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You Can Have It All, Just Not in Huge DosesYou know the saying: 'You can have it all, just not all at once'. For some, this is the new mantra of motherhood. It says we can lead lives that contain all the elements of success and happiness, but in any given day we'll likely be reaping a lot of one thing and missing out on another. Mothers with young children can, for example, have lots of time to snuggle and nurture their children if they park their careers or at least downshift them to first gear. Then, when the kids are in school, they can hopefully rev their careers up again. This is the long-view of balance.An alternative view is the one that comes from equal sharing. Here, you can have both your career and your deep bond with the kids, and even get in 'me time' and keep your house in reasonable order. But you can't have as much snuggling as you would if you stayed home full-time. You can't have as much time at the office as you would if your partner was the stay-at-home parent. You can't have as immaculate a house as if you cleaned all day long...wait, who wants that? Anyway, my point is that each way of balance has its trade-offs. With equal sharing, you get a shot at a moderate life with sustainable balance here and now. With traditional arrangements, you get full immersion and loss for significant bursts of time.
What to Do When She Makes More than Me?This morning, NBC News and MSNBC.com featured the topic of women who outearn their husbands. In traditional marriages, where women have more home and childcare responsibilities than men, men's salaries have logically been the biggest (if not the only) source of family income. But a direct result of more women going to college and graduate school has been their ability to reach higher paying positions (at least the women who haven't been sidelined by years at home). According to MSNBC, this phenomenon can cause psychological problems for some men who feel they aren't doing their share of what they have always thought was their territory. And it is causing additional pain for higher-earning women whose partners are not picking up the slack at home and with the kids.For those of you who not only aren't threatened by the fact that your wife could make more money than you, but may even be happy with this turn of events, you may be able to appreciate the impact of equally sharing childraising and housework with her. If this trend in women's salaries continues and eventually results in both genders overall receiving equal pay for equal work, we're going to need to let go of our identity as family breadwinner. Rather than think of ourselves as he-men providing financially for our families, we can begin to redefine ourselves as the male version of worker, parent, spouse, maintenance guy, and fun person.
Equal Doesn't Mean IdenticalWhen I'm discussing the merits of equally shared parenting with others, a particular issue comes up every so often. This is the issue of genderless parenting, in which the gender (or perhaps more accurately, the individuality) of the parents is no longer valued. Opponents of equal parenting have used this issue as a reason to promote traditional male:female roles and also to belittle the notion of equality. I would like to point out an important flaw in this argument - the fact that 'equal' and 'identical' have two different meanings in any dictionary I've ever consulted.In equally shared parenting, we mean exactly that - two parents who are truly considered equals. They are equal contributors to each of the four domains of the household (breadwinning, childraising, housework and recreation time). They have equal respect for each other's contributions in these domains. On the other hand, identical parenting would be dull indeed. Here, we would have two parents who think alike, act alike, and simply fill in for each other without their children even noticing the change of guard. Yuck!Equal parents are fully unique individuals. They can have totally different interests and can even divide tasks along traditional gender lines if that is what suits them best - as long as the tasks come out even time-wise. Their very differences are one of the joys of this lifestyle from the children's perspective - the kids get an equal dose of two unique parents with two different sets of talents and interests.Equally shared parenting does not mean identical parenting or genderless parenting. It lets us all be ourselves and still have a chance at balanced lives.
Don't Let This Happen to YouEvery parenting couple has a method of coping when children or parents are sick and must stay home from school or work. In traditional families (even when the mother works full time), it is commonly Mom who stays home to care for ill kids and Mom who must do all of her usual parenting duties when she herself is sick. This blog entry is a classic example of such inequality, written as if such a mother deserves a badge of honor or a 'Moms rock' high-five. When mothers settle for this martyrdom and then blog about it to the world, I wonder what secret benefit they are getting from it. What if their husbands actually stepped up and wiped away their reasons for complaining? In all fairness, the blog author here may be a lovely person and not a martyr type at all, but the story she tells is one that begs sympathy rather than a real solution.When both parents equally share childraising and breadwinning, this stuff just doesn't happen. If your child is sick, you take turns staying home (or pick specific days of the week that will be yours to stay home). If you are sick, your spouse takes over what you aren't up to doing. Both careers are consistently sacrificed, but only half as often. No complaints here!
The Artisanal WorkerMuch is discussed these days about the Generation X or Y worker, who bounces around from job to job rather than works his/her way up a standard career ladder within a company, takes a long time to reach his/her peak performance in the workplace, and values a fun and balanced life over a power career. This sterotypical depiction fits well with a life of equal sharing in some respects and works against it in other respects.What works well is the desire for balance and fun over worldly accomplishments or acquisitions. What doesn't work so well is the job hopping and the delay in career decisions. An equal sharing lifestyle works best when both parents can scale back at work, but yet still make enough money to enjoy their balanced lives. This type of lifestyle usually requires that you don't wait until your 30s or 40s to land a job that pays well. Working hard and establishing yourself as an excellent and loyal employee in your 20s pays off later when you are ready to scale back and make room in your life for marriage and parenthood.I think of the ideal equal-sharer as an artisanal worker. Artisans work hard to learn their craft, putting in long hours and intense training time to become extremely good at what they do. They generally love what they do. They stay in their fields for decades, becoming ever more proficient and well-known for their artistry. They don't make much money at first, but as they mature in their expertise, they command bigger and bigger prices for their work. They are valued more as they age because they are so efficient and masterful.An artisan doesn't have to be a world-class sculptor. You can be an artisan at anything that fits well with your interests and passions. You give to the world by your experience and expertise, and you receive commensurate pay as a result. But if you move from job to job every 18 months, you are mostly only taking - taking from each company you work for, and not moving beyond the eager apprentice stage. I'd like to impress upon our promising young Generation X/Y workers that sticking with a job has a big payoff that appeals to them - balance with the income to sustain it.
