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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Over the last few years ESP has been covered in a variety of publications from magazines, newspapers, radio, blogs, and even TV. Truth be told, we have learned quite a bit from these varied perspectives but rarely has the piece caused us to laugh. However, back in December we found such a piece created by journalist, Russ Litten, for The Independent (UK) newspaper. It was one of a few articles of the type where a reporter was given the assignment to follow the ESP "rules" for a week, as opposed to their traditional arrangement, and report on the experiment.

At the end of the article Russ jokes that he may write us a thank you note. Apparently, our worksheet on the sharing of household chores exposed the fact that he never writes them. Well, I would like to recognize that Russ has followed through. I received a note from Russ today stating, "I actually learnt a lot from the experiment and my wife and have tried to take on board many of your principles - and in time, and with practice and continued concentration, they have become an intrinsic part of our lives."

Russ, we are thrilled to have you along for the ride that is ESP. You have helped us make the point that ESP is not a quick-fix for any problem a different family model may have but rather a model that allows both parents the opportunity to walk in each other's shoes on a regular basis along with a decent shot at a balanced life.

We would be happy to hear the wisdom of your ESP successes sometime in the future!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Up to the Task

Here's a cute article by Paula Spencer in Parenting magazine about how she learned that her husband was a fully competent parent during her third pregnancy's medically-enforced week of bedrest. She starts out doubting he is able to handle the kids for more than a few hours, and he ends up blowing her theory out of the water in a big way.

I look forward to the day when stories like this, however adorable, are no longer needed. When men's capability is not automatically in question, and when women are not set up to automatically assume primary parenting duties in the first place. But, for today, I'll be happy with an article that highlights how mothers need not think of ourselves as essential for our parenting prowess - and that a world of good can come when we step aside and make room for our partners to do their thing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ESP Meets Academe

Marc and I are just back from the fantastic Council on Contemporary Families annual conference in Chicago. It's been a whirlwind couple of days of connecting with the leaders in gender research - many of our most admired mentors and fore-parents in gender equality studies were there in the flesh, and we felt honored to be among them. Some of the highlights for us were finally meeting marriage historian Stephanie Coontz (author of Marriage, A History), psychologist Diane Ehrensaft (author of Parenting Together), sociologist Pepper Schwartz (author of the dearly beloved Love Between Equals), Daddy Dialectic's Jeremy Adam Smith and Chicago Pop, Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip Cowan (authors of When Parents Become Partners), Joshua Coleman (author of The Lazy Husband) and Deborah Siegel (of www.girlwpen.com). And we reconnected with our friends and mentors, Barbara Risman (author of Gender Vertigo) and Kathleen Gerson (author of the forthcoming The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation is Reshaping Family, Work and Gender in America).

We also spoke on a panel devoted to gender convergence, which is the idea that feminine and masculine behaviors cease to be separated by actual gender - as evidenced by such trends as women in the workplace, male caregiving, salary equity, etc. Some of the news here was less than refreshing - and points to how we're definitely not 'there yet' even as we inch closer. In our time at the podium, we focused on the good news that many couples are reaching for ESP even when our culture and our workplaces don't yet make this easy. And that ESP is far more about a dedication to equality and balance than it is about a focus on task division or getting men to 'do more' around the house and with the kids. It felt good to clarify these points, and some of our comments made it to an even wider audience - USA Today (many thanks to Sharon Jayson!).

Other topics at this jam-packed conference included work-life balance policies and their effect on gender equality, and gender issues in specific populations (e.g., African Americans, lesbian couples, Latina mothers/daughters, gender-crossing children, middle-school children, GLBTQQA2 youth - I hope I got that last term correct!).

We came away from the conference energized more than ever to spread the word about ESP. We heard from leading researchers that our philosophies match their findings, and this validation means the world to us. We made new friends and connections that will keep us busy for many months and years to come. We brought home a brand new book called Couples, Gender and Power by Carmen Knudson-Martin and Anne Rankin Mahoney (both of whom we met at the conference) that we can't wait to read.

