More on shared parenting

I wrote this in response to a comment on a post I wrote a while ago about shared parenting, and then I saved it as a draft to come back and edit, and promptly forgot about it. Oops.

So the commenter wrote that he worked and his wife stayed home because it was what each did best:

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.

I began writing a response but I decided I’d rather post about the rest of my thoughts on the article.

Even in sharing it all, Husband and I do the same thing…but we happen to be much more evenly matched. So the things we defer to each other on are smaller, more in the details – like the Vachons, I think. He takes the heavy laundry in the pushcart down the stairs and to the laundrymat and picks it up the next day, lugging it up the stairs. I happen to wash the dishes. There are definitely things that happen to fall along the “standard” lines, but we’ve talked about all of it and whether we want to do this or that and to what standards, and everything was a mutual decision. And I think that’s what makes our marriage so solid, even if the conversation can sometimes be a tad awkward (“It really made me feel bad when …”).

Regarding parenting, in my opinion “equally” shared parenting isn’t as much about the “equally” part as it is about the sharing – about both parents putting time into it and really being there for their kids. If you share it, then even if you work a full-time job and your spouse stays at home, you spend a significant amount of time with your kids while you are there, and you recognize that your spouse needs a break too. You do things your way when you’re with the kids, but you’re with them enough that you have a way down pat and you know what to expect. To me that’s the important part.

But I also think one of the points of the article might be that these people set different priorities. If you wanted to, you could both choose to live a little less luxuriously in terms of material wealth and comfort, take a pay cut, and have more time at home with your family. This could be working part-time or this could be a flexible or reduced hours schedule, or you might choose to stay home completely. But this is a choice that these people are making, to take less pay in order to both be fully there with their family and with their children. And it’s a choice that I’m passionate about, that I think needs to be available for parents of any gender if we are ever to truly move into a “post-feminist” era.


2 thoughts on “More on shared parenting

  1. I always find it interesting that when articles, like the one you are referring to, come out and conversations like this get started we hear so much about the “new man” and “new relationships” that have shared housework and shared parenting and both the men and women alike (feminists included) claim they share the division of labor equitably. However all the studies, even the most recent ones, indicate that women still do the far greater share of household labor -whether they are working or not.

    I think there are several issues that are often left out of these conversations. Not all household tasks are equal. Women tend to end up with the tasks that need to be done everyday, the ones that receive far less attention and are far more unappealing. This is true for childcare as well as household chores. Men also report having greater choice over what tasks they do and when they do them. The stuff that can’t wait, the stuff that has to be done now–tends to fall to women. However what I’ve found most compelling about inequity in the household is that women tend to be the managers and thinkers with regard to what needs to be done. Most women report that they are the ones who know when the child needs to go to the dentist and make the appointment, even if dad ends up taking the kid. Most women plan the meals and know when the last time the floor was mopped. Women keep a running mental agenda about the household that most men don’t.

    Now I’m not blaming or bashing men here. The reasons for this are embedded in societal norms and most women/mothers don’t want to give up the power that this position gives them. Primarily because it is the only power that is available to them. There is a reason why men can make 10x what women can make.

    When my son was little my (then) husband was the one who stayed home with him because in our case I could make far more money than he could. However all household chores (cleaning, meal planning, cooking, dr visits, playdates etc etc) were my responsibility. Once I got home my son was 100% my responsibility along with the house. If I traveled for work, I put days in getting everything prepared for my absence and days catching up when I got back. This is very different from homes where mothers stay home and fathers go to work. I’m not putting down my ex. He did a lot and we are both grateful my son had the opportunity to stay home with his dad. Nor am I blaming him. I was equally responsible for wanting to shoulder the burden because I would feel like an unfit mother if I didn’t.

    Its a complex issue and one we need a lot of open discussion about because I think we are a far cry from a “post-feminist” era.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Brigindo. While I don’t disagree that the things you cite occur often, I’m also not sure that this is left out of these conversations. If I remember correctly in the article at least one of the families decided it didn’t work for them and chose to have the mom stay at home full-time, and the other families had varying systems. It’s not so hard to believe that one of the ones profiled could have been one of the few outlyers in which the man did keep the household mental lists.

    While I personally do keep more of the mental lists in our house, I also view this as part of my nature. I happen to be a person who loves organizing and planning. My husband does not, nor is he very good at arriving at appointments on time – if at all. (I’m not good at this either, but I tend to suffice better than he at it.) But I knew that when I first moved in with him, and I knew it even better when I married him. (Oh boy did I ever! Have I told the story about his bachelor’s party yet?)

    And I definitely care more about the cleanliness and comfort of the apartment, but when I met him he had been living in his apartment for a year, and hadn’t yet bought a mattress. (He did, before I visited his apartment, because he wanted to make a good impression.) But my needs aren’t that much higher – together we slept with only a mattress on the floor for a year.

    Anyhow, so what I really want to say is this – I certainly don’t believe we’re in a post-feminist era yet, and I definitely see the influences of societal norms in the way that we break up everything, including the more intangible parts of running a family unit/household. But I like to think that what I have with my husband is better than what most of the last generation had – that we’ve taken it as far as could be expected, and that things are moving forward, just slowly.

    My husband and I were raised in families where the household work was split along gender lines, although we may have known a friend or two with parents who were a little more equal. In my marriage, we try to talk about the chores and whether we like doing them or not, and we come to an agreement that we’re both satisfied by. I was initially surprised by how much of it really did fall along gender lines – I enjoy cleaning when I’m in the mood; it’s easier for him to lug the heavy stuff up and down the two flights of stairs; I sometimes enjoy cooking and I always love baking. But we also do some things that don’t fall along gender lines – he drops off and picks up the laundry, I take things apart and put them back together (furniture, electronic gadgets, etc). I think it probably is still shifted towards me putting in more hours to run our house & finances, but I’m happy with it. I feel like I don’t have to do any tasks that I don’t want to or agree to, but I still take my healthy share of leisure time.

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