argued over and over that no books have been written to guide couples to create ESP (ahem, we have a great book for you!); we happily welcome you, Mr. Burrows, as a fellow author and activist for equal sharing, but hope you'll abandon this tact that you've cornered the market on helping couples get there. We're mentioned once early in the book, in a slightly pejorative description of us as a couple of parents who run a website with a "comprehensive checklist" of childraising tasks. Really? That's all you can say about us? Again, please read our book, Mr. Burrows, as I've carefully read yours, and you'll see that we both very, very much want and believe in the same thing. Let's be friends!

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.

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!

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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Good Enough Is the New Perfect

"A balanced life is often ridiculed as impossible - a goal that many have abandoned because it makes us mere mortals feel bad when we can't achieve it." That's the opening line from Chapter 3 in our book - the chapter that describes the idea that balance is one of the two foundations of equally shared parenting (equality being the other). And it's true...we have long since lost count of the number of times we've heard or read or seen others making fun of 'work/life balance.'  Or read about cute, perky tips touted to cure imbalance - perhaps breathing deeply for 5 minutes a day or checking email only once each day or not making the bed or scheduling fake appointments to steal time for yourself or buying the latest time-saving gadget. These things may help for awhile, but then, well, they don't really make much of a difference.

Hollee Schwartz Temple and Becky Beaupre Gillespie don't laugh at balance, and they don't advocate short-term silly fixes either. They are the authors of the newly released Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, a book which advocates redefining success instead. As they explain in their book, their definition of "good enough" doesn't mean settling for mediocrity or tricking ourselves into thinking that a crummy situation is a good one; "good enough" is your own definition of a great life set against the backdrop of society's definition. Our culture has a rather narrow idea of smashing success, typically involving a corner office or world-expert status in some field or a top-5% paycheck with all the material trimmings. But neither happiness nor worth come from any of these achievements, and one size fits almost nobody.

Hollee and Becky's book is mom-focused because they have chosen to write to mothers - mothers who typically do have to make the career/home decisions more often than fathers and do end up with more of the home management work than men in our current culture. But their message works just as well for ESP fathers. And, as a bonus, Marc and I are featured in Chapter 4 (The Good (Enough) Wife) describing how equal partnerships can lead to fun lives; our mentor, Francine Deutsch, is also featured in this chapter with a really nice quote (she's reminiscing about Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works): "When I was writing the acknowledgments for my book, I wrote something like, I don't have to thank [my husband] for sharing equally because he got to have the kind of relationship with my son that I have. Who would trade that for anything?"

If you'd like an upbeat, encouraging read about real balance, check out Good Enough Is the New Perfect!

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?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Does Competition Kill ESP?

Marc and I were surprised to find a substantial piece in The Independent (UK national paper) yesterday about equally shared parenting, and, well, those crazy, over-serious, torchbearing Vachons. The Independent has covered us before, also without notice or without interviewing us, but actually we've found each instance to be a nice piece of writing that provokes thought and discussion. The only thing we find unfortunate about this new article is the title (which we know all too well usually gets written by someone other than the article's author and aims to stir up negative emotion): Shared Parenting: A Disastrous Double Act. Gee golly, makes sharing the childraising sound downright sinister!

The article is written by a mother who describes her husband as the type destined to love being a stay-at-home dad; yet, when their son first arrives, she surprises herself by falling in love with their baby and wanting to spend at least equal time raising him. A perfect set-up for ESP, one would assume. Unfortunately, this couple approaches the sharing as a tug of war - each competing for 'best parent' status, butting heads over their very different parenting styles, and butting in when they each needed to let go to honor and learn from the other's contributions. By the time their son reached the end of his first year, they were seriously discussing divorce.

What we have here is a detailed account of something well worth discussion: the fact that the first year as new parents can wreak havok on a couple's relationship. Plain and simple. To then choose to truly share equally this experience with your partner can add even more stress if you aren't both prepared to connect as an intimate team. And if you both grit your teeth and poke each other with your elbows as you share the diapering duty, you may even find the whole experience more unbearable than doing it alone or with a checked-out, mostly-absent partner. This is not the spirit of ESP, although on the surface it looks like the work is being shared.

We loved this piece because, more so than any other account we've read, it is an excellent, poignant illustration of the fact that ESP is anything but the easy way out. Sharing two lives to any extent can be a challenge, and ESP accentuates this by the level of intimacy that it creates and requires. It leaves no stone unturned, and no hiding places in the relationship. Because of the high level of communication required by both partners, and the need to work out all the bumps together along the way, it is a life of brutal honesty. And we'd have it no other way.

Any major life change can bring challenges to a couple who wishes to share it as equal partners - be that traveling together around the world, starting a business together, or having children and choosing to share equally in their care. The alternative to ESP is to split the experiences and power, relegating one partner to junior status as a parent (something that can work well for many, but we suspect would have brought even more misery to these two parents who both so clearly wanted time and a deep connection with their son).

We would like to offer that ESP itself - the true equal sharing of breadwinning, housework, childraising, and time for self - is not the core of the problem that this article describes. And that when two parents want the same deep connection with their kids, the bravery of addressing this head on might actually be more satisfying than the lives that a traditional arrangement might have provided. The author blames the inherent competition in her relationship for their miserable first year of parenting together. And competition turned inward in a relationship can indeed poison the trust that ESP requires. We've seen plenty of extremely competitive ESP parents (and some who are the opposite); but competition doesn't stop them from having a great relationship - it actually fuels their desire to succeed together because they turn their 'must win' energy toward fortifying their ESP lives against outside forces rather than competing against each other.

