Are You Ready for Equally Shared Parenting?
Filed under: Opinions
When we talk about equally shared parenting to others, it's not unusual for someone to bring up the sheer impracticality of the idea.
We might hear something like: "I make so much less money than my husband, so I just can't see asking him to do half the laundry." Or perhaps: "I work from home and my husband has an hour commute -- it feels silly to insist that he ever drop off our daughter at preschool." Or: "Why make him cook if I enjoy it and he hates it?"
Or maybe even: "The baby wants only Mommy when he cries at 2 a.m., so why would we upset him just to share?" Why indeed? Why would we turn our lives upside down to create some artificial, unrealistic equal sharing of responsibilities between mothers and fathers?
Before tackling this question, we invite you to step back and mull over one a bit more general. That is, why would a couple aspire to share these duties (and joys) at all? For some families, this is not an important goal. It may be that traditional gendered family roles fit well with each parent's life aspirations and both partners feel fulfilled in their divided handling of paychecks, diapers and cooking. This standard lifestyle is a fully valid option -- neither better nor worse than any other.
But for many other parents -- both men and women alike -- a more evenly shared partnership is desired for many reasons. Sharing keeps us connected in an intimate way to the details of our lives together -- to each other, to our kids, to our communities. When we share, we can relate to each other because we're both in the messiness and wonder of raising a family together every day, and we can both understand each other's challenges and triumphs in the workplace as we tend our equally important (although not necessarily equally earning) careers.
Sharing keeps us both in the game -- competent enough at any particular chore or situation to not always defer to the other spouse as the 'expert' or to feel trapped because our partner cannot handle things in our absence. Sharing gives us each a chance at a life full of what we most cherish -- at work, at home -- without going crazy from having to handle it all.
Sharing prevents the burden of earning the family paycheck from landing squarely (or mostly) on one spouse, often allowing both a bit more freedom to take risks at work and find the jobs that energize them. And sharing teaches our kids that men can nurture and women can provide, and gives them two equally connected parents who can show them, up close, two different ways of navigating the world.
Yet, so many of us sharing-minded parents find ourselves bending to decisions that make perfect sense at the time, and drifting farther and farther from our goal of an equal partnership. Social customs nudge us along, too, telling us men's careers are primary and women are ultimately in charge of raising the kids and keeping house -- allowing women to consider staying home far more easily than men, and allowing men to opt for junior-status parenting duties more easily than women.
Pretty soon, after a few months of Mom changing more diapers than Dad and Dad pushing ahead on that big project at work that earns him a promotion, it seems downright ridiculous to force the sharing of any particular task. Life has a way of making us forget what we had hoped for ourselves.
So, when we wonder about the utter nonsense of asking a father to drop off his children -- and risk arriving to work late while his wife calmly sips her morning coffee from her snug home office -- we need to remember the dream, instead.
This doesn't mean such a couple should begin a regimented sharing of the school drop-offs tomorrow. But it does mean talking about what really matters -- a conversation that will be different for each couple. Maybe school drop-offs should be Mom's purview forevermore, but Dad might want to get equally involved at school in other ways -- perhaps pick-ups or 'room parents' duties or by being the default parent who goes to the school functions. Or perhaps Dad takes charge of piano lessons, instead.
Or maybe, just maybe, there is a way to share that drop-off duty, after all. What if Dad could go in to work a bit late twice a week, returning home a few minutes later, too? Would his boss care? Would he get something out of being the one responsible for marching his kids out the door in time for the school bell -- juggling their breakfast, teeth brushing, hair combing, supply-gathering, lunch-making and proper attire wearing? Would Mom get something out of not having to be the family drill sergeant twice a week, perhaps enjoying a run or gym workout and helping out as needed?
When we focus only on the status quo -- how we've arranged our lives today -- sharing the load can often sound downright foolish. Equally shared parenting never means a strict 50-50 division of any particular task (rather, the goal is an even sharing of the whole of childraising, the whole of breadwinning, the whole of housework and general time for recreation).
But, yet, a mother gets something invaluable by having a place in her family as an equal worker with an equally important career, and as an individual with a built-in full partner in the childraising duties as she watches her husband take charge of the children's morning routine. And the chance for a father to connect with his children as he begins his morning with them on an intimate level -- not just every so often but about half the time -- is priceless.
The first step to creating the dream of equally shared parenting is to claim it. Everything else is easy in comparison. Sure, the rest of the world will throw seemingly practical roadblocks in your plans. It will say you should build your life on making the most money possible -- saddle the lower-earning spouse with the bulk of the home responsibilities so the higher-earning spouse's career can soar.
It will insist you base your decisions on sensibilities like mileage, time, comparative aptitude for a task, and interest level. But if we follow the "rules," we'll get lives that our culture picks out for us instead of lives that might nourish our souls far more deeply.
We would love to hear your stories of crazy-wonderful equally shared parenting, or your reservations about the craziness. What works? What is absolutely nuts?
This article originally appeared on PBSParents and was written by Marc and Amy Vachon. They are the authors of Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents, a how-to guide for sharing the joys and challenges of childraising, breadwinning, housework and time for recreation. They are also the founders of equallysharedparenting.com, the first dedicated online resource for egalitarian parenting from the perspective of both parents. Their work has been covered by the New York Times, USA Today, Boston Globe, Guardian (UK), Fitness Magazine, TODAY Show, Parenting,/i>, Babble, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, and other media. They are active speakers at professional work/life balance and family/marriage conferences, and have written their personal story of equally shared parenting in One Big Happy Family, an anthology by Rebecca Walker. They live in Watertown, Massachusetts, with their two children, ages eight and five.
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