Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good Reads

In all the flurry of international ESP talk this past week, we've almost forgotten to celebrate that we became official published authors - as in, the wonderful new anthology by Rebecca Walker with our chapter in it has been released!

The book is One Big Happy Family and it contains essays by 18 authors who represent nontraditional families. Gay marriage, open adoption, sperm donation, stepfamilies, bicultural families, homeschooling, open marriage...and then there's us - Chapter 15. It is a great tribute to the simple belief that we must honor, respect, and stand aside from judgment for all types of families.

Our chapter is purely our own story - why we sought to create a different type of relationship based on equality and balance after M was born, how we navigated the early months of maternity/paternity leave, breastfeeding and 24 hour babycare, how we secured part-time work for each of us, and the challenges we faced in becoming true equals at home and in our parenting.

We had fun writing this, and feel that Rebecca Walker's book is the perfect resting place for our personal ESP 'memoir.' We hope it inspires others to realize that ESP is real and that it comes from a place of truly wishing the best for one's partner.

There is some other exciting news on the ESP literature front. Just released is a new book entitled Getting to 50/50, written by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober. We have not yet read it but are eager to dig in. The book is focused on women - helping them to lead their best lives by harnessing the power of equal partnership with their husbands - but we hope it will not leave out the equal joys of this option for men. Coming in June is another ESP-related book: Jeremy Adam Smith's The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms and Shared Parenting are Transforming the American Family. Jeremy is a fantastic, thoughtful writer and we expect great things from his book. And in October, stay tuned for Kristin Maschka's This Is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today. Kristin sent us a copy of her manuscript recently, and we are enjoying reading her personal story of a journey out of tradition and into full-out ESP.

And, of course, there's our own book. We're wrapping up the initial manuscript now and are on schedule for publication in early 2010. More on that as we work our way toward the finish line.

It's an exciting time for ESP! Finally, the bookshelves devoted to equal parenting will no longer be empty. If this batch of books doesn't get people talking, I'm not sure what will. Hooray!

Monday, February 23, 2009

For the 300th Time

Now Italy has taken up the topic of equal sharing! A few days ago, this article appeared in the Italian paper, Repubblica, as a follow-up from the Guardian article the day before. Not being able to read Italian, we called upon our ESP friend, Melissa, to translate it. Thanks, Melissa!

The article appears to be an introduction to a new movement in Italy toward men becoming more nurturing - a good thing! And it paints ESP as a huge American movement - that's nice! But Amy and I appear to be profiled as the couple who divides household tasks exactly 50/50 in rigid military fashion - using daily lists of everything we could possibly think of to divide.

Nothing about how sharing the duties and joys of parenthood and homemaking brings balanced lives to both partners. Nothing about how walking in each other's shoes can enhance intimacy, empathy and fun.

We're happy to read an article about men stepping up to nurturing, and we don't mind so much that a journalist might want to use us figuratively as those crazy people who take ESP to an extreme (that comes with the territory of being spokespeople, we know), but we hope the article doesn't turn off the true would-be ESP couple from exploring the truth.

This is our 300th post, by the way. So I'll say it again for what feels like the 300th time:
  • ESP is not 50/50 equal chore division. It is about sharing each of four domains of your life approximately equally so that you both experience the joy and share the work in all areas, and enjoy balanced lives.
  • ESP is not done explicitly for fairness or in worship of feminism. It is fair, and it is directly in line with feminism. But it is chosen by couples who practice it because they believe it allows them to live their best lives. Both of them.
  • ESP is not about lists (we've met very few ESP couples who make them, and we certainly don't). It is not a life of rules or discipline. It is teamwork.

I'm sure this isn't the last time we'll address this topic. Perhaps it makes for interesting journalism to continue to report that equal sharing means humorous rigidity. So we'll keep at our mission to correct that convenient image. 'Fifty-fifty' is not what we're going for; in fact, the more we focus on nitpicking the details, the farther away we are from our goal - and the closer we are to driving each other crazy.

Come on, Italy! We'd love to have you on board!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Square Peg, Round Hole

Welcome, Guardian readers!

Imagine our surprise when we clicked over to this article in today's Guardian (UK) that proclaims us the 'poster parents for a new American ideal' and the 'Obamas of the parental blogosphere.' Wow! But we didn't have much time to enjoy our new monikers as we read on.

The article chronicles the adventures of journalist Viv Groskop and her husband Simon as they attempt to follow the 'rules' of ESP for a week with their two young children. I'll give this couple kudos for not portraying Simon as a bumbling dad; he seems to be fully up to all the tasks given to him during the week. But thumbs down to their focus on exacting equality without making the necessary adjustments to each of their lives that would have made this equality not only sustainable but fantastically enjoyable.