The author mentions that both she and her husband wish our book wasn't so downright serious about equal sharing. We kinda do wish we could be fluffy and light about the topic, but then the important stuff wouldn't get addressed. ESP is a model; models are not any particular couple's full-time reality - they are aspirations. And so much of what is written about equal sharing gets stuck in the surface stuff - the unimportant 'how to divide up the laundry' silliness. ESP is a substantial lifestyle choice, based not on charting out laundry division but on a shared willingness to walk in each other's shoes on a daily basis and a shared desire for equality and balanced lives. With all the pitfalls and difficulties, we had to be serious about the philosophy behind ESP to get at why a couple would want to work through everything it entails to reach lives that they love.

Toward the conclusion of the article, the author describes some light at the end of her stress-filled, fight-ridden tunnel. She notices how their son is free to choose either of his parents when he needs or wants anything, and that her husband has grown into an amazing father. She begins to appreciate how his skills can actually complement hers - how he is so well able to bring out strong, positive traits in their son that she is less inclined to encourage, for example. And she believes in the vision of ESP - still.

This article touched us. We felt the author's genuine emotional struggle and her wish to learn the lessons and make peace with the terrible moments. It so clearly illustrates how ESP can bring out the truth about our relationships - whether we're ready to see this truth or not. I've never been a fan of hiding from the truth, however, and I know it makes us better off in the end. I hope that this couple can reap the rewards of their struggles so far, and see how far they have already come. And I hope that readers can get past that damn title and start talking about the truth in their own relationships...and reach for the beauty that ESP brings.

Friday, April 08, 2011

We have a new Real Life Story!

Welcome to Wendy and Michael, a really cool ESP couple who have joined our family of advocates for this lifestyle. Michael has written a new story for our RLS webpage that describes their unique arrangement and their absolutely infectious desire to have fun, meaningful, individual lives even after parenthood. Not that being a parent isn't all of that too, but the beauty comes when you can sustain a life as a mother or father plus a spouse, a worker and a fantastic, interesting, crazy, courageous human being. This couple is in the process of actively showing us how it's done, with their year-long experiment to have it all that began this past January.

Michael and Wendy are both writers who have the luxury of flexible, at-home careers...yes, that's true. But so do many other people who don't step out of the usual path the way that they have done, and who aren't nearly so purposeful in their wish to stay co-parents and co-breadwinners mentally, physically and emotionally. They even ask that payments from clients for the writing of one of them be written in both their names, to really cement the idea that no matter who actually does the breadwinning on a given project, both of them have contributed to making that possible by balancing the writing work with the work of nurturing their two young children and caring for their home. And they are off on tons of fun adventures this year - pursuing their dreams now rather than waiting for someday. They are a picture-perfect example of balancing and sharing each of ESP's four domains!

Enjoy their Real Life Story, and follow along on their year of personal fulfillment at their blog: Party of 4.

We're in Paperback!

Just a quick note to announce that Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents is now in paperback! It now has our much-cherished quote from Gloria Steinem on the cover and slightly updated artwork. Innards are still the same; we feel good about the fact that they remain our best work and true to our beliefs since we wrote the hardcover.

If you have time, we would be grateful for a review of either on Amazon, and for any way you can participate in spreading the word.  Let's tell the world about what equally shared parenting is really like, and how it is fully possible!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Preparing the Next Generation

We recently received a great letter from fellow ESP mom, Chandelle, with a story that she has graciously allowed us to share below. We found it to be a powerful example of how our society preps boys not to be equal parenting partners, and how we might be able to open their eyes to new possibilities. As ESP parents, I feel this is part of our duty - paying it forward, as they say - so that our own kids and their whole generation might find it just a little easier to create their own equal partnerships one day. Enjoy Chandelle's story, and let's all be in the lookout for those chances to teach a child!

Hi Amy and Marc,

I'm Chandelle and I've been following your work for many years now. I live in Northern California with my partner, Jeremy, who teaches at a Waldorf school, and our two kids, I. and W., who are 6 and 4. I discovered your parenting model very shortly after I. was born and immediately latched on to it as the philosophy that most closely matched my own instincts. As a feminist I felt very certain that it would be healthiest for our children to have equally involved, equally committed parents who were "whole people."

Truthfully, it's been a struggle to get to the point where I feel like we're sharing fairly equally. Financial problems, health problems, job loss -- all sorts of issues have cropped up to make this path difficult. But much has cleared up since our kids started school. I went back to school myself and now Jeremy and I spend fairly equal amounts of time with the kids and on various homemaking duties. I'm so happy with the progress we've made and I've been doing my part to spread the word about the benefits of ESP.

I wanted to share a discussion I had with one of Jeremy's 4th-grade students yesterday. He asked me if it's hard to be a mom. He said he'd just realized he'll never know what it's like.

So I said, "Yes, it's the hardest job in the world; you work 24 hours a day, every day, for the rest of your life, and nobody ever really thanks you for it, much less pays you for it, and sometimes it's just a lot of labor, like cleaning up poop and cooking pureed food, that isn't necessarily very fun. But we do it because nothing is more beautiful than your child. When our kids were little we would just about cry when they farted. That's how amazing they were to us."

We laughed about that a bit and then I said, "But you WILL know what it's like if you're a dad like Mr. B. [Jeremy]. Some people think that dads can't love their children as well as moms can, but when you watch Mr. B. with our kids, or [a few other dads in our community] with their kids, you can see it's not true. Not everyone can make it work, but I think it's pretty great if a kid has two parents with the same commitment to being around, keeping them happy and healthy."

