WHEN MOM AND DAD SHARE IT ALL

Creating HIP MarriageThis post is about how to achieve a HIP marriage (High Investment Parenting) touted by Richard Reeves in his 2014 article in The Atlantic, titled How to Save Marriage in America”.   As Reeves notes, having this kind of marriage is a huge commitment of time, energy, money and attention to all aspects of the care and development of children.  Because of the significant change in women’s economic and social status, HIP marriages are recasting family responsibilities with Mom and Dad sharing the roles of both child-raiser and money-maker.  This takes the juggling, trading, and negotiating.

Let me introduce you to Marc and Amy Vachon who are very committed to the idea of equally shared parenting.  They are well described in an article, “When Mom and Dad Share It All“,  written by Lisa Belkin for the New York Times in 2008.  As Belkin described, the Vachon’s have designed their lives to prioritize home life.  The primary elements that help them keep their lives afloat are lightened workloads and what Amy calls the “bravery” to stand up to gender stereotypes.

Amy and Marc both worked 32 hours a week.  They didn’t divide up childcare and household tasks or divvy up specific responsibilities, nor keep track of who has done what.  They each took responsibility for all aspects of parenting their two children on separate days.  After their first child was born, the couple negotiated part-time schedules.  Amy worked four days a week, Monday through Thursday and Marc worked three ten-hour days, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

They divided their childcare responsibilities (getting the children up, feeding them, getting them to daycare or school, etc. etc.) based on who was working what hours on a given day.  For example, if their daughter wanted to schedule a visit with a friend (a play date) on Thursday, Marc took charge of the arrangements because that was his day with the children.  If their son had a play date on Monday, Amy took responsibility.

Amy and Marc continually stayed alert and monitored how things were being shared between them.  To avoid skirmishes about parenting or household tasks, they had to decide together what the standards they were going to live with.  For example, did they want to work toward a set nap schedule? Yes.  Did their daughter’s outfits have to match perfectly? No.  How neat did the house have to be?  (Remember the post “The Case for Filth”).   What constitutes “doing the laundry”?  How often do we need to vacuum?

For the Vachon’s, consensus emerged over time.  They gave up being “experts” on anything since such expertise is usually involved a gender stereotype.  They each had the privilege of doing things the “wrong” way, i.e. not “my” way.  An example cited by Belkin is Marc’s wanting to “party in the tub” with their daughter when she was a baby while Amy thought this was not the best way to ease a baby toward sleep.  They also did not compare themselves to what other mothers and fathers do, e.g. Marc once saying he did more around the house than any other man he knew.

Amy had to work to accept that she was likely to be blamed if Marc failed to write thank you notes.  Sometimes the tasks they did would fall along traditional gender lines.  The point is not to default to gender-driven roles but to think things through and talk about it.  They worked hard at not nagging, at having no passive-aggressive forgetting, feigned incompetence, and no honey-do lists.

Amy and Marc published a book, Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents in 2010.  They also have a blog, Equally Shared Parenting: Half the Work, All the Fun, which will be most helpful to you in your quest for equally shared parenting.

In addition to Marc and Amy, Belkin also talks about several other couples working toward sharing parenting.  In addition, Katherine and Roger Kranenburg are another example of what more and more American parents are striving toward: parity in parenting.  They are introduced to us by Janice D’Arcy in a 2013 Washington Post magazine article.  The Kranenburg’s talk about the difficulty in creating and maintain parenting parity in their marriage.

Another significant resource for you as you try out equally shared parenting which the Vashon’s and others introduced in the Belkin article relied on is The Third Path. This is an organization begun by Jessica DeGroot who with her husband, Jeff Lutzner, who have lead the life of what they call “shared care”.   This organization is a wonderful source of information about finding new ways to redesign work and to create time, for family, community, and other life priorities.

As Lisa Belkin notes, there are lots of Marc’s and Amy’s throughout the county who are suggesting something simple—Gender should not determine the division of labor at home.

When There is Strong Social Support

Jennifer Senior in her article on how difficult parenting can be referenced one well-designed study done with European parents, which found that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier children.  Of course, such a finding should not be a surprise.  Here are the benefits that such countries provide parents:

  • A year of paid maternity leave
  • Affordable childcare
  • Free education
  • Free healthcare

Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” notes that in the United States compared to European countries, we put our energy into being perfect parents instead of political change that would make family life better.

Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz is aware of the barriers parents are up against as they try to change the child-rearing rules.  Coontz says that couples need to be less indignant with each other and more indignant with society.  Our work demands, our familial infrastructure, the schedules of schools and offices remain fixed in a two-parent, single-income world.