During their ESP week, Simon attempts to squeeze all his extra home tasks into an already full life (he works full-time), and Viv fumes (she works part-time, from home). The couple then resign themselves to practicality. Of course it just makes sense for Viv to be the one to drop everything to take the kids whenever an emergency strikes, for example. Right? They chalk up the experiment to a lesson in how ESP is not sensible, adding that it also destroys a couple's time together.


If there's anything that we know about ESP couples, it is that most of them value time together - and have it in abundance. They also value balance, and many of them specifically choose this lifestyle because they think it simply makes the most sense to them - it is about as practical and sensible as anything. But take a couple who tries to create equality in an instant, without building it into their schedules and without a shared commitment to doing so in all domains, and you're bound for trouble. This article illustrates that quite nicely, really.

All of this leads to one conclusion for us: ESP is not a reality TV show. It's a practical, sustainable option that takes time and commitment to build. It takes two willing partners. Want to know more? We're glad you're here - please make yourself at home and check out what real ESP couples look like in our Real Life Stories.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guest Blog: The Years Ahead, by Sharon Teitelbaum

We have the pleasure of posting another guest blog today. This one comes from a long time mentor, friend and amazing work/life coach, Sharon Teitelbaum. In many ways, our public ESP road started with Sharon, who was the featured speaker at my local working moms' group way back when M was a tiny baby and I had just returned to work from my first maternity leave. Sharon came to talk to us moms about balancing our lives and taking time for ourselves, but she mentioned something even more interesting that night. She told us that she and her husband had each worked part-time and raised their two daughters together for over 20 years. Outside of my own marriage to Marc, Sharon was the first ESP parent I had ever met! It felt so wonderful to connect with her (Sharon is also an extremely warm and comforting person - just what I needed as a brand new mother). And so, without further introduction, here is Sharon's post - a look ahead at how ESP feels to her and to her husband, Jon (a lawyer) now that their children are off on their own....

The Years Ahead
by Sharon Teitelbaum

My husband and I were equally sharing parents with our 2 daughters, who are now 27 and 31. Our older daughter is married, so we now also have a son-in-law, which is like getting a bonus son. His parents did all the hard work, and we just get to have this extraordinary guy in our family.

I'd like to offer a glimpse of how ESP looks at this stage in our family's life. Our kids live out of state, and Jon and I each run a business from a home office; he's a real estate attorney and I'm a life coach. There are some very central and wonderful ESP threads that continue, such as each of us parents continuing to be a primary parent even as the roles and rules change over time.

So for example, when I'm in a work crunch and Jon is not, and I see a call come in from one of the kids, and he takes the call, I know that whatever is going on, he can handle it at least as well as I can. Not that we're interchangeable - we're not - but either one can be First (or Today's) Responder. That continues to be a huge support to all of us in having a sane and connected life.

It's not that the kids have crises we have to rescue them from - that's not at all the case. But like any healthy adult relationship, the more you can be there for someone, through the ups and the downs, the stronger the bond and the more the relationship grows. There are very, very interesting, challenging, and age-appropriate developmental things our kids are going thru these years - relationship stuff, career and work stuff, and even wedding planning, just for starters - and it's been really quite wonderful to be part of their inner circle as they navigate all of this. When Jon has an important conversation with one of them (or our son-in-law), he'll catch me up on it later, and vice versa.

The closeness continues. One daughter recently had a huge professional success that culminated in a presentation and announcement she made at her profession's annual annual conference on the other side of the country. She emailed photos and links to the video of her session. Later she said, "I wish you guys could have been there, like you were for my soccer goals. I really wanted to do a high five with you afterwards." The other daughter also had a huge success recently (that I'm not at liberty to disclose) and called from the airport to share the news and tell all.

Of course there are some conversations that are best had with Mom, and others best had with Dad. But either one of us can be "on" at any given moment, and we all continue to have confidence in this arrangement.

There's another core way that our ESP "training" continues to serve us. While our kids were growing up, I think Jon and I lived every possible configuration of work and home schedules and responsibilities, through the changing needs of our children, through career changes, firm closings, the decline and deaths of our parents, etc. We learned to navigate these changes by talking it all through (usually at the kitchen table): what the situation called for, each individual person's needs and wants, each person's sense of what felt fair and right, and to negotiate what we needed to negotiate. These are the very communication and relational skills we are using to navigate this year's big challenge: the economy. The recession has affected us much like everyone else we know. (Neither of us has to fear being laid off because we're self-employed, but then again we have the insecurity of both of us being self-employed.) How are we going to respond to this? Who needs to do what? And when? We are back at the kitchen table, using those same skills, figuring it all out yet again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Equality from Economics

Ellen Goodman's most recent editorial in the Boston Globe is entitled The Curse of an Equal Workforce. Here, she muses on how the economic crises might force equality in the workplace in a powerful and unexpected way - not by improving the pay rate and job opportunities for women, but by slashing jobs held primarily by men. The country is teetering on an even split between men and women in paying jobs (right now, women hold more than 49% of jobs, and the unemployment rate is higher for men than for women), and could easily see a higher number of women in the workforce than men before the economy turns around.

