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ESP Book Review: The Unfinished Revolution
On the cusp of our own book's release in one week, we are happy to review a wonderful new book by sociologist, Kathleen Gerson. Dr. Gerson is the author of several well-known gender studies books such as No Man's Land: Men's Changing Commitments to Work and Family and The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality. Now, she adds to this literature with The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation if Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America. We have long been fans of her work, and had the opportunity to meet up with Dr. Gerson at a couple of conferences last year. She is a diehard optimist among so many pessimistic peers in her field, and a true believer in the value of ESP. We count her among our closest academic mentors and supporters.
Even without this glowing introduction, we'd be excited to read her new book. It is an analysis of in-depth interviews with 120 young men and women - ages 18 to 32 - on how they feel about their families of origin and how they would like to structure their relationships as adults. The book is a revealing window into how the newest generation of adult partners/parents views the gender changes that took place in their parents' lives and how they plan to carry out future changes in their own lives.
The good news in the book's pages is abundant. Looking back at the interviewees' childhood experiences, Dr. Gerson finds that they are far more focused on how well their own parents adapted to financial or emotional hardship than on what exact form their family took to do so (e.g., married, divorced, male breadwinner/SAHM, dual income). A happy childhood home was most strongly related not to its form but rather to how well it supported all family members with mutually respectful relationships, a satisfying balance between work and home, and caring, egalitarian bonds. Sounds a lot like ESP, right?
Contrary to some popular opinions that pin young men and women as either relationship drifters who shun commitment or traditionalists who are opting out of workplace equality, Dr. Gerson also found that most of her interviewees desired a lasting, egalitarian partnership for themselves. The majority of both women and men want a committed bond in which they share both paid work and family caretaking, regardless of how they were raised.
The bad news is that these young respondents don't think that they can find what they are looking for - the right partner or the right job that allows them to truly balance work and family in an equal partnership. Instead, they think they will have to settle for something that is a distant second to their dream future. This is indeed bad news, but it gets worse. The second choice life for most women interviewees is different than the second choice for most men. Incompatibly different.
The women are determined not to be trapped in an unhappy marriage or mistreated by an unfaithful partner, and so center their futures around work at all costs. If they can't have an equal partnership, they will settle instead for economic independence. The men, however, can't quite see how equal sharing will play out for them in the still-traditional world of work, and so choose a second option that keeps them at the head of the household - as primary breadwinner.
But back up a minute. What they really want is ESP. Or, in Dr. Gerson's eloquent words, "they want to create enduring and egalitarian partnerships that allow them to strike a personal balance between family and work." The bolding is mine, pointing out a striking resemblance to the two foundations of equally shared parenting - an equal partnership and balanced lives for both partners. Yet, "it is often easier to hold values than to live them, and young adults face a gap between what they want and what they think they can actually get."
The Unfinished Revolution includes lovely details about these young adults' desires for equality and balance, and why these values are so important to them - "not [as] a selfish wish to have it all, but rather a shared desire for the best of both worlds." They hope to get there even if they have to sacrifice maximizing their incomes, but they don't have role models or a blueprint to follow.
At least for another week...
We highly recommend The Unfinished Revolution, which has joined our other favorite ESP references on our Resources page.
Our First Official Book Review
We have our first book review from an official literature review organization!
Vachon, Marc & Amy Vachon. Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents. Perigee: Putnam. Jan. 2010. 228p. index. ISBN 978-0-399-53558-1. $23.95. CHILD REARING. Parents and the brains behind EquallySharedParenting.com, Marc Vachon and Amy Vachon describe equally shared parenting (ESP) as the "purposeful practice of two parents sharing equally in the four domains of child rearing, housework, breadwinning, and time for self," resulting in each partner doing only half the work, owning half the responsibility, and getting half of the power. The authors do an outstanding job of arguing against the model of Dad as apprentice parent and the assumption that mom does child rearing best, acknowledging that the cultural standard of maternity leave and the realities of breastfeeding start off most new parents on an inequitable path. This is not a theoretical piece for burned-out moms seeking more help with the housework, but a working document that motivated couples can turn to for guidance in designing a more balanced relationship. Somewhere above, Betty Friedan is cheering. This columnist is shouting from the rafters. Brilliant!