And he said, "I guess I'd never thought of that, but I could be around just as much. I bet my kids would like that."

Of course my heart melted when he said that. What if it could be as easy as this, just opening a kid's mind to the possibility of being a constant nurturing presence in his child's life instead of a mostly-absent monetary provider? Of course it's not this easy, but just imagine how children would benefit if given a different picture of how parenting works, and how parents work together. I think it could be an amazing thing. I feel very grateful that our children are growing up with that different picture.

Thank you so much for the example you set and for fighting the good fight for ESP. Whenever possible I turn people on to your book and website and tell them that THIS is why our relationship seems so healthy and our kids are so happy and secure.

In gratitude,


Monday, March 28, 2011

New UK Book on Shared Parenting

UK author Rebecca Asher takes on the equally shared parenting cause with a soon-to-be-released book entitled Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality. The book is not available in the US, unfortunately, but we'll be trying to get our hands on a copy. Rebecca published an excerpt in The Guardian this past Saturday, and judging from this snippet, I worry that the book will linger way too long on the usual woes and misery and deep unfairness of motherhood. I hope I'm wrong. We have plenty of these whiney books already - not to discount the truth in them - and I'd like to think we're getting past this phase and on to actual solutions. And I know that Marc would say here that women need to work on their sales pitch...complaining about how hard it is to be a mother is not exactly the best hook to get men to step up to a similar role as fathers!

The Guardian excerpt of Shattered does hint at solutions - but, like a lot of other rants on gender injustice in parenting, the solutions suggested remain external. I hope that the excerpt is just that - a taste of much more content within - and that the book gets around to a solutions discussion that goes deeper than what the British government ought to be doing (or not doing) to make it easy to be an ESP family. Again, governmental way-paving is great - I'm all for it. But we can't sit around waiting for just the right law to come our way. The UK awards a huge paid maternity leave to moms and a measly couple of weeks to dads? That stinks (although of course it's a whole lot better than what we can count on over here in the US). It can cause so many couples to start out unequal and then stay that way. But it doesn't have to; individual couples can decide differently and then act on their dreams. Until the laws change, we have to take full ownership and sometimes we have to look for solutions that don't bring in the most money.

I look forward to reading Shattered and hope to happen upon a copy (anyone know where, or how we might contact the author?). I hope it is the British ESP manifesto - I really do. The more all of us can add to the discussion of equal parenting, the sooner the dream can become a reality for many.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Apparently, there is a trend towards SAHMs turning into WAHMs (work-at-home moms) thanks to the technological advances we've seen in these recent decades. No real surprises here given the difficulty many of us face keeping our work life and home life separated. I am not immune to these challenges and often need to intentionally "step away from the computer" in order to preserve some coveted family time.

Through an equally shared parenting lens, a SAHM who strives to embrace her involvement in the career domain would seem like a step in the right direction toward equality in breadwinning participation and then full-out ESP. However, a recent Parenting.com piece on this trend rubbed me the wrong way.

See if you can spot what bothered me about how some of the stats were reported in this article:

"A 2007 Pew Research Center survey shows that more at-home moms today (48 percent) consider being home full time the ideal situation than they did 10 years ago (39 percent). Inversely, just 21 percent of working moms say working full time is ideal, down from 32 percent in 1997. "

I haven't seen anything similar to this in quite some time. Do nearly 50% of mothers really believe their ideal lifestyle is to be a full-time SAHM? Maybe this is true IF their partners are mostly absorbed in their careers AND it is assumed that "this is how it should be." However, there are more options today than even a few short years ago. The same technology that is allowing some moms to work from home is - believe it or not, Parenting - available for men to work from home too.
I've long said that the persistent barrier to ESP is a primarily personal one, and I'm sticking with my story here. Do we want to share the joys and challenges across all the domains of parenthood? The alternative is to own separate spheres of responsibility and power - albeit with, hopefully, a helpful spouse. However, you can divide the chores until the cows come home but the beauty of ESP will be elusive until we embrace the dream of full partnership.
Herein lies the second problem I had with the Parenting.com piece. Yes, it looked at a recent trend toward moms working more from home. But it oozed the same old story of "Mom is in charge and responsible for the home." I'm all for creating a way for Mom to be able to spend more time with the children, but I will continue to suggest that this option can be just as viable for men. Just to make the point that this is a cultural construct, let's look at a quote from early in the article: "In my pre-kid life, I never imagined that someday I'd be a stay-at-home mom -- hey, I didn't go to grad school to spend my days changing diapers. But when I held my first baby, Mathilda, I had a complete change of heart. As soon as we locked eyes, all those career and financial worries faded. They didn't disappear, but they certainly became secondary."

What if her husband had this same reaction when he first held their new baby daughter? Does he have the right to opt-out of the career domain just because he's in love? Does he have the perogative that society hands to women to saddle his spouse with 100% of the family paycheck responsibilities because he's smitten?

I think a reasonable approach is to optimize the best part of all parenting domains for each parent - breadwinning, childraising, housework and recreation. Since we are all adults, this will of course also include sharing the responsibilities for each domain as well. In other words, let's use that all-important work-from-home technology to help us get to equally shared parenting rather than to further entrench stereotyped gender roles!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Saving Men

An interesting new book has just been released, entitled Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys by Kay Hymowitz. The book examines much of the same territory as Hanna Rosin's article, The End of Men, published in the The Atlantic last July. Both describe a seismic change in our global outlook on gender - in which women can do almost anything that men can do and often so much more. What's the point of men? Hymowitz says that men are retreating from this question into a prolonged pre-adulthood in which they stay childlike in their responsibilities. As women gain ever more ground with more advanced education and higher paying jobs, at least until they become mothers.

