Equally shared parenting is the purposeful practice of two parents sharing equally in the four domains of child-raising, bread-winning, housework, and time for self, say Marc and Amy Vachon.
Wish things were more balanced around your house? Feel like you do it all? Meet Marc and Amy Vachon, the authors of Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents. They have two kids and split the duties 50/50. They're also the co-founders of EquallySharedParenting.com. They answered momlogic's top questions about why ESP might be right for you.
1. Why do you recommend Equally Shared Parenting to other parents?
We would first like to clarify that we do not recommend ESP to all parents, nor do we wish to position any particular parenting lifestyle as inherently "better" or "worse" for all families. Our primary goal in writing Equally Shared Parenting is to give this often-dismissed-as-utopian lifestyle its rightful place at the table of parenting options, and then to describe its underlying philosophies and provide practical how-to steps for interested couples. We would like to raise awareness that ESP is a realistic and sustainable parenting option in which both partners get to walk in each other's shoes daily.
That disclaimer out of the way, we think that ESP can feel like a dream come true to a couple who values both an equal partnership and an individually balanced life for each partner. Recent sociologic data show that the majority of young women and men wish for this type of relationship far more than standard options that can cause them to silo their roles into primary breadwinner and primary caregiver. ESP partners want to experience the joy of all that it means to raise a family and connect intimately with their children every day, earn the family paycheck, and care for their home. And they don't want to lose out on enough time for individual fun and rejuvenation -- personally or together as a couple. This is made possible by two competent and connected parents who share the work, responsibility, and decision-making in each area.
2. What if one parent is resistant to the idea?
There are no quick fixes to get parents on the same page for any significant decision, be it discipline, family budget, or, in this case, lifestyle structure. Figuring out a joint plan that both partners can embrace in any of these areas can be messy, difficult, and hard-won. Certainly the old approaches to get men to do their "fair share" of housework haven't exactly worked -- nagging, creating endless "honey-do lists," lavishing praise for what should be expected. And guilting women into staying in the workforce isn't the best recipe for marital harmony either. We encourage couples to focus on what a relationship built on the foundations of equal partnership and balanced lives could mean to each partner. What do these terms mean for them? What could each of them achieve, and how would their relationship change if they focused on these two goals? Are they worthy ideals? If a couple decides the answer to the last question is "yes," there are no further obstacles that can't be overcome to achieve an ESP life they might just love.
3. Does ESP lead to scorekeeping between couples?
We don't know how to dispel this myth beyond an emphatic "NO!" In the dozens of in-depth interviews we conducted with ESP couples for our book, we often spent only a few minutes covering questions about how a couple divides the chores. We have concluded that when both parents are on the same team to achieve the underlying goals of ESP, scorekeeping is the last thing on their minds. They are motivated to do their share because they each understand that there is work to be done, and taking care of it efficiently gets both of them closer to their ideal. When one of them happens to notice that any particular chore is causing strife, the couple will attack the issue as if it were a puzzle to be solved together rather than attack each other. And to guard against societal expectations that women do the bulk of the housework, they often put little autopilot plans in place that make sharing easy. For example, he cooks on Tuesdays, she cooks on Wednesdays. To an outsider, such a plan might seem like scorekeeping -- but it is created simply to make it easy to go about one's own responsibilities without having to keep track, and quietly stay the course of equality. We have noticed that the more a couple is focused on the surface issues of their relationship, like dividing the chores, the further they are from really living the ESP life.
4. Do you believe two parents working part-time jobs is the ideal scenario for Equally Shared Parenting?
Given the ESP directive of equal investment in each of the four main areas of a parent's life (child-raising, bread-winning, housework, and time for self), we believe that pursuing a passion outside the home to earn the family paycheck should be shared. Both parents could work full-time (or more), if this fits their lifestyle and allows them to feel balanced. However, when both parents are committed to sharing the joys of the other three domains as well, many ESP couples have decided that reducing their hours or working more flexibly gives them the ability to more easily fit the puzzle pieces together. There is no way for us to prescribe what a balanced life means to each couple. We have included couples in the book who both work full-time jobs because that is what feels right to them. Others, like ourselves, believe a happy existence is made easier with slightly scaled-back work hours (we each work 32 hours per week) that still allow us to make enough money to support our family's needs.
5. If you live in a city that's too expensive for both parents to work PT, would you recommend moving to a less expensive city?
If equality and balance are the foundations upon which you want to build your relationship, and yet work is consuming more energy and time than you would prefer, then some changes are in order. Maybe a simpler lifestyle would open the door to new job opportunities with lower income requirements. Perhaps just a few tweaks to both parents' schedules would take the edge off the family stress. Could additional investment in education give you the earning power to work less (rather than simply earn more)? There are too many options to suggest that moving to a new city will lead you to your dream lifestyle, and we urge couples to delve into their own personal math to figure out how they can live most happily (regardless of which parenting model they choose). Couples who choose to have one parent stay home entirely have had to face similar issues of paycheck vs. expenses -- often with much more reduction in family income. ESP couples keep the twin prizes of equality and balance in mind as they navigate their professions together, even weathering periods in which optimal job schedules, commutes, and pay are not possible.
6. What are your thoughts on stay-at-home dads?
Stay-at-home dads take the traditional family model and transfer the inherent challenges and benefits of this lifestyle to the opposite gender (along with a decent dose of cultural expectations to overcome). This may be a great choice for many families. The goal of ESP, however, is to share both the responsibilities and the joys of each parenting domain between the parents. Neither parent is free to pursue the all-consuming career at the expense of their partner's career. Neither parent owns the "honey-do list" for the home, and both parents are committed to getting into the messy details, and get access to the little daily wonders of child-raising. Each parent gets equal access to time for rejuvenation, and their relationship can maintain its intimacy as a result. While ESP is simplest when both parents can simultaneously share all domains, a couple might achieve this level of sharing by pursuing serial equality instead -- by having one parent stay home with the kids for a spell and then switching things up so the other parent gets this opportunity too. If this is not possible financially, we suggest that both parents maintain a career even if their earning potential is widely divergent. Pursuing a passion outside the home brings value well beyond the paycheck.
7. If you feel one parent is doing more than the other, how can you bring that up without causing WWIII?
This is a much easier discussion to have when the ESP model is owned by both parents. It is often crystal clear when things are out-of-whack for an ESP couple because the norm is a relatively harmonious existence. From experience and anecdotal evidence, we are confident that the quick fixes often portrayed in the media to "get your man to do the chores" will come to no lasting good. Guilt, artificial praise, and even directly asking for help don't get at the heart of the matter, and presume that one partner "owns" the job. We assume both parents are working towards the success of the family, albeit in often separate spheres of responsibility. And certainly nagging and complaining don't get anyone very far along any scale worth measuring. The difficult and often ignored path to sustainable sharing is to get away from discussing the details and back to the vision of what you each want your life to look like -- as a parent, a partner, a worker, an individual -- and how you can each help to create the desired life for your partner. It can be scary to get into these discussions if you have always approached your relationship in hopes that things would just "work out." However, if an equal partnership and an individually balanced life for each partner arise as an answer, Equally Shared Parenting can be your guide to make it happen. Enjoy!