- Julianne J. Smith, Library Review, 12/17/2009 (starred review)
What a wonderful vision of Betty Friedan cheering from beyond the grave. And we love that she considers the book a working document that couples can really use to create ESP. That's the aim!
And more cheers for our mentor and colleague, Carmen Knudson-Martin, at Equal Couples for highlighting our book (and Kathleen Gerson's fantastic new book - more on that later) in her latest post.
A Canadian Nugget
It seems pretty well established, if not completely accepted as truth, that money can't buy happiness. Sure, it can help reduce some financial worries, open doors to opportunities, or even allow us to take risks that might otherwise be irresponsible but given the choice between a hunk of precious metal or a solid foundation for a relationship I'm prepared to work on the foundation.
Today, some new research from the University of Western Ontario "reveals that couples who share the responsibility for paid and unpaid work report higher average measures of happiness and life satisfaction than those in other family models." This article from Science Daily discusses this new research and goes on to point out the value to "society in terms of gender equity and its ability to maximize labour force participation by all adults."
If the government reflects the wishes of the people, we can expect policies that foster the choices of parents who want to live by this model. Of course, that may take time - but the lead researchers expect the government to "support equal opportunities for men and women to access education and work, provide conditions that facilitate work-life balance and promote greater involvement of men in housework and childcare."
Regardless of which policies come down the pike, there is no need to wait for your dreams. If an ESP arrangement makes sense to you, take steps now to make it happen. More money won't make you happier, but a partnership in which you can walk in each others shoes daily and have access to the bounty of life in all domains just might do the trick.
Just a quick note to tell you that we've made a few changes to www.equallysharedparenting.com as we prepare for our book launch on January 5th. If you view our main menu in the orange box to the left of every page, you'll see a new option called ESP: The Book. Here, you will find an introduction to our book, with links to order it from various booksellers and also links to quotes from experts who have read the book, an excerpt and partial list of topics included, events and appearances (we'll add to this as time goes on), and our Perigee press kit and publicist information.We have also collapsed the old 'About Marc and Amy' and 'Contact Us' sections into a new Contact Marc and Amy tab for space reasons.We'd love to hear what you think of the website changes, or any additional ideas you may have.
Moms' Opinions of Dads
On December 1st, the National Fatherhood Initiative announced the results of its Mama Says survey. This is the first national survey of how mothers view fathers and fatherhood, and consisted of an online 80+ question poll of 1533 mothers.
Among the key findings of the survey are:
There are other key findings, but these four stood out for me as I read the survey results (full study can be found here). First of all, we have to keep in mind that the survey's main aim was to get one parent's opinion of (or satisfaction with) the other parent - this is always tricky since it is always best to mind one's own business rather than evaluate someone else's performance. But let's put that aside for the moment. The first finding above speaks to the connection between one partner's happiness and the other partner's life balance. It is just another small piece of evidence that this whole parenting thing works best as a team sport, and that when we work together to assure that each partner has a chance at a balanced life (and a meaningful connection with our children), everyone wins.
The sad finding about father replaceability is rather hard to interpret. For women who are more connected to their children than their partners are, and surviving with this inequality, the result makes sense. We all have to made do with what we have, or make a change. If a father disappears or dies (as my own father did), a mother has to believe her kids have a chance at happiness (look Mom, I'm happy!). And short of these scenarios of 0% father presence, mothers with less involved but existing partners have to also believe that the kids will thrive. The question doesn't ask whether mothers feel that a fully involved co-parenting father can be replaced by a good-for-nothing bum of a new boyfriend with no consequences to the kids. Nor, by the way, do we know what fathers think...would they say that a mother can be replaced by a single father or a new female companion? I suspect they would not be as cavalier about their answer as the moms in the survey seemed to be, but in an ESP worldview the answers should be no different.