As Jennifer Senior says, more generous government policies, a sounder economy, a less pressured culture that values good rather than perfect kids—all of these would certainly make parents happier. But even under the most favorable circumstances, parenting is an extraordinary activity, in both senses of the word extra: beyond ordinary and especially ordinary.

Some Practical Advice

There are scads of web sites and books about bringing up healthy and happy children. Don’t forget, you will get lots of advice, good and bad, from friends and relatives.  You will want to try to seek out the best advice you can get about how to raise each child.  Here are a few tips on how to sort out parenting resources.

Nancy Heath, Ph.D., Director of  Human Development and Family Studies Programs at American Public University has given us a few good pointers about for choosing parenting resources:

  • The advice should build your confidence as a parent, not make you feel inadequate. There are few ironclad rules about how to be a good parent, so there is no reason for any resource to take a critical attitude toward how you are raising your children.
  • Seek at least one resource that talks about normal developmental milestones. Don’t get too hung up on what’s normal.  Use these developmental milestones as general guides not as fast rules by which to measure your child
  • Assess whether the resource is based on scientifically-established child development principles. Authors have their own approach to raising children, which should be grounded in proven research.  However, choose another author if the advice makes you feel frustrated or incompetent.
  • Choose resources that help you enjoy your child. Heath believes that the best parenting advice of all is to have fun with you kids.  Remember, developing a trusting relationship with you is more important than the management and control of your children.

Below you will find a list of parenting books that Kristen Kemp from Parents Magazine says have stood the test of time as relaible guides to turn to.Parenting Books

A Few Last Words

References

Lisa Belkin. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.”  The New York Times Magazine, June 15, 2008.

Richard Reeves. “How to Save Marriage in America.”  The Atlantic, February 12, 2014. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)

Jennifer Senior.  “All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting.” The New York Magazine.  July 4, 2010.

Moira Weigel.  “The Foul Reign of the Biological Clock”.  The Guardian, May 10, 2016.  (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/10/foul-reign-of-the-biological-clock)

 

 

 

 

12 PRINCIPLES OF A GOOD MARRIAGE

Principles

  1. My marital relationship is not the only source of my personal happiness nor does it guarantee freedom from my own personal problems.
  2. I have a personal responsibility for the well-being of my marital relationship.
  3. My spouse has importance in the world over and above being married to me.
  4. No matter what I think and feel about what is happening between me and my spouse, she/he has his/her own view of what is happening.ID-10018131
  5. My actions are not explained by nor are they justified by what my partner does/does not do.  I am accountable for my actions.
  6. In marriage there is a difference between being unhappy and being angry, hurt, or afraid of what is happening between us.
  7. When I am angry with, hurt by, and or anxious about what is happening in my marriage, I am at risk to “blame” my spouse without finding out how he/she sees the situation.
  8. I will always be willing to examine my own personal motives for my actions in my marriage.
  9. Being a male or a female does not explain the reasons for my actions.
  10. I can feel sad (a sense of loss) about what I don’t get in my marriage.
  11. My spouse can feel sad (a sense of loss) about what he/she doesn’t get in the marriage.
  12. Following these principles will help us create and sustain our marriage.

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SEX IN MARRIAGE #2: SEX AND DOMESTICITY

ID-100157089What is and has been a most perplexing question about marriage that concerns millennials is how to reconcile sexuality with domesticity.  Ester Perel, a couple’s therapist in private practice, writes eloquently and in depth about maintaining a vibrant sexual relationship in long-term marriage in her book, “Mating in Captivity” (love the title).   Take a look at her 2013 TED talk, “Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship”.

One of the first thing she says in her book is that focusing on frequency and quantity of sex misses the point on the story of dwindling sexual desire and interest in modern-day marriages. Perel’s thesis is that a committed marriage is about the psychological feeling of safety and security we get from being together.  We foster this togetherness by creating rituals, habits, and pet names (for example), all of which bring the reassurance that we are loved and valued.

At the same time we want adventure and excitement in our lives which is a testament to our autonomy and independence.  It is the seeking of adventure and excitement that is expressed through our erotic experience, which is characteristic of romance.  We want the riskiness of sexual adventure and excitement while also wanting the safety and security inherent in a long-term commitment.

I like to show the tension that exists in us between the risk of eroticism and safety of commitment graphically.COMMITMENT AND SEXUAL EXCITEMENT

The graphic demonstrates the idea of the simