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

4 icons

Working Toward Equality
by WorkingWritingWailingMama and Pa

We have one child, “Free,” who will be three this summer. I am writing my dissertation and also work as a part-time instructor at a local college. Pa works full-time as a landscaper but is also a coach, a carpenter, and a snow-plower in the off-season. Our work schedules shift and aren’t always predictable. Right now, Pa typically works ten to twelve hour days, and I juggle childcare and writing. When Pa comes home, he usually makes dinner or bathes Free and reads to her before bed. This gives me time to do chores or writing. We currently co-own a home with my sister (a single mom of two), and I work with her to cover childcare. She and I rotate shifts along with a third sister who has one child and also works part-time. Additionally, we pay a nanny to cover two shifts a week. When Pa’s work schedule lightens during the off-season, I devote more time to my academic work.

In our everyday reality, equally shared parenting works as an ongoing negotiation. We don’t make a lot of money right now, but having less doesn’t have to exclude you from achieving equally shared parenting. For us, it’s not some sort of utopian dream but rather an ongoing strategy to deal with life’s constraints and changes. In writing our story for EquallySharedParenting.com, I decided to come up with some main questions for me and Pa to answer separately. I did this mainly because, in the spirit of being equal, I wanted to make sure I didn’t speak for Pa, and I was also curious to see how our answers would compare. We discussed them over ice cream, and the conversation proved to be both fun and enlightening. We hope readers can relate to our story and the shape it took, and we look forward to hearing the stories of others.

How do you understand and relate to the idea of equally shared parenting?

WWWMama: I think people commit to it because they believe it’s a better way for them and for their children compared to other models. I first embraced it from a feminist perspective. I knew I’d be a working mom, both out of economic need and by choice, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t always doing a second shift. Pa and I were raised within similar parenting systems: our mothers did most of the parenting and domestic work while also working outside the home. For various reasons, we didn’t have the same quality of relationship with our fathers that we developed with our mothers, and we both experienced that as a sort of loss. We wanted something different for our children, but I worried that we still might fall into the same pattern as our parents. I’ve always tried to resist being the mom who does everything, but I never really understood all that equally shared parenting entailed until our daughter arrived and we started to figure it out together. I’m still not sure how to define it or make it work all the time. What I am learning, though, is that its very complexity is what makes it real and significant. I can’t ever sit back and think “ahh, we’ve arrived,” and that’s good because we keep working on it and talking about it together. I think that helps us be better parents and brings us together as a couple. I think it also means we’re not as hard on ourselves if we make mistakes because we’re used to trying new things.

Pa: I understand it just as being equally involved with raising a child. I think it’s very important in my life to be a good parent and have my children be as attuned to me as they would be to their mother. That’s what it means to me to be successful in life—being a good father. I didn’t have a real father figure in my life, and success to me is knowing that my child loves me and has been taken care of.

What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to parenting?

Pa: I think the advantage is having a better rounded child. The child gets to see both sides of a parent—and different styles of parenting, different aspects of who the parents are. It helps children develop better self-esteem because they get to have developed relationships with both parents, and they get to see their parents as equal. This gives them a good outlook on life as an adult. The only disadvantage would be if there was a financial one, depending on what the parents do.

WWWMama: The biggest advantages are the great relationship Pa has with Free and the way it brings us all closer as a family. In our culture, fathers are often treated as bumbling idiots, or they’re not expected to share responsibility for their kids. Mothers sometimes make the problem worse because they feel pressured to be perfect all the time, so they don’t feel they can give their partners a learning curve to figure out how to perform domestic or childrearing work. Fathers may not have been taught how to multi-task and often don’t even notice domestic work that needs to be done. I’m lucky in that Pa doesn’t presume we’re inherently different because of our genders; he’s willing to try anything as long as I’m willing to back off and let him do it in his own way. On a practical level, it frees us up to let go of some of the issues I see in other, more traditional households. I understand the appeal of a one-income marriage, for instance, but a downside is that whoever stays at home may feel less able to negotiate for support for their domestic or parenting work. For some people, that works; it’s even their preferred choice. With me and Pa, it’s different. We both work outside the home, and getting help or time off just becomes a bargaining issue. We’ll trade chores or weekends away with our friends depending on what we need or want at a particular time. If he’s away at a ballgame and I’m at home with Free, I don’t resent it. I just make sure I get my time too. If there is a downside, it’s that we don’t have a lot of visible models for this way of doing things, so we have to figure it out as we go. Sometimes, I do tend to slip into what I was modeled, and that means that I try to do it all. It’s also hard for me to let go of my idea of how tasks should be done.

