Share and share alike: Equal parenting

Filed under: Work Life, In The News, Childcare, Chores

Admit it: at some point in your life as a parent, you have added up all the things you do for the children and the house and the family. If you are lucky, this accounting has not been part of a larger wrangle about what's fair in your house, but it is more likely that this equity math has come up in a less-than-pleasant discussion with your spouse or partner, one in which you accuse each other of not doing enough, and then list all the things that you do to keep everything rolling.

We all do it; it's inevitable. Or is it?

This weekend's New York Times magazine features an article by Lisa Belkin about couples who have consciously chosen equal parenting -- the completely fair distribution of labor within the home. They divide work and laundry and kid duties 50/50, even if this means working less and scheduling more. And for these parents, equal is successful. But is it realistic?

Statistically, no; in couples where both the husband and wife work full-time, surveys show that the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. That's not even close to a 50/50 split. One sociologist found that in families where the wife worked full-time and the husband stayed home, the wife still did the majority of the housework.But laundry and child care aren't the same thing -- are parents sharing kid duties equally? No: "In a family where Mom stays home and Dad goes to work, she spends 15 hours a week caring for children and he spends 2. In families in which both parents are wage earners, Mom's average drops to 11 and Dad's goes up to 3."

So how can parents make things more equal? The couples profiled in the article have done everything from changing jobs to get the best flex schedules to tracking who does what on computer programs. They have hashed out what it means to do the laundry (wash and dry, or also fold and put away?) and how to handle their children (do they have to do the same THINGS with the kids or just spend the same amount of TIME with them?). For these couples, of course, an equal division of all family labor is working just fine.

I'm skeptical, of course; my husband and I both work full-time, and we both bring different things to the table. His job comes with really good health care, for example, while mine comes with a flexible schedule that lets me take the kids to the doctor when they need to go. Is it equal? No, not really. Is it fair? Certainly. Is it working? Most days, yes.

What do you think -- should parenting (and everything associated with it) be split in a perfect 50/50 ratio?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.