Phew! How grateful we both feel to be a part of all of this!

To read more about the research findings presented at this conference, check out the CCF's press release entitled Unconventional Wisdom: A Survey of Recent Research and Clinical Findings on Gender, Families and Equality.

Monday, April 13, 2009

ESP on the Road

After a number of months with our heads down working on our manuscript, it was a joy to get the opportunity to speak out about ESP at a conference offered by Yale Law School on March 27th and 28th. Amy and I were speakers, along with Francine Deutsch and Kathleen Gerson, discussing Parenthood and Gender Roles. Here is the recap of the session (Part V) along with a full Quicktime video. If you don't have the time, or interest, in watching the full 1 hour and 20 minute clip, here is how it breaks down.

0.0 - 20.5 minutes Introductions
2.5 - 20.5 minutes Kathleen Gerson
20.5 - 35 minutes Francine Deutsch
35 - 48.5 minutes Amy and Marc
48.5 - 80 minutes Questions

In addition, this coming weekend we will be speaking at the 12th Annual
Conference for Council on Contemporary Families in Chicago. We don't expect any video at this event so come on by if you're in the Chicago area.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Breastfeeding and Sharing: The Authorities Weigh In

I'm not sure if all the recent discussion of breastfeeding had anything to do with it, but the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the La Leche League International, the International Lactation Consultant Association and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action have gotten together to issue an official statement entitled Breastfeeding and the Equal Sharing of Responsibilities Between Women and Men.

I'm so happy to see such an issue addressed by the foremost advocates of breastfeeding. This means that ESP is really being considered as a major way of life - something that these groups realize could bump up against mom-centric feeding preferences and a topic that needs attention.

The statement is short, less than 2 printed pages. It starts by acknowledging the challenge of breastfeeding for couples who strive for gender equality. So far, so good. The rest of the document, however, I found to be...well...a bit condescending of the true value of equal sharing. "It makes good sense to share the responsibility of assuring that women can succeed at breastfeeding," is their answer to how gender equality should be approached in the early days of parenthood. "For most mothers, equal sharing of the work within the household is a dream, not a reality." Ah, yes, ESP is next to impossible, so let's just move on. "There are many fathers who take care of their newly-born and older children, but they are still a minority." I'm starting to get annoyed now; do these statements (fact or not) mean that we shouldn't bother with the issue for those fathers who do want to care for their own kids?

I realize that these organizations are taking a global view, literally speaking for all people in all countries - poor, wealthy, industrialized, third-world.

But it gets worse.

The paper then focuses for three paragraphs on reproduction itself, and how women are uniquely able to bear children. Duh. The gist here is that women should be supported to carry this physical burden within an enabling environment. Finally, they get to breastfeeding itself. They slam any "technology" that enables parents to utilize formula or pumped milk for situations that are anything less than life-saving. "The existence of new techniques must not be allowed to de-value, or worse, to erase, the breastfeeding lore that mothers and grandmothers pass to their daughters."

We're avoiding pumps and even a drop of formula because it's our duty to pass on the lore of breastfeeding? That's the best they can do? What about starting the lore of equal sharing - two parents becoming fully capable and intimately involved in caring for their newborn from Day 1? I know, I know. Breastfeeding is not the crux of ESP. ESP doesn't require, by any stretch of the imagination, equally sharing the feeding duties at any point. Plenty of ESP moms exclusively breastfeed their children for long periods of time. But this statement really irks me nonetheless.

The last paragraphs read more pleasantly. Here, the sentiment is that dads can take primary responsibility for other tasks if they want to even out the overall childcare duties, and can take the lead on 'complementary feeding' (solids) after their babies are 6 months old. And that equal sharing means fairness and respect, and meeting everyone's needs.

What do you think of the advice of these authorities?

For another view, check out Judith Warner's column from last Friday - she advocates total destruction of breast pumps (not for lore-preservation, but because she thinks they are torture devices) and liberally supplementing breastfeeding with formula to make mothers' lives easier.

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