Goodman continues by considering the division of housework and childcare labor at home, and how suddenly unemployed women typically pick up a huge amount of additional home labor while laid-off men typically do not. This scenario may be the result of women's jobs often being less important to the family paycheck than men's, but this line of reasoning may be going away. Says Goodman: "And while, to put it mildly, there's been a lot of tension in families where women work the double shift, it's also true that many women who earned less than their husbands made an internal calculation. Paid less in the workforce, they did more of the housework to make an "equal" contribution. How will this hold now?"

The editorial ends with an interesting prediction: "Every huge economic change like the one we are in has an unpredictable impact on society. We are about to see if men are shovel-ready to take on more family and household labor. There is nothing in the stimulus package on this matter, but we may be jump-starting the languishing conversation about marriage as that 50-50 proposition."

We live in exciting times, gender-bending times. A conversation about ESP jumpstarted nationwide by the economy (something we've been working hard at doing for quite awhile now)!

Economics may indeed drive marital equality, which might be a great thing. But I'm dubious that economics alone can make it sustainable - and desirable. This type of shift toward ESP is outwardly driven - in this case by the job market. Real ESP - the stuff that makes both parents happy - is inwardly driven instead. I think it is great that outward reasons to try equal sharing are increasing (although I don't wish joblessness on anyone), but I hope those giving it a try are also open to its tremendous benefits to the soul. I do have hope that men who find themselves at home and freed to handle the laundry and the daycare pickups will begin to learn that a job is not their identity, and that this turn of events could quite possibly be the best thing that has happened to them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Marc and I had the pleasure of speaking at the Boston Women's Bar Association's monthly Mother's Forum lunch meeting yesterday. The room was full of highly accomplished moms who are juggling significant careers, marriages, and young children - a wonderful audience with which to discuss ESP, we thought. And we were right! Everyone present was energized by the topic, and I'm sure the conversation could have gone on for hours. We all talked about the benefits of ESP for men (reminding me of how important it is to have Marc there to represent men's views and ideas), how women might learn to let go of control at home and with the kids, how our culture guides us all toward traditional relationships instead, and how the economy might affect the likelihood of flexible work arrangements.

Interestingly, several women brought up a recent news piece about how law firms have gotten used to a certain rate of attrition from women lawyers opting out to be home with their children. But now that the economy is poor, many of these women are staying put in their jobs to give their families more financial security, and law firms are wondering what to do about the excess of employees. Layoffs? Maybe instead they could honor the wishes of those employees of either gender who ask for reduced hours rather than full opt-outs. We don't know which will be more likely, but we're hopeful that the economy might open up possibilities for great workers to be more flexible in many professions.

The WBA Mother's Forum was a wonderful experience for me and for Marc. The support and interest of the group will be a great boost for us as we write the finishing chapters on our manuscript - due in short order. Thanks, WBA, for a terrific welcome!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Did you Want to Have Kids?

Apparently, the way you answer this question has a lot to say about how happy you are as a parent. According to Stephanie Coontz in a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, just a couple of decades ago it was assumed that married couples with kids were the most satisfied adults but in recent years the presence of kids has signaled marital angst. However, Dr. Coontz tells us of two researchers at Berkeley who challenged this premise by asking parents if they wanted to have kids. Their upcoming report for the Council on Contemporary Families sheds some light on the problem. It appears that most marital unrest for parents stems from both their willingness to become parents and the timing of the blessed event.

Even as a non-planner by nature this makes sense to me. There a number of reasons to put off having kids: financial stability, enjoying the freedom to come and go as you please, establishing careers. If any of these desires, or others, gets short-circuited without a clear re-dedication to being parents, additional anxiety can result.

Well, it turns out that there may be a third factor at play. The article goes on to reveal that "Marital quality also tends to decline when parents backslide into more traditional gender roles."

So, a reasonable conclusion can be made that if we want children to enhance our relationships, we should agree on the timing of bringing kids into the world and dedicate ourselves to the balance and equality offered by ESP!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tell Him What You Want Him to Do?

