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.
The Evolution of MarriageKudos to Daddy Dialectic's Jeremy Adam Smith for scoring a thought-provoking interview with Stephanie Coontz, a leading historian of marriage and family. In the interview, Dr. Coontz emphasizes that marriage has undergone an enormous no-turning-back transformation from a gender-stereotypic arrangement to an intimate union of best friends/lovers. Because most of today's couples don't 'need' each other in the same ways 1950s couples did (women needing men to earn the family paycheck and men needing women to raise the children and tend the house), a successful family now depends on the creation and nurture of this intimacy. It requires a true partnership of equals, if I may extrapolate a little.Dr. Coontz then describes the tremendous changes that men have made in recent history toward this equality. She says feminists speak of a stalled revolution in gender equality, but Dr. Coontz feels otherwise: "In fact, as a historian, I have to say that [men] are changing, in a period of thirty years, in ways that took most women 150 years of thinking and activism. Every cohort of men is doing more in the house, and if you look within a cohort, the longer a man’s wife has worked, the more likely he is to do caregiving and housework. This is a huge change."And the results are "tremendous good news", per Dr. Coontz, in terms of the quality of marriage itself, reduced divorce rates, and better outcomes for kids in marriages with highly involved fathers.For more detail, check out the full interview. For that matter, I highly encourage you to make Daddy Dialectic routine reading - Jeremy and his colleagues are thoughtful, excellent writers, and highly involved in the cause of equally shared parenting.
The ESP BuffetLife doesn't always fit neatly into a specific ideal. In fact, it actually never does. Yet, ideal models of living are worth mulling, understanding and embracing none-the-less. It's that way with Equally Shared Parenting. All of the many pages of this website are devoted to a wonderful model of living together as a couple with children. At least we think of it as wonderful - and many, many others do too. It is, however, only a model. No one actually lives in perfect equality. We lay out all aspects of equal sharing for you because we want to spread out the grand buffet of available delicacies. We want to delve into the pros and cons of every domain of sharing, and the how-to details as well.For couples who already practice full-out equal sharing in all domains (childraising, housework, breadwinning and recreation), we aim to be a place for you to connect with like-minded people. For couples who aspire to real gender-equal marriages with children, we hope to be your guide - pointing out the tough hurdles, challenging you to overcome them, and keeping you on your toes. For couples dabbling in the concept of equal sharing, we want to be a launching pad for discussion and first steps.If you belong to this latter group, you will likely find some ideas on the site have great appeal and others not so much. If you do want to create and nurture a truly gender-equal partnership, we feel that the whole of ESP needs to be embraced. But absolute equality is not the only way to live - 'more equal than before' is good too. If that's what you'd like to aim for, we're here for you too.There is a common phrase in 12-step programs that applies here: Take what you like and leave the rest. Help yourself to our buffet at your own pace, according to your own desires. Our wish for you is a happy life above all, however you get there.
Everyday is Mother's DayTechnically, this Sunday is the one day set aside annually for adoring and appreciating mothers - our own and our children's. On this day, we husbands and children are expected to give flowers, whisk away the kids so Mom can relax in a bubble bath, take her out for brunch, or other such standards. After all, mothers work hard on our behalf every other day of the year so tirelessly and devotedly. Let's give them a break from this and treat them as they treat us for one special day out of the 365 each year.Now, none of this is actually wrong in my book, at least not the creation of a special day to honor and appreciate mothers. But here is what I'd rather create every day for Amy, as her equally sharing husband:
- Time to pursue the things she loves and believes in
- Time to have fun - not just once in a blue moon
- Time to devote herself to a meaningful career
- Time to nurture her relationship with our children
- Time to spend together as a family
- Time to build a connected and intimate relationship with me
- Being available as a real and true partner - to share all the burdens and joys of every aspect of our family
I'm actually not so good with societally enforced holidays. Amy definitely wishes I'd be more proactive about special touches for Mother's Day or her birthday, for example, and I own up to my shortcomings here (hey, I'm not a planner!). But we both agree that the day-in-and-day-out appreciation is far more important - and being a participant in creating a happy and fun life for Amy. Okay, so I'd better go out and get a card, huh?