While we haven't had a chance to read Manning Up yet, we were struck by a review of the book and this topic in The Guardian this week. The piece in the The Guardian gets down to what we feel is the point: it is our culture's narrow definition of masculinity that is the real problem. Men, stuck trying to adhere to the tough guy, breadwinner, non-nurturer, top-dog persona that our culture says is the only way to live if you want to be a real man, are increasingly simply giving up. Rather than rewrite this silly definition of manhood, they opt for video games on their mother's couch well into their twenties and thirties (to use an example from The Guardian article).

What's the alternative? It seems pretty obvious to me. With fewer and fewer men-only arenas left in the world, the answer is to claim it all - just as women are doing. Don't parent 'her' way - parent your own way, with pride and confidence and a deep sense that this is what you are born to do! Do the same with tackling the chores, earning your share of the family paycheck, and simply having fun. We don't need anyone sitting on the couch playing video games (at least not as a way to hide from gender equality). But we do need partnership - equal and intimate partnership. That's the stuff of a great life!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oregon ESP

One of the couples we met as we interviewed ESP parents for our book has been featured in a great piece recently published in their hometown newspaper, the Bend Bulletin. Jim and Michelle's story is told in Chapter 2 of the book and also in their own words in our Real Life Stories section on this website. In addition to being a wonderful illustration of the Equality foundation of equally shared parenting, they are a terrific example of purposeful conversion from a traditional relationship to an ESP one. We loved meeting them over the phone during the interview process. And it was so fun to see pictures of them for the first time in this piece.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Wrong with Housework Division by Comparative Advantage?

You may have heard of a new book, Spousonomics, that applies priniciples of economics toward creating a harmonious and effective marriage. I haven't had a chance to read Spousonomics yet, and look forward to doing so. But I've read excerpts and a bit about several of the key points the authors are saying in the media as they launch their book. Some of their messages are definitely intriguing, such as their attention-grabbing idea that couples will have more sex if they stop trying so hard to make it romantic or to carve out a big chunk of time for it or guess whether their partners are in the mood...these are barriers to just doing it. Could be some truth to this!

But another one of the authors' key messages is rather bothersome. It's what they term 'comparative advantage' as the correct way to divide up the household chores. Comparative advantage, to paraphrase, is the concept that each partner should do the chores he or she is best at...with a secondary principle that he or she should take on the chores that are most personally enjoyable or rewarding (or perhaps that are most important to each partner). So, for example, if Mom is a great cook and not so good at paying the bills, she should be the family cook; if Dad is good at finances and not so smooth in the kitchen...well, you get it. The result, they explain, is efficiency - in both time and money - since each partner can do their own skill-matched tasks more quickly and accurately than if they shared these duties. And this chore division avoids scorekeeping and judging, since Top Chef Mom isn't lording it over Crappy Cook Dad when it's his turn in the kitchen and Financial Wizard isn't angry with Mush-for-Brains Money Slob over forgetting, again, to pay the electric bill on time.

To illustrate this principle, the authors write about a few couples in their book who don't employ this type of chore division - showing us how miserable they become. One of their example couples is a poor, hapless pair who have decided to share every single chore 50/50. They scorekeep, they bicker, they judge each other. They're a match made in Hell. If they would only learn to divide by skill level, the authors explain, they would be so much happier. Really, it sounds so convincing - doesn't it? I bet you weren't fooled though. I bet you know a lot of what I'm thinking....I'm thinking first of all that their example 50/50 couple has got to be a figment of their imagination. Perhaps there are couples who operate like this, but we've yet to meet them. And we agree that their lives together can't be very fulfilling. They are a great example of why equal division of chores for equality's sake is a pathetic quest. And of course you don't need a reminder that ESP has nothing at all to do with dividing any particular task - nevermind every single task - down the middle. Or that ESP is not about 'fairness' (although this is certainly a byproduct of equal sharing) but rather about equal opportunity to share the joys of all domains of life together and have access to a balanced life.

But on to much more important things. I'm also thinking that the quest for peak efficiency that seems at the core of 'comparative advantage' misses so much. The business tenets that the authors borrow their economics priniciples from are focused on peak efficiency - turning out the most number of widgets in the shortest time, and making the highest profit. But in relationships, obviously, 'profit' includes more than money; more valuable than money are concepts like love, connection, meaningful contribution/significance, belonging, giving. And sometimes, we need to sacrifice a bit of efficiency to attain more of these values. Not always, but enough to make 'comparative advantage' only one of the reasons to decide how to share a given chore. Nevermind the idea that, mathematically, 'comparative advantage' only works when a couple is perfectly matched in their opposing skills; two chefs with equal interest in cooking for their family but equal distaste and supposed incompetence in cleaning the toilet are out of luck.

The biggest global problem with 'comparative advantage' is that it stunts evolution. It keeps things the same. That's because if Mom is good at cooking today (given her upbringing as a typical American girl who learned to cook from her mother and has internalized the idea that she should know how to cook and take primary responsibility for this as a mother herself), she'll only get better and better with experience. And if Dad was raised as a typical American boy with little emphasis on kitchen skills, he won't be quite as good as Mom at the outset of their marriage, and their skill gap will widen over time if he's never expected to take full responsibility for this family task. The many exceptions aside, we're left with mothers cooking across the country if we simply use skill level as our guide. Dads will miss out on the joy of providing good, healthy, tasty food for their partners and children on a regular basis, digging in deep to seek out recipes, buy the ingredients, learn the chopping and sauteing, and getting the meals on the table at a reasonable time. Moms will be stuck with the neverending job of meals, meals, meals. The same goes for many other culturally gendered tasks.