The last two findings were somewhat buried in the report, but interesting (and also sad) to ESP parents. Do men and women parent similarly? Our culture trains us to say "no" with a vengeance - both from what we observe on TV and from how our society is set up to teach men and women their proper roles at home. But very little is actually nature (it's nurture). Men and women, globally speaking, can parent similarly. Individual fathers and mothers parent very differently, of course, and that's one of the big perks of ESP. Two different parents, two styles, two heads better than one - lucky kids. The question of male nurturing runs along the same lines. Yet we have a chicken-and-egg quandry here. If moms believe moms are better at nurturing, moms will continue to take control in this arena...thus winning the nurturing trophies and proving the myth. We all know boys are better at math than girls...right? Or perhaps....
Mama Says is an interesting set of data. It is reflective of the state of parenting in America, surely, and worthy of review. A followup study would be useful, several years from now and then again in several decades. How would the results be different if the percentage of ESP couples in the survey was larger?
- For parents who live together, the top predictors of a mother's satisfaction with her partner's fathering were his closeness to the kids and how well he manages his own work/life balance.
- Most mothers think that fathers are replaceable - that a child's father could be replaced either by a single mom who parents alone or by another male.
- Very few mothers think that men and women parent similarly.
- Most mothers consider women to be far more nurturing than men.
Your Invitation to Our Book Launch Party
You are invited!
Our book, Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents, will be released in just a few weeks, and we are planning a launch party here in the Boston area. If you are in town, mark your calendar for:
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Watertown Public Library (in the Event Room)
123 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472
We are thrilled to be celebrating our book at this wonderful, local community space - the perfect choice in our minds. There is plenty of room, and kids are welcome. We would be thrilled to meet you and talk ESP for awhile.
Meanwhile, our mail carrier brought us an exciting gift today - our own two copies of the book. It feels great to hold one in our hands, and we can't wait to share it with you.
40 Hours Isn't Always Best
Many of us would like to work a few less hours per week than we do, but we are locked into full-time positions. Usually that means a minimum of 40 hours per week. But what would a 35 or 30 hour per week position look like from our employer's point of view?
First of all, because attractive 30-35 hour positions with decent benefits aren't available yet around every corner, employers who offer them can hook an employee for the long haul. It's the 'golden handcuffs'. Once someone lands such a job, he or she is likely to stick around simply because another job like this is hard to get. I have no statistics to back me up here, but I bet a staff of 30 hour per week employees turns over much more slowly than a full-time staff.
Secondly, not all jobs require exactly 40 hours per week to do. Face it - all of us have some slack in our jobs, where we aren't terribly efficient or are just plain goofing off. I'll bet most of us could get almost the same amount of work done in 30 efficient hours that we get done in 40 regular hours. So, an employer who can detect which positions can be done in less than full time stands to save a bundle of money by offering reduced hours to employees who want them.
By offering such positions, employers can draw from two pools of talented workers. One pool is the existing top-performing full-time employee who would love to trim off a few hours from his/her work week (e.g., the would-be equally sharing parent). The other is the highly qualified stay-at-home mom (or dad) who doesn't work now because she (or he) doesn't want a full-time job.
Reduced hour positions deserve pro-rated benefits. But forward-thinking employers can tailor their benefit structure to lose nothing (or very little) by offering reduced benefits to a 30-35 hour per week employee rather than full benefits to a 40 hour employee.
Employees who work 30-35 hours per week for one company consider this job to be their sole or primary job. This is in contrast to many 20 hour per week employees who hold down 2 or more jobs with divided loyalties to each. Therefore, your typical 30+ hour per week employee is likely to be just as connected and involved in the success of his/her company as a full-time employee.
So, reduced hours is great for employers! The above benefits apply to both big and small companies. There is a huge untapped need for excellent reduced hour positions with acceptable benefits, and the employer who markets open positions like this first wins. Meanwhile, if you want a reduced hour position, go ahead and ask! Maybe even use some of these arguments to convince your boss that your idea is the best thing for everyone.