Which of the main areas of work (maintaining the home, childraising, breadwinning, and recreation time) do you think are equally shared in your house, and which do you think are not?

WWWMama: None of these areas remains permanently fixed in our lives. We think of sharing the work over the course of time, rather than about how equal it is at any given moment. Still, we try to balance things generally. Pa currently makes more money, but that will change when I get my degree and a full-time job. We both maintain the home but in different ways according to what appeals to us. I do a lot of domestic things inside the house. When I’m working more and it becomes too hard for me to keep up with that, Pa helps out more if I ask him. Sometimes it bothers me if I have to ask, but I also realize that it’s confusing for him when mostly I have no problem doing things myself, and then at other times I expect him to just do it automatically. I like to organize things, so I do most of the recreation planning, but I genuinely enjoy it. Pa does some tasks that he likes too. Sometimes our chores break down according to traditional gender roles, but not always. Pa always cooks and bakes when we have guests over, for instance, but I handle all the bills and financial planning. If the balance is off in one of the areas, it usually has to do with an unexpected stressor or a lack of resources, and we usually realize it only after we start arguing over little things. It’s never really an issue of one of us not wanting to help out. Communication helps at those times, as does asking for help from our extended support network. Usually, it’s frustrating but not catastrophic if one person is temporarily doing more than the other. When the balance is off with childraising work, though, it affects Free too, and we try to remedy that as soon as possible. Usually, it just requires some more one-on-one time with Free for the parent who’s had to be away. If Pa’s been working too many hours and I’ve been doing too much at home, I usually try to take a break on the weekend, leaving Pa and Free to re-connect. This works for us all; Pa doesn’t treat it as doing me a favor because he misses Free when he’s away from her.

Pa: As far as maintaining the home, we’re pretty equal but in different aspects. We have an understanding of who’s better at something or who wants to do it. If it’s not working, we talk about it. With childraising, right now I’m not around as much, so it’s not equal. It’s the same with breadwinning, but sharing it is a goal for us. My work is not really flexible, so I can’t really share equally all the time. But I’d have no problem doing more childcare if that’s how it works out for us in the future. We don’t share recreation time equally I guess, but I’m not as good at it.

What aspects of equally shared parenting do you find easiest? What do you find the hardest?

Pa: The hardest thing is answering all these questions! No, the hardest thing is when we don’t agree on something, like when we have different opinions about what to do with Free. The easiest part is that you get breaks; you have more energy because you’re sharing the work. It makes you a better parent too because you’re not on all the time and you can learn from each-other.

WWWMama: The hardest part is stepping back so Pa can be included more and trusting that the world won’t end if we try things his way. I know that in the final analysis, it doesn’t serve me to do everything myself. The easiest part for me is probably the constant communicating that our lives demand. It gives us a lot to talk about, and when Pa tells me things about Free that I didn’t know (or that I thought only I noticed), I feel like we’re really connecting.

What do you think are the most important, interesting, or challenging issues in equally shared parenting?

WWWMama: I think it’s closely tied up with how we think about gender roles, because a commitment to equally shared parenting requires that you throw out traditional notions of what it means to be a father and a mother. That’s scary or undesirable to some people. Pa says he does more work than many of the fathers he knows, and while he definitely appreciates the payoffs, there are times when the traditional model probably looks appealing to him. On the other hand, equally shared parenting doesn’t mean you have to ignore what you naturally love to do; it just requires attention to things because the terms shift as your children grow.

Pa: The biggest issue is the stereotype of male and female roles and what a parent should be. This issue doesn’t really affect me because I just feel this is what’s right for my child.

©Copyright 2007 Marc and Amy Vachon

  Home · What is Equally Shared Parenting? · How It Works · ESP: The Book · Equality Blog · In the News · Toolbox · Real Life Stories · Resources · Contact Marc and Amy

All Contents ©2006-11 Marc and Amy Vachon