Another problem with 'comparative advantage' is that it takes the easy way out. The authors proudly tell us that it avoids the neverending arguments about whose turn it is to do what and who does a better job of folding the towels. Well, yes, that's true. But it also avoids the meat of marriage - the communication that keeps us close and keeps us peers over time. Their reasoning is a bit like saying that we ought to take separate vacations because then we won't have to fight about where to go. I'd much rather learn to work together as a team to solve these issues than find a workaround that avoids needing to talk with one another. The key, however, is in the word 'team.' Couples who get stuck in the chore-division wars - focusing on who does what and what their partners aren't doing (or are doing wrong) - will entirely miss the rewards of ESP.

If they first decide together that they want equality and balance, and then get on the same side of this goal, the rest is...well, not entirely easy, but 100% doable and worth every discussion. In fact, the ESP couples we've interviewed for our book and met over the years almost uniformly gush about their love for each other and about how their high level of communication is one of the things they treasure most in life. And, for me personally, the idea of separate-but-equal is sad...I want to get in close with Marc on everything it takes to run our family. Even if one of us isn't as adept at a specific task.

Now I'm sure the authors of Spousonomics don't really mean that Dad can't ever cook and Mom can't touch the bills (to stick with our example). So I will put in a plug here for something I'll call 'attenuated comparative advantage.' It's the idea that interest level and importance level can play a lovely role in deciding who does what - just not as the only deciding factor. If Mom loves to cook and Dad doesn't really enjoy it on your average day, then it makes good sense to allow Mom more kitchen time. We do this sort of thing all the time, as do all other ESP couples. But we do so with a few important caveats in mind:
  • Pinchhitting: We aim to give both partners at least enough competence in every task that they can cover for each other when necessary, without a lot of direction or supervision. This allows both the freedom to not be fully saddled with any task, and we think this gives them mental and emotional breathing room.

  • Keeping it interesting: We love to switch up our tasks from time to time to keep learning from each other. Marc has been doing our bills, for example, for quite awhile now, and I'm sensing that I'm losing touch with this task. My internal alarm is softly ringing - time to get a lesson in his techniques and then take over some of this so I get back to remembering I'm perfectly capable of tending our finances.

  • Watching the balance: Because ESP couples value balanced lives that give them plenty of access to time with their kids, caring for the home, tending their careers and for their own personal interests (and as a couple), they make sure to purposefully watch for imbalances in overall sharing within any of these four domains. Not to watchdog each other or scorekeep, but because they know their best lives come when they can share each of these domains - overall - about equally. If 'comparative advantage' leads to Mom getting 90% of the childraising, for example, something is wrong with the balance and the couple can address this together as a team.

  • Scrapping the stupidity: Full-on 'comparative advantage' invites the use of the phrase "but you're so much better at it than me, honey" as the perfect excuse to get out of a task. There may even be some truth to this at times, but it keeps both partners trapped in role-based marriages and keeps us from fully, intimately appreciating what it takes to do any task. It also reinforces the myth that doing something better is the best idea. Who cares if the towels are perfectly folded? Maybe someone does, but maybe that someone would get to embrace a far more important life lesson in learning to let go instead - if he/she surrendered the towel folding to the 'less-capable' spouse. Every single household task is fully doable by able-bodied partners, and I'll give you the million dollar challenge to prove it: if you or your spouse is offered a million dollars tomorrow to do a 'good enough' job at any task around the house, what do you think would happen?

  • Making sure efficiency is not your only goal: Efficiency is great - we love it. Everyone does. But it isn't everything, and sometimes it is a false god. If we operated only by efficiency, why would anyone ever go fishing, plant a vegetable garden, or knit a sweater. These things take tons of time and the end result is much more expensive than the typical store-bought equivalent. Indeed, why would the junior parent ever embrace spending time with the family when the more efficient spouse could accomplish so much more?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sharing in Purgatory

We're back on Lisa Belkin's NY Times Motherlode blog again today (thanks, Lisa!) with a guest post dissecting newly published co-parenting research from Ohio State University. The media coverage, until now, has been rather abysmal on this one - with provocative headlines such as Dads are Fun, Moms are Shrews, Fathers Should Be a Little Less Involved in Parenting, Men Should Concentrate on Playing with Their Children and Leave the Care to Women, and even Splitting Child Rearing Duties Can Be More Harmful Than Helpful.

But when we actually read the study, we found something very different...data that make sense given the non-ESP study population, and great fodder for the argument to make sure that you share the power and responsibility at home when you attempt to also share the chores. Check out our analysis and leave a comment if you can.

Many thanks to the study's co-author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, psychologist at the Department of Human Development and Family Science, for allowing us to interview her. Her response to our NYT blog post: "Wonderful post! Just fabulous! A great analysis of relevant issues and you have also assuaged some of my guilt from how my study is being interpreted. Bravo and keep up the excellent work!" 