A Much Belated RecommendationFor some reason, I'm just now getting around to reading Pepper Schwartz's 'Love Between Equals'. This book, previously published under the title 'Peer Marriage' and then republished with its current title in 1995, is an eloquently written ode to equally shared parenting. Pepper Schwartz is a sociology professor at the University of Washington, and straddles the line between popular magazine columnist and serious academic. Her main area of study is actually sexual behavior, but she was a co-investigator for a very large project back in 1983 called American Couples. It is from the interviews she conducted with couples for this project, and subsequent additional couples, that she gleans the information for 'Love Between Equals'.I must have glanced at this title among the others of its genre dozens of times, but for some reason its pages hid in a blind spot until now. And now it takes its place in our Resources section with highest honors, and I cherish my dogeared and underlined copy.'Love Between Equals' is about the pros and cons of a peer marriage (Dr. Schwartz's term for a marriage of equals) - whether or not children are part of the family. Many of the examples in the book do include couples with children, however. It is clear from her writing that she believes fervently in this lifestyle.The primary theme of the book is the deep friendship and intimacy that is possible when partners treat each other as true equals. Dr. Schwartz contrasts a peer marriage with a traditional one and a 'near-peer' one (her term for a marriage between partners who would like to be peers - sort of - but aren't willing to make the sacrifices to actually get there). She outlines the benefits and challenges of all three types of marriage in a clear, humanistic and nonjudgmental way. Her message is every bit as vital as Leslie Bennetts' financial message of doom for SAHMs, but without the overarching tone of superiority. There is almost nothing I disagree with in 'Love Between Equals'. If I had one criticism, it would be that the book doesn't even mention the option of both parents scaling back their careers to less than full-time - although it clearly describes the need for peer partners to limit their careers so that neither person's job occupies the primary breadwinner slot. By the way, don't let the publication date dissuade you - this book's message is still fresh and vital.As I read the book, I kept pulling Marc over and reading passages to him. I imagined how the world would be a better place if all couples read this book and took its contents to heart - marriages would flourish and love would abound. Okay, cut the hearts and flowers theme song now. But seriously, I could not recommend this book more strongly. If you are contemplating creating and nourishing an equal marriage, this book will give you all the reasons to make it real. Hopefully, EquallySharedParenting.com will give you the action plan to go along with those reasons!
Take me out to the Ballgame!Today is one of those days when ESP really pays off for me (and Amy). My brother called earlier today saying he scored some tickets for tonight's Red Sox game. My initial reaction was that I couldn't make it because Amy already had plans for tonight, leaving me 'on' with the kids. I immediately called our favorite babysitter. She was free but needed to do some juggling. Not knowing if that would work out I called our second choice and left a message for her to call me. Luckily, the first option came through and I'm meeting my brother at 7:00.
What makes this example so special? It all took place without having to inconvenience Amy. I didn't have to ask her to back out of her commitment, I didn't have to call her multiple times for babysitting options, I didn't have to hear the frustration in her voice about how busy she is at work, and I didn't complicate her afternoon of swim class and day care pickups. In fact, the sitter is arriving at our house 1/2 hour earlier than I would have gotten home to help with dinner.
Furthermore, I don't have any guilt that I won't see my kids for a couple of hours before bed tonight. I was home with both of them all day yesterday and look forward to spending tomorrow with them as well. In fact, I will be rejuvenated from some quality Recreation time. They better be ready for some serious fun!
Today is Fearless Friday on blogs across the land! The motherhood literary community, MotherTalk, is promoting the paperback release of Arianna Huffington's book On Becoming Fearless with a call for simultaneous posts on the topic of fearlessness today. I have not yet read Arianna's book, but the topic is highly appealing to me. What is life if you cannot get out there and be yourself - imperfections and all? We learn when we take chances, and we're really alive when we live from love and not from fear. So, here is my contribution to Fearless Friday:
From Me to We
I'm a control freak. Yes, absolutely, that is me. My friends would agree, in a lighthearted kind of way I hope. I go around with checklists of things to do. I straighten and tidy. I get queasy around clutter. My biggest worry if I die is that I won't be around to direct things.
