Better than Tenure
I am at a late stage now,
but early in my career
as an academic psychologist,
I and my wife,
Debby (also a psychologist),
developed a wonderful work/family balance that I would recommend to
For 11 years, she and I each
worked half-time, at opposite times, so
that one of us was always at home while our two daughters were
small. We had the week divided into 21 "shifts" (morning,
afternoon, and evening shifts for seven days). Debby was in charge of
10 shifts, I was in charge of 10, and we had a regular babysitter for
the last shift which was Saturday evening. Whichever one of us
was at home was in charge of child care, housework, and of course the
children's "owies." The other partner was free to go to work (5
half-days each), engage in recreation or volunteer work, or participate
in family activities as fun rather than duty . The house was
always full of kids, ours and neighbours'.
At the start, my male
colleagues thought I was crazy to resign from my
full-time position as a faculty member in a Canadian university just
after being awarded tenure. In fact I thought I might be
foolishly giving up my academic career. However, it turned out
that I was actually more productive academically during those years of
half-time clinical work, as I was happy and efficient in my work.
Once both girls were in school for full days, my time was no longer
needed that much at home. I started over as a probationary faculty
member, probably becoming the only person to be awarded tenure twice in
the same department at my university.
I wrote an article about this
arrangement for a journal called Canadian Family
tried to identify the philosophical foundations and not just the
practicalities of our sharing arrangement. It was gratifying to
receive letters over the following year from three male family doctors
in different parts of Canada who said they had cut down their work
hours to spend more time with their families after reading my article.
A significant detail from the
earliest days: when our first
daughter was born, our wise obstetric/maternity nurse took me
aside and said, "I'll show you how to give your baby a bath, and then
you can teach your wife." This made me feel significant and
Now as I head toward
retirement I wonder if our daughters, both in
their 20s, might be thinking about having children. Of course I
can't say anything to them, but spending time with grandchildren would
provide a wonderful new work-life balance.
The arrangement described
above was from 1982 to 1993, when I went back
to work full-time. Debby continued half-time for a few more years.
You may view
a scan of the full journal
article by clicking here, but
I've included some adapted highlights below:
first daughter's birth, I had been struggling with one of the hardest
decisions of my life: whether I should continue as a full-time
professor, split between hospital and academic tasks, or cut back my
work to half time and share housekeeping and parenting with my wife,
Debby. My misgivings allayed by an experimental week's joyful
experience of fatherhood, I completed negotiations for a half-time
hospital job and sent in my resignation to the university.
week is divided into 21 'shifts' (morning, afternoon, and
evening). Debby and I are each 'on duty' for 10 shifts spread
over the seven days. Our 10 off-duty shifts are taken up mainly
by our jobs (five or six half-days) and volunteer involvements in our
church and professional organizations. While on duty, we are
responsible for child care, housework, shopping, driving the children
to their activities, and so. Each of us cooks dinner half the
time. Of course, not all couples engaged in shared parenting
develop such a structured schedule. In our case, we found that it
helps our relationship to have a clear agreement about who is in charge
of the children: this arrangement allows the other partner to feel
completely free of domestic responsibility if he or she needs the time.
The benefits of a shared-parenting lifestyle are many. I get to
sit in a sunny park, chatting with the young mothers and watching our
children play, while my colleagues, immured in their offices, are
frowning over computer keyboards and lab results. I was there
when our daughter took her first tottering steps without support.
I had the honour of accompanying her kindergarten class on their field
trip and watching her cautiously make the acquaintance of a lamb.
Of course, every father has some of these experiences, but in the
traditional family the mother spends far more time with the children,
and the father misses so much.
offers a long-term education for the parents themselves and a setting
for self-actualization. Careing for young children brings out our
spontaneity, honest, tolerance, patience, ingenuity, and
creativity. In a way , I owe my present closest friends to my
children. As an active participant in a babysitting co-operative,
I have developed trusting and caring relationships with many families
in our neighbourhood.
much less vital to survival than they did when I was working
full-time. On the other hand, when my patience with the children
wears thin, it's reassuring to know that my peaceful office and my
predictable computer are just a shift away!
One problem is the difficulty we sometimes have in 'shifting gears'
from home and children to our jobs and back again. A part-time
worker comes with a full-time conscience: at times, both Debby and I
get so immersed in our work that we have trouble concentrating on the
children when we come home and are 'on duty' again. To the extend
that we value professional achievement, time spent with the children is
a cost. We have had to make a deliberate choice to de-emphasize
the importance of these rewards while not negating them entirely.
For me, one
normal frustration outweighs the others. Parenting often seems to
deteriorate to mere pointless housework. The laundry always needs
to be done, and there is always something to pick up. But the
great moments of fatherhood often arrive unpredicted, like unexpected
songbirds in the midst of a great wasteland. I have to be at home
(doing the housework) when the moments arrive, or I'll miss them.
My bottom line advice
out, with your own baby
or a borrowed baby, for several days in a row. You'll probably
know soon whether shared child care suits you. And look around
for other couples who have chosen to share child care in
non-traditional ways. You'll be reassured by seeing the
confidence and pride both partners can bring to their work as parents.
©Copyright 2008 Marc and Amy