It feels great to have made a new friend in the ESP-research world.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chinese Mothers

The parenting blogosphere has been all abuzz about Amy Chua's Wall Street Journal excerpt on the superiority of Chinese mothers and her new memoir The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Ms. Chua is inciting parents on all sides about the value of pushing children to excel, and at what cost. Her practices, presented in their extreme in the WSJ piece, involve invoking a high level of parental control on what her children will and will not do. They will take violin or piano lessons and practice every day for hours, they will not watch television or have playdates or sleepovers, they will get As on every test, etc. And as a result of her unceasing efforts to bludgeon her children into compliance, she initially thinks she'll be able to turn out young citizens who are excellent musicians, students, and workers in high-prestige fields. She berates typical American parenting as wimpy, catering to the changing whims of children so that they do not learn the value of sticking through the tough times and coming out on top.

While there is much to be wary of in Ms. Chua's parenting recommendations (see here and here and here for some excellent criticism and here and here for a description of Ms. Chua explaining that the WSJ piece was misleading about her message), there is one nugget of pure gold here. A nugget that matches up extraordinarily well with equally shared parenting. It is the principle that if we are able to master the details of any endeavor, we are then free to enjoy the essence of the pursuit.

Two other simple examples: For the longest time knitting was a chore for me. My sister owned a knitting shop and I was determined to find out what she was raving about. Repeating those little hand movements and hoping I didn't drop a stitch just made me tense. It took many months to get "good enough" at knitting before I could settle into a relaxing evening with my yarn. Second, I remember the early days of pursuing the dream of ESP with Marc. I disagreed with "his way" of doing many things, from my worries about his lack of commitment to the schedule, his cavalier attitude toward safety, or his seemingly inability to recognize that laundry needed tending. Choosing to "let go" of the belief that my way was superior has been one of the more important lessons of my life.

The driving force to persist in these examples was something bigger than the details of the task at hand. Whether it was a connection with my sister or indeed a more meaningful connection with Marc through ESP, dedication and persistence to accomplishing anything proved worth the effort. I suspect that Ms. Chua would agree.

This is the same principle behind what we call the artisanal worker in the Career chapter of our book. Applying excellence to paid work, we maintain that if you get good at something, and love what you do, you are a valuable worker - one who can command more pay per hour and perhaps work less to balance your life with other things - and your enjoyment builds. This principle also gets play as a directive toward fathers to get competent at caring for their children - their own way.

Ms. Chua pushes her children with this goal in mind, and while I don't believe in the lengths she takes or the mental whip she wields or the pure control she exerts over exactly what activities they will do, I believe the principle of practice and effort is sound. If we can teach our kids that they can persevere and excel at something (or a few somethings), they will hopefully take this wisdom into the rest of their lives - not giving up on their dreams or their abilities when the going gets rough. And if we do so ourselves as adults, we can love the job we have and our time with our children (most of the time) because we're comfortably competent there.

One of the many things I specifically disliked about Ms. Chua's approach, however, was the one-sidedness of it. I must confess the obvious sin of not having read her book, so I cannot completely rest assured that I'm interpreting the media exposure for it correctly. But, all comments that mention her husband indicate that he does not seem to share in the work of this intense parenting, and it seems to me as if she must have extreme control over how the children are raised even as she notes how he objects to its seeming coldness. In an ESP family, this would not happen; both parents would need to be on board for how much to push their children's academic or musical or athletic education and when to back down or change the rules.

In our house, for example, we've spent much time talking about how to approach M and T's violin training. At 8 and 5, both are budding violinists, both practice every day and are working their way along the Suzuki Method (yes, practicing even on the weekends and on vacation, with the same reasoning that we ask them to brush their teeth every day as well - but for a paltry amount of time per day compared to Ms. Chua's kids), and both have had their share of objections to such. But both have had their triumphs too - techniques or pieces conquered, fear of performance tackled, new things learned, the joy of making and sharing their music with friends and family, an insider's appreciation for watching music played by others. They love playing (although maybe not every moment of actual practicing), and I feel as if we've given them a gift by shepherding them this far.

And as an aside, I'll put in a good word for the Suzuki Method of teaching music - contrary to some of the comments stirred up by Amy Chua's description of teaching by negativity and grueling attacks, it is not based on fear or meanness; it is based on love and nurturing and community, and is one of the best programs I've seen for teaching children anything.

But back on topic, all of this has had to be negotiated between Marc and myself - a complete nonmusician and a lifelong violin enthusiast. We both take ownership for our family's approach to music teaching - not my way or else. Although I take a bit of a lead as the kids' 'practice parent' because I enjoy it so much and my violin knowledge counts for a little bit of extra help, Marc and I alternate who sits with each of the kids for their daily practice.

As part of the deep importance we place on working together as a team to direct M and T's early musical training, we've talked about the value in getting through the tough practice sessions. Should we let them quit? Should we stick it through? We have chosen to stick it through, learning a huge amount along the way about when to follow their enthusiasm, when to hang back and let them choose, when to firmly make the decisions. It has, so far, been a journey that has brought us closer and one I will never forget.

So while I could echo all the shock surrounding Amy Chua's book, I'll just take what I like and leave the rest. I believe in effort, in sticking with something until it is yours or until you are in a position to truly judge that it isn't for you. I believe that putting in this type of work is what builds esteem (and talent) and ownership, and holds you up when you hit life's next rough patch. I hope to give this tool to my children, whether they choose like me to play the violin (or another instrument) as adults or just know that they could.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Netherlands Model

In our book, we discuss how difficult it can be to share the breadwinning domain because it is the one area that directly interacts with forces outside the family. Bills have to be paid, jobs have to be found, benefits obtained, and schedules negotiated for both partners and both of their employers to allow an aspiring ESP couple to piece together the lifestyle that works for them.

In many ways, it is the breadwinning domain that causes couples to think outside the box the most - and to make the largest surface sacrifices - to get to the ultimate prizes of equality and balance.