But I want something else even more than control. And that something is an intimate and equal partnership with my husband. This dichotomy has battles in my head - and when I am fearless, the equality warrior can win. To be real equals, I have to completely let go of the notion that a mother is more than a father to a child. Except for my far superior childbearing skills, I am just one of the two parents that M and T have been given.
I come to motherhood with huge hopes and dreams for my children. From their very first cry, I want to protect and, well, mother them. I feel enormous responsibility for their welfare, their emotional growth, and their development in the skills that are needed for happy and productive lives. It is so easy to just take over these tasks, pushing aside my partner or telling him how to get from A to B! But if I do, I believe that something beautiful is lost. Society says that mothers possess some special innate elixir not given to fathers that is essential to a happy and healthy childhood. I say this is not true. I'm betting my children's very happiness on a new way.
And so I choose fearless mothering that steps aside to make room for equal fathering by Marc. Absolutely equal footing for both of us. I choose this because I believe in the depths of my heart and soul in this type of a family. I thank God for Marc - a man who is up to the task of keeping me on track with equality, and a father who wants this as much as I do. I am so grateful for a co-parent in this scary and thrilling (and very hard) responsibility of raising children. I'm relieved that Marc's neuroses are different than my own, so that we can learn and grow from each other and so that M and T will not be smothered by those of one of us alone. The world may say that I'm abdicating my motherhood. I say I'm putting parenthood ahead of my own needs to be a mother. M and T just say "is it time for a snack, Daddy...I mean Mommy?"
Men and HouseworkFor the past few weeks, the parenting news has been all about 'The Feminine Mistake' and mothers' roles (or lack thereof) in the breadwinning domain. This week, it's all about the housework domain instead. BusinessWeek.com's Working Parents blog posted an entry asking why women are always stuck with the primary housework role and respondents posted passionate agreement or annoyance with this stereotype (Amy was one of the posters - her comments introduced the concept of ESP and how true equality can be attained). Then, another Working Parents blog entry featured some of our own ESP tips for sharing housework - cool! Yesterday's Working Parents blog further explores this issue; the blog author suggests that perhaps the main reason why men are not still equal housework contributors is that either their partners are not communicating their dissatisfaction or that women don't think men's cleaning is up to snuff. I agree with this assessment, especially the part about women gatekeeping the housework. Amy and I know it doesn't come easily sometimes, but shifting the housework standards from the woman's to the team's standards is absolutely necessary for long-term, happy equality.And today's Working Parents blog features yet another discussion of housework equality, this time with comments from me. I was interviewed earlier this week by Anne Tergeson, author of the original blog that started this topic at BusinessWeek.com. Hopefully some of my ideas for attaining true and lasting equality will be helpful to readers.Finally, Linda Hirshman's piece in the New York Times yesterday about the importance of women working outside the home (written in a strangely kinder-and-gentler tone that her usual style) touches on the issue of housework (and childraising) inequality with this statement:"Sociologists have found that mothers (rich and poor) still do twice the housework and child care that fathers do, and even the next generation of males say they won’t sacrifice work for home."I'm puzzled by where she got her data on the next generation of males, since the sociologists quoted recently (e.g., Kathleen Gerson in The American Prospect's Mother Load issue in March) are saying quite the opposite. Young men value balanced lives more than powerful careers, say the sociologists I read, and they want and believe in gender equality in their marriages. They may not know how to achieve this equality, and they may wimp out at the current cultural and workplace barriers, but at least the desire is there. Dr. Hirshman concludes her piece with a solution involving changes in the tax code. There may be merit to her suggestion, but I still believe that the desire for a balanced and happy life is what will motivate individual families to even out the housework, childraising, breadwinning and recreation time.