Double-Income Fathers Are HappiestCanadian parents are faced with much the same work/life balance issues as American families. Today's report in the Ottawa Sun on balancing two careers and childraising explains that men and women have added about 40 minutes to their work day since 1986. For women, this increase is mostly in paid work, but for men, it is mostly from housework and childcare. Statistics Canada's Katherine Marshall says that "It's no longer valid to class jobs in the labour market or tasks at home as male or female." "Men's move into work at home has lagged women's surge into paid work but Marshall believes men and women will share more equally in the future as women work more -- and get paid more --and sharing becomes the norm." Hey - that's terrific! I wish there were more statistics in the article to back this statement up, but it is nice to see in print nonetheless.The article goes on to state that "When asked about work-life balance, double-income fathers were happiest, followed by sole-income mothers, then sole-earner fathers. Dual-earner mothers were the least satisfied." The theory here is that women who work are still responsible for the bulk of the childraising and housework (unless their husbands stay home), which makes them cranky. But it is still interesting to note that men are happier if their wives work. I'd like to think that this is because the dual-earner fathers are more equal at home and less stressed out by sharing the family breadwinning. Now, a little extra effort around the house by this happiest group would go a long way toward creating happy partners as well.
Living Simply Builds CommunityThere is a great article in The Tyee (an independent alternative online newspaper from British Columbia) on the experiences of a couple with children after they decide to go car-less for one year. Most of us in two-parent families have two cars, and have either succumbed to the minivan or are still valiantly resisting. Some of us are getting by with one car. But how many of us would be willing to downsize to NO car at all?This article lends proof to the fact that one of the main reasons parents have cars, and big ones, is to partake in the culture of 'I'll drive your kids to soccer if you pick mine up'. With no car, this couple was left without the primary currency of parent-bonding. To avoid being ostracized, they had to come up with an equally attractive currency: childcare. They now trade rides in other parents' cars for extra playdates or sleepovers at their house. What they have found is that being without a car gives them lots of face time with their neighbors, their kids' friends, and each other. They walk a lot (great exercise!) and tend to hang out in neighborhood spots rather than go for far-away adventures. This, they say, has led to a greater sense of community and directly combats the urban sprawl most cities have become.What does this have to do with equally shared parenting? A lot. Equal sharing usually means living simply (unless you are independently wealthy) and this can be a great thing for community building. Amy and I haven't taken the plunge to carless-ness yet, but downsizing to one car has given us a taste of life closer to home. It's a good thing.
Essential ConversationsBefore a couple decides to marry, there are some key topics we all would advise they discuss. Areas like 'do you want children?' or 'do you unroll the toilet paper from the top or bottom?'. Many couples, however, fail to discuss a few other critical topics. The New York Times recently outlined 15 questions that couples should explore. The very first question is 'Have we discussed whether or not to have children [we knew this one already], and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?' Or, perhaps if both of you will share this! Number Three is 'Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?' (how about both of you together?) and down at Number Fourteen is 'If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other's family, are we prepared to move?'.This is the stuff that builds an equal or an unequal marriage. With so many couples ending up in an unequal situation and being surprised about this turn of events, I hope that would-be brides and grooms take the 15 Question Test to heart and really explore their answers together.
Workers Around the Globe Want to Scale Back in 2007Work-life balance has been an increasingly hot topic over the last few years in the US. It appears that this trend will continue around the world as well in 2007. The website www.chinaview.cn has reported on an ACNielsen survey of consumers in 46 countries and found that "more than half of those interviewed wanted work to play a lesser role in their lives in 2007."In addition, "Older children were also eager to see their parents work fewer hours in the New Year (41 per cent of 15- and 16-year-olds) although even more, 61 per cent, of 11-year-olds wanted their parents to spend more time with them."We can only imagine what strategies will be utilized around the globe to make this happen, given the financial realities we all face.Our strategy has often been to control expenses without drastically changing our standard of living. This year we plan to focus on the cost of feeding our family. Since we have tracked our expenses for years with Quicken, we were able to calculate how much it cost to feed our family on a cost per person per meal basis. We were intrigued by the answer of $2.50. This included ALL food purchases, such as groceries, dining out, coffee shops, lunches with colleagues, and pot luck contributions at parties, etc..Maybe we can reduce this number by planning ahead for more meals, reducing some coffee house trips, and carrying a sack lunch to work more often. How much does it cost to feed your family? What strategies can you use to reduce family expenses in 2007?
What Really Happens During Daddy DayWhen we equally sharing moms leave our kids in the hands of our husbands for great lengths of time, strange things have a way of occurring. Some actual case reports (from my own house) include:
- Children end up with faces drawn on their bellies, complete with bellybutton mouths. They then proudly show off their artwork at daycare the next day.
- A working mom receives an email photograph of her kids with labels on their foreheads sporting their own names, remnants of a label-maker game gone wild.
- Kids eat the 'orange meal' (mac and cheese, carrots and peaches) for lunch, again.
- A female child attends preschool with one braid and one pigtail.
Fellow equally-sharing moms, this is all in a normal day while we're at work. With equally shared parenting, it is part of our letting go. Our way is not better. Belly art, body stickers, monotone food and wacky hair are FUN and if Daddy Day means these kinds of crazy projects, our kids are lucky indeed.
We moms may be creative types, or we may be more inclined to get from A to B during our time with our children (I can be both, but am generally task oriented). Sometimes it takes their fathers to mix things up and remind us all that it is good to stop and smell the roses. When those fathers are around the kids as much as we are, maybe our kids will learn to be experts at making their own fun and challenging the status quo in a positive way. Time will tell.