Despite these challenges, we are optimistic about success for a few reasons. First of all, there are lots of data to suggest that young men and women view work differently than their parents do. They are much more likely to prioritize fitting work into their lives instead of the other way around. Secondly, as the Baby Boomers begin to retire, even they are realizing that "checking out" of the work world is not always desirable for both financial and non-financial reasons; many are looking to launch their "encore" career or hobby which will undoubtedly bring in a paycheck but can accomodate a non-traditional schedule or arrangement as a way to more fully enjoy their golden years. Retirement is passe.

These two groups - Gen Y and non-retiring Boomers - squeeze the labor market from both ends of the age spectrum, forcing companies to adapt as they compete for talent. The idea that this phenomenon might open up the way to easy flexible career coordination might sound like a pipe-dream to some as we continue to struggle with high unemployment in the US, but there are signs that these macro changes are already happening.

Just look at the Netherlands.

On December 29th, Katrin Bennhold wrote an
article for the NY Times called, Working (Part-Time) in the 21st Century. The piece covers the continuing trend in the Netherlands to trade money for time. "Indeed, for a growing group of younger professionals, the appetite for a shorter, a more flexible workweek appears to be spreading, with implications for everything from gender identity to rush-hour traffic." In this country, part-time work is common - not just for lower-income careers but for lawyers, managers, engineers and even surgeons (a job we've been adamantly told by surgeon's wives just could not possibly be done in less than full-time hours). And these reduced hours jobs are being claimed not just by mothers, but by fathers and childless employees, with companies using this perk as a way to attract the best talent.

In fact, one in three Dutch fathers now works either part-time or full-time at four days per week so that he can be home at least one day per week with his kids. The percent of part-time women in the workforce is still far greater (75%), but this is actually helping the cause - as formerly male-dominated fields are being increasingly populated by women and forcing the change in thinking about part-time work.

The Dutch government is a help in these changes, rather than a hindrance. The government awarded its own "Modern Man Prize" for breaking gender stereotypes; the winner was chosen for co-founding a campaign that promotes part-time work for men - and for working four days a week himself. And interestingly, the Netherlands is the only country in which women actually work less than men, even after you add up hours spent on childcare and housework!

And our own Microsoft is right in the mix, at least when it comes to telecommuting flexibility. Featured in the article, Microsoft Netherlands boasts that ninety-five percent of its employees work from home at least one day a week; a full quarter do so four out of five days. "Each team has a "physical minimum;" some meet twice a week in the office, others once a quarter. Online communication and conference calls save time, fuel and paper waste. The company says it has cut its carbon footprint by 900 tons this year."

When we were interviewing couples for our book, a Dutch couple wrote to us and we spoke with them at length. Featured in the book, Jan and Saskia are a perfect example of this type of thinking about part-time work and equally shared parenting. Imagine a world where you aren't the odd couple for practicing ESP or working less than the prescribed 40+ hours - but that you had plenty of company in your neighbors, friends, and children's parents.

It will come. It is already here on our very own Earth.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Equally Shared Parenting is a Top Book of 2010!

We are so happy to announce that Library Journal has named Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents as a Best Book of 2010 - one of only four in their Parenting category. What a great honor and a fantastic way to end our year!

And next year the paperback version comes out in April. You can see it's Amazon page here. Contents are the same - we felt very good about what we'd written in the hardcover. The only difference is a slightly edgier cover and a wonderful quote from Gloria Steinem right on the front.

Well, 2010 has certainly been an exciting year for us, and we're looking forward to another year as ESP spokespeople and cheerleaders. We hope you'll continue to follow along and join in. We're always thrilled to hear from you (and, hint hint - we welcome guest posts on your own unique ESP topic).

The very best to you for a wonderful 2011!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Time Panic

Many of us are thick into the holiday spirit now - either merrily trimming the tree and wrapping gifts, or panicking that there will never be enough time for what we think we need to do to make those family memories bright. Without a doubt, too many of us are haunted by sadness and loss at this time of year, or even by impending sadness and loss. Many are squeezed by deep financial worries. Others simply celebrate different holidays instead. I can't begin to cover all bases in this post...but let me focus a bit on the time panic piece that many of us feel (myself included).

For me, it's the mad whirl of preparing for my family's visit - the cooking, the cleaning, the scheduling, the food restrictions to work around, the exercise routines to help preserve (others' routines that is - my own are long gone out the window for holiday week), the rehearsals for Christmas service music played by a tiny violin (T), a medium sized violin (M), big violins (me and my nephew), a cello (my niece) and a viola (M's friend), the present procuring, buying and wrapping, the gifting of friends and teachers, the school class party coordinating, the charity requests, and of course the inconvenient ramp-up of work at my job that always happens at the end of the year.  It's enough to make me exhausted and really lose perspective - fast.

Some days, I don't cope well - I forget all that I have to be thankful for (so very much!) and I bark orders at the kids and Marc (so much for ESP), dash around from task to task, and get angry when I see the kids hauling out all the craft supplies to embark on yet another project instead of pitching in to help tick down my to-do list. So this email is really a plea to myself to return to the foundation of my life, my relationship with Marc and the children, and to all that really matters...which isn't how many kinds of cookies I can bake.