That Parenting.com 'Mad About Dad' article sure has been making the rounds on the parenting blogosphere! It was covered last week at the Motherlode, and also here and here. Reading through many of the comments left by readers of these blogs - at least the ones that are attempting to be constructive - I'm left wanting to shout some ESP principles into a megaphone.

So many commenters focus on making fathers do their share of housework by suggesting that mothers need to ask their husbands explicitly to do what they want them to do. They aren't mindreaders, these commenters say; so stop complaining that your husbands don't cook and clean and do the laundry - sit down and communicate with them instead. Ask for help! Easy answer, right?


We need to back up here. Back way up. Do we mothers want to be in charge of our husbands' housework assignments all the time? Do we want to be always asking them to help us with what should fairly be shared? Did we sign up to be their hiring managers, trainers and supervisors? Yuck. And did our husbands sign on to be our underlings? Ick. Communication is great - it really is. But if 'communication' is defined as "Honey, could you please help me by loading the dishwasher tonight (and please make sure the knives go in the right way and the glasses are all loaded downward on the top shelf), and could you help me get through this pile of laundry (and please make sure that you fold it properly and put it away too, in the right drawers)," I'm not feeling the love.

We all know a better answer. And rather than type it out myself, I'll let a reader tell you in her own words (with her permission). This is from Margret, who wrote to us earlier this week:

I'm in my third trimester of my first pregnancy at an Advanced Maternal Age (41).

I realized as I was browsing your site and reading through things which piqued my interest that I have a lot of unstated assumptions about how having a child is going to go down, with respect to the mommy/daddy dynamic and the division of labour/fun and the work/life balance.

It occurred to me that in all my musings about what is to come, and in my discussions with my husband, I have had an implicit assumption that even were he to take on the lion's share of the household duties (including being the primary care giver for baby-in-progress), I've been thinking I would be the Alpha Parent and he would be essentially an unpaid assistant making sure that my will is enforced. Devolving responsibility, I have discovered in reading articles on your site, means devolving ownership rather than task completion.
[bold mine]

This is a phenomenal resource which I will be sharing with my husband tonight, so that we can discuss what it means to balance and which version of ESP looks right to us. Of course, I expect that the realities of baby-having will adjust our theoretical balance in a couple of months. Nevertheless, I am gratified to have a set of issues to start talking about and through with him. The whole parenting world is new to us, I am a control freak, and it didn't occur to me that I was going about THINKING the wrong way (making mental lists, assigning tasks based on the best seeming "natural" fit, and believing that come hell or high water I'm the one with the ultimate say-so).

So, thank you. As scary as this all is, you've let me see I'm doing it wrong before I start doing it. You're going to save someone years of therapy and seething resentment (maybe all 3 someones involved).

Margret, you definitely made our day - heck, our week! As we can tell, you know that ESP means true equals working together as a team - sharing the work, the responsibility, the remembering, and the decision-making. Then we can transcend telling anyone what to do, or asking for help with what together we decide should be shared.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

An Era of Family-Friendliness?

The first days of an Obama Presidency have been exciting ones for families. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act makes it a bit harder to discriminate on salary based on gender. Michelle Obama has hired Jocelyn Frye to be her policy director; Frye is the general counsel at the National Partnership for Women and Families, and she heads its Workplace Fairness Program. And on the campaign trail, Obama promised working dads and moms many gifts, such as more money for early learning programs for babies through preschoolers, expanding FMLA to smaller companies, creation of paid leave programs just for parents, requiring employers to offer 7 paid sick days per year, and encouraging companies to offer more flexible work schedules and telecommuting.

Wow - is this Christmas in February, or what?!

I'm thrilled that Barack Obama has signed the Fair Pay Act into law so early in his presidency. And it is great that Michelle Obama has taken up the cause for families - we'll hope for great things from her involvement. I'm hopeful, but more nervous, however, about where the Obamas might allocate family-friendly funds next. Will they go for expanding childcare options so that more mothers can work, or work longer hours? This can clearly help specific economic groups (e.g., single moms), but for others, it digs the hole of unequal parenting even deeper. Instead of making it easier to place our kids in long days of outside childcare, why aren't we making it easier for mothers and fathers to lighten up on work in equal measure - freeing a bit of time from both of their schedules to care for their children personally. The math isn't that much different either way; childcare isn't free and money saved here can offset earnings lost by reducing work hours.

I say this purely from an ESP perspective, of course. The topic is far from black and white. But if I could choose from the Obamas' menu of family law options, I'd absolutely pick work flexibility enhancement regulations - available equally to men and women. These are among the least costly of the proposed ideas to our nation and our companies (heck, flexible work can enhance company profitability).

What would you wish for?

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