Shared Parenting


There’s a detailed article on shared parenting from NYTimes Magazine that I’m reading, and I’m so happy just to see it. It describes people, most older than myself, who are living lives in the way that I’ve been planning and hoping to live mine. This includes both equal parenting and the voluntary cutback of work hours, work responsibilities, and of course income in order to spend more time living your life and enjoying your family or whatever is most important to you.

Some stats on how the numbers still stack up on average:

The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one. If you break out couples in which wives stay home and husbands are the sole earners, the number of hours goes up for women, to 38 hours of housework a week, and down a bit for men, to 12, a ratio of more than three to one. That makes sense, because the couple have defined home as one partner’s work.

But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all.

The lopsided ratio holds true however you construct and deconstruct a family. “Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

As disappointing as these numbers are, particularly for families where both partners work full-time, the families described in the article so far are encouraging. I do find it interesting, though, that the author chose to talk about these parent’s own backgrounds – where they grew up and what their parents did – because it signals to me that the author felt these people’s choices needed to be explained. I guess it should be natural when talking about how one manages their family, to ask how their family was managed when they were children, so maybe I’m just being paranoid about the “otherness” of couples who choose to share parenting equally.

I can’t read the rest of the article, and I entreat my readers to go and read it and then tell me what they think. How do you plan or hope to share parenting duties? If you have children already, is reality living up to the plan?

p.s. here’s a great and amusing excerpt for my academic and medical friends:

She goes on to suggest that the perception of flexibility is itself a matter of perception. In her study, she was struck by how often the wife’s job was seen by both spouses as being more flexible than the husband’s. By way of example she describes two actual couples, one in which he is a college professor and she is a physician and one in which she is a college professor and he is a physician. In either case, Deutsch says “both the husband and wife claimed the man’s job was less flexible.”

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13 thoughts on “Shared Parenting

  1. I recommend reading the whole article. It goes through how 3 or 4 couples deal with making their lives “equal.” It was very interesting to me how sometimes they wanted life to be equal but their job schedules hindered it. Some choose to leave jobs for more flexible one.
    But what hit me the most was how one women took back chores that they decided the husband would do because he didn’t do them to her standard. I find this true in my own life and likely many others find it’s easier to do something yourself than to have to nag the other person to do it or to just have to redo it yourself later.
    What was also interesting, on this same point, was that the article suggested that women tend to have this need for the house to be cleaner, ect. than men because society expects the women to take care of the house, so when it’s not in “proper” care the women is to blame. I had never thought of it this way and wonder if my expectations for a clean, orderly house is from my own desire or societies push for it.

  2. I was talking to the spouse about it yesterday- he thinks it implausible that any household requires 40 hours of housework per week. But in any event, I’m lucky that Dr. S is a tidier person than I (I had dust buffaloes before we were married, but he slays them).

    I think my resentment of the societal standard Jennie mentions is part of why I just couldn’t care less about housework. It’s a powerful pressure though- the female partner in a hetero relationship is held responsible for a lot of things that should be equal responsibility.

  3. Equal parenting is fine with us if we found ourselves one day to be equally matched. But I make 10 times as much as what my wife can do in her best year, and my wife has a much bigger gas tank for the energy in needing to handle children. We’ve tried to be equal, but have found its best to pull the most from our strengths and split up the rest.

  4. Yes, I did finish reading the article, and found it very interesting. Even though Husband and I have no kids yet, I thought that the Vachon family sounded a lot like us. At the beginning of the article I thought that maybe they were really rigid about splitting everything exactly 50/50, which Husband and I aren’t, but then when I read the last page I saw that really they sounded a lot like us.

    I definitely found myself worrying more about how some people would view the house’s standards as a reflection on me – but this was only with Husband’s family. With everyone else – friends, my own family, strangers – I don’t worry about it. But I expressed this concern to Husband, and he told me not to worry. He said his mom wouldn’t judge me on it…I’m not sure if that’s true or not. Admittedly her house is a mess, but I do get the impression she was at least a little bit judging about me not providing dinner for them both when she was here at dinnertime before (Husband suggested we order food in, which we do often). Anyhow, I digress…

    I definitely think that the current workforce set-up, on average, hinders equal sharing of family and household duties, at least once you have kids added to the equation.

    Jenny, I also was shocked by 40 hours a week. Holy crap! I was also shocked by how low the numbers were for childcare – clearly those numbers were for older children or didn’t count the “fun” time in which you play with your children or oversee their play but are still required to be there and to be actively aware and to respond to them when they need you. Even for the moms the number was like 10 hours a week or something – that’s ridiculously low. I put twice that much in at the pt nanny job I did (btw this might be past tense now!), and the mom had ever more responsibilities for those children than I.

  5. Also, I wanted to comment on the tidbit where both the man and woman perceive the woman’s job to be more flexible – I suspect that there’s some partial truth to their perception, in that the men might actually face different responses from their bosses and colleagues when they say that they need flexibility because they have children. While there are clear cases in which men who ask for time off are given an easier time because they are fawned over for being involved, on average I imagine men have a harder time being respected as good workers when they try to organize a flexible schedule so that they can spend time with their kids.

  6. John,

    I wrote a blog post in response to your comment, but some notes especially for you:

    And that’s totally fine, if that’s what works for you!

    Your son is really cute! From a skim of your blog I imagine that when you’re not working, you spend an active amount of time with your son.

    Do you and your wife both value how much each person enjoys what they do over how much money it makes them, and did you consider flexible options and other things before she made the choice to stay home? If you would still choose to divide the work the way you do, then you’re lucky that it happens to provide you with good wealth too. 🙂

  7. Whoa, 40 hours sure does sound like a lot of housework! Granted, I have a small apartment and don’t cook very much, but still! I guess the saying that women pull a second shift in the home is very true. My boyfriend and I try to split up chores evenly but we both think we do the majority of the cleaning! How does that work? One (or both) of us has to be deluding ourselves. We don’t have kids, but I can certainly imagine that would be even more difficult to split evenly. We work pretty similar hours, but as an academic, I do more from home evenings/weekends while he plays games!

  8. I should clarify- Dr. S thinks there’s no way the two of us spend 40 h/week on household chores!

    His mother is obsessively clean and I’m sure she does judge my hatred of cleaning. But my finely cultivated not-caring helps. Still though.

  9. Yes, but I don’t understand how the averages could be up that high. I can see it in a family with young kids, but in a kidless house – well 40 hours a week?! I guess I’m probably also shocked because I live in a small NYC apartment…

  10. Well, we live in a kind of huge non-NYC apartment, still not 40 hours. I don’t understand how they’re counting! Do people cook every night? Do they do laundry one item at a time? Do they go to a grocery store 2 hours away? Mystifying.

  11. LOL
    I just assume they’re cleaning more often. And cooking more often. There may still be some people out there who cook at least 2 meals every single day…and then wash all the dishes that got dirty in the process…or something?

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