Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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ESP, 'Down Under' Style
by Judy

There is a belief in the northern hemisphere that people walk on their heads down under in Australia. Let me assure you this is a myth, but when it comes to juggling family, paid and unpaid work, Australians find it just as difficult as other global citizens to keep all the balls in the air. Work/life/family balance, or what I prefer to call ‘interconnectivity,’ is a major challenge here with the decline of the male breadwinner model and more mothers returning to paid work after having children. A trickle of parents, including myself and my partner Gerry, are starting to discover that equally shared parenting may be the way to establish better balance and stronger and more fulfilling interconnections. 

Here’s our story, at least a condensed version.

Gerry and I met, and lived for a time in the States. He’s a New Yorker and I’m an Aussie. Gerry has dual citizenship now, and after living in Australia for over 15 years has adapted to the hot climate, dry wit and odd sports played down here. The birth of our daughter 'Possum' five years ago was a transformative and life affirming point in our relationship. From the moment she was born, we were just smitten, and her spell on us has never wavered. I think a major reason why we haven’t suffered much from stressed-out parent syndrome is that we have always taken an equal role in her life. From the day dot, Possum has always been comfortable with mum or dad as carer.  I don’t think it was always a conscious decision to work this way, but it may have evolved over time.
But now that I look back, I realise we made a few compromises to get to an equal parent balance, and fell in a few potholes along the way. The first compromise was changing our work situations and reducing the number of hours we did paid work. The first pothole we fell into was a financial one. After having a baby our money dried up like an outback drought. So, we had to stop our reckless spending splurges and started to budget, budget, budget! We still don’t own a big screen TV. I’m really glad, not only for environmental reasons, but because it means we do a lot more outdoorsy stuff with Possum. Picnics, park adventures, bike-riding, barbeques, and beach trips have become staple activities in our lives.
After working full time as a teacher up until Possum’s birth, I was fortunate to have 12 weeks paid maternity leave and then reduced my teaching load to three days a week. Gerry, who had been doing a full time technical writing contract in the city, took a leap of faith and started his own home-based IT business, so that he could have more time with Possum. This was a scary time with a new baby and a new business, but it was worth the gamble. Gerry now works about 25 to 30 hours a week, with a schedule that fits around drop off and pick up time at Possum’s school, school special events, swimming lessons, and lots of ‘hanging out’ time. Gerry also does the bulk of the food shopping and meals, and is a great chef!  I like to try to keep the house tidy and organised, but don’t fret if it gets a bit ‘feral.'  We do pay a cleaner who comes once a fortnight to do the icky jobs.  I have cut my teaching down to 2 days, because I am pursuing my PhD, but the additional study load also means additional flexibility. This means I can take Possum to ballet, spend once a week helping in her class, organising her social and family outings. We don’t use a timetable, or really have set tasks, but when one parent looks like they’re lagging, the other takes over. It’s a tag team approach. Luckily my PhD is on my passion - work/life/family interconnectivity - and I have started a blog called WoLFi TaLEs at www.worklifeinterconnectivity.com.

©Copyright 2008 Marc and Amy Vachon

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