Here is what I think would work better, dear Amy (and all of you, if you find it helpful):
  • Remember you've got a full partner in all of this.  He isn't your double, so he won't do things exactly as you might expect or even wish. But as an equal, he is fully capable and might have a whole bunch of ideas that trump your own if you'd just stop to listen. When you feel that old familiar fear creep in that handing a task over to Marc to do will only mean that it won't get done, or he will do a pathetic job of it, remember your trump card: Communication.  Talk about it - he gets that you worry about this, and he isn't out to sabotage Christmas. If you can talk together as a team, you can decide what matters (yes, we need to pick up that present for cousin Lucie by tomorrow) and what doesn't (no, we don't necessarily need to buy all the groceries today) and then he can go about getting things done his way. Remember also that Marc-time is so very different fromAmy-time; if I think the Christmas cards need to be mailed by the first week in December, and Marc still hasn't dropped his stack in the mailbox...well...is either one of us really wrong?                 
  • Keep the balance. Christmas won't be fun and joyful (or spiritual) if it goes by in a flash of tinsel. Sometimes taking time to lovingly do a small task can help slow you down. Not as a perky quick fix to the chaos, but as a return to the basics that ground you. Many people advocate outsourcing as much as you can in order to get things done quickly, but sometimes exactly the opposite reminds you that getting things done quickly is not at all the point. Think, Amy, about that brilliant, learned 84-year-old man you sat next to today at the church carol sing-along; he doesn't move very quickly anymore, but he moves with purpose and joy. It would probably take him all day to do what you can do in an hour. Is he really wrong?
To that last point, Marc shared with me recently that he once went through a Boston winter (before we met) without a windshield scraper - on purpose. In order to get his car ready to drive on a snowy morning, he had to plan ahead. He would wipe off the big piles of snow with his arm, and then slowly let the car's engine warm it up enough to melt the ice layer. Apart from the argument that he wasted gasoline with this method, he did what I often skip - he got the car all warmed up before sliding it into Drive, and he had a nice, quiet start to his morning that involved a meditative bonding with winter itself. I like this because it flies in the face of so much time management advice. Cleaning off the car takes no special skill; Marc could have paid the neighbor kid to do this or spent his money on an automatic car starter that would have given him a head-start on that warming up phase. He could have at least made sure he had a great scraper to make light of the chore. But getting it done quickly, or turfing the job to someone down the food chain, missed the point for Marc. A life without time to warm his car and contemplatively clean it off in the winter was a red flag for him, and forcing the issue by living without the safety net of even a scraper was just the thing to keep him on track. 

I feel that way too - a lot. A life without time to bake cookies or fold my own laundry or cook our own meals (at least enough of them) is a red flag for me that balance is threatened. So tonight, I'm thankful for the bustle and the impending family members and the things to do and the partner to share them. What I can do with enjoyment rather than panic, gratitude and quiet love rather than 'check-off-the-list' frenzy, and letting-go rather than must-have-it-my-way will make the time ever sweeter.

Wishing you the warmth of the season!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Artisanal Worker

Much is discussed these days about the Generation Y worker, who values a fun and balanced life over a power career. This works well for ESP! An equal sharing lifestyle works best when both parents are dedicated to sharing the breadwinning roles, but yet still make enough money to enjoy their balanced lives. This type of lifestyle usually requires that you don't wait until your 30s or 40s to land a job that pays well. Working hard and establishing yourself as an excellent and loyal employee in your 20s pays off later when you are ready to scale back and make room in your life for marriage and parenthood.

I think of the ideal equal-sharer as an artisanal worker. Artisans work hard to learn their craft, putting in long hours and intense training time to become extremely good at what they do. They generally love what they do. They stay in their fields for decades, becoming ever more proficient and well-known for their artistry. They don't make much money at first, but as they mature in their expertise, they command bigger and bigger prices for their work. They are valued more as they age because they are so efficient and masterful.

An artisan doesn't have to be a world-class sculptor. You can be an artisan at anything that fits well with your interests and passions. You give to the world by your experience, expertise, and desire to grow and contribute.

Regardless of where you are in your career, dedication to your craft is of the utmost importance. The intrinsic rewards of a job well done are the fuel to propel us along the path. As a result, our market value will continue to improve and our desire for a meaningful work life will fluorish.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Calling All ESP Couples in Philly

NOTE CHANGE OF DATE:  The first meeting has been moved to Wednesday, December 15 (same location and time) due to schedule conflict.  -Amy
...or those who aspire to equal parenting, of course. We're thrilled to let you know that an ESP support group is starting up in the Philadelphia area, with its first meeting scheduled for December 8th. To learn more, visit the group's Meetup.com webpage here. You can join the group, and then RSVP for the meeting if you're able to come. Here are the details of the group and the first meeting (as described by coordinator and ESP mom, Allison Michaels):

Equally Shared Parenting - ESP Meetup Group
Are you and your partner trying to share the work and joy of parenting as equals and peers? Are you working to ensure that both of you enjoy time to: 1. work, 2. raise children, 3. do housework, and 4. have leisure time? Have you read Marc and Amy Vachon's book about Equally Shared Parenting? We're looking for couples who are trying to equally share parenting to discuss strategies, dilemmas and motivations of this great way of life! It will be a support group for Equally Sharing co-parenting couples and partners. The first meeting will be Wednesday, December 8 at 5:30 p.m. at Earth Bread and Brewery at 7136 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy (phone number for the restaurant is 215-242-6666).

Oh, how we wish we could be there!  As far as we're aware, this is the first official ESP support group in the country - may it flourish (there's so much to talk about!) and inspire other couples to start their own group too. If you live in Philly, we hope you're able to get in on the inaugural meeting. And if you're interested in starting a group elsewhere, we would be more than happy to help you advertise it and provide you with support in whatever ways are possible.

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