Books on parenting topics are a subject of a blogpost in Library Journal, and among the titles is the announcement that Amy and Marc Vachon have released their promising new book, Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents, and it’s been getting positive reviews in many places.
So what’s the basis of equally shared parenting?
Most couples in their early twenties would prefer to share parenting duties equally and are looking forward to a life in which they will do this, according to sociologist Kathleen Gershon in The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America. But unfortunately, it seems that the devil is in the details when it comes to how such commitments get lived out in real life.
A University of Wisconsin study found that women still do twice as much work around the house when compared with men: on average, about 31 hours to the men’s 14. In families where the woman stays home, the average is about 38 hours for women, 12 for men; in families where women and men both work, the average is 28 hours for women, 16 for men. The overall ratio – about 2 hours of housework for women to every to 1 for men – has been the same for about 90 years. Housework doesn’t include child care. Women spend much more time than men: with mothers who stay at home, it’s about 15 hours a week to a men’s 2; in families where both mother and father work, the ratio is 11 hours for her, 3 for him. We’re surprisingly like our parents, and even like our grandparents. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the top three reasons couples argue have to do with children, division of labor, and money.
Lisa Belkin, the blogger of ‘Motherlode’ for the New York Times, argues that men have the perception that they’re doing half the work when they’re actually not, because they’re comparing themselves to their own fathers and feel that they’re doing much more. Women compare themselves to their mothers and see themselves falling short. But others have found that a marriage, and even a sex life, can be enlivened when chores are shared.
Amy and Marc Vachon, who are authors of Equally Shared Parenting, wanted to have a rewarding marriage that included sharing everything. They say the secret is not to keep score, but to address the question, ‘what do each of us want out of life?’ They found when interviewing people that in many cases, both want an equal partnership. They want to do about the same amount of work in the home and outside. Here’s how Lisa Belkin described their compromises in a 2008 New York Times magazine article:
“The cooking is done by whoever is home from work that day. The laundry is divided in half, with Marc doing the darks and Amy doing the lights. And yes, it has to be put away. Marc pays most of the bills, because he enjoys it and Amy does not. Ditto for mowing the lawn. Amy, in turn, buys nearly all the clothes for the children, an activity she loves and would feel “cheated” if she couldn’t do. And thank-you notes to Marc’s family? Amy has agreed that if Marc doesn’t want to write them, they won’t get written, and she will stop feeling as if his relatives are somehow blaming her.
“Sure, some of their tasks would fall along traditional gender lines. The point, they say, is not to spit at tradition for the heck of it but rather to think things through instead of defaulting to gender. The result of all their talking, Amy says, is that “there is no nagging, passive-aggressive forgetting, feigned incompetence, unspoken resentment or honey-do lists.”
But it’s also common for people in the U.S. to think it’s all about personal choices. Rarely do we ask, why do men seem more drawn to the field that’s demanding and inflexible like engineering or medicine, when women are draw to fields that are lower paying or perhaps more flexible, like social work or education? There are social scripts and expectations at work in our ‘choices,’ and these are not unrelated to the choices we later encounter when we’re trying to decide who should stay home or sacrifice more to support the family. This is probably why research has found that same sex couples tend to have more equal divisions of household labor and child care. And is not unrelated to why women most often gain custody in the cases of divorce.
What’s interesting to me as a person who researches media uses in families is that there’s little mention in these books and articles about who oversees leisure and media time as well as connections with friends outside of the family. Most of the research and writing in this area seems to cover younger families, where these issues aren’t much of a concern. Once the kids hit age 11 or 12, however, the outside influences increase, adding a new possible source of tension and difference of opinion, not only between parents, but between parents and their children. How does this work itself out in the equally shared parenting household?
Much of the research that’s been done, including my own, suggests that it’s still largely the mom’s job to regulate media use – a job she takes on because she’s more concerned about it than her spouse is. It’s also a mom’s job when the parents are divorced – even though she then has the added burden of negotiating around the ex-husband’s (usually more lenient) approach to media. On the other hand, some new work, including Heather Horst’s research in Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out, suggests that dads, who are perhaps more traditionally the ones who spend more time doing leisure activities with their kids, are more likely to use digital media like Wiis, PlayStations, and Guitar Hero with their kids.
My research into this now is finding that whether and how we’re share our parenting duties in the era of new media has a lot to do with what we think the job of the parent is. Do we see ourselves as nurturers and overseers, as “helicopter parents,” as parents who trust their kids (maybe even to the point of refusing to see or address potential problems?)?
As my family enters the preteen and teen years, my husband Jon & I see ourselves as parents who not only share the parenting tasks with each other – but we also share these things with our kids. We want them to take some responsibility in family leadership. It turns out that digital and mobile media are a great place for us to learn from our kids.
So here’s to the movement in equally shared parenting – and the next stage in our lives together, which I believe includes helping our kids to learn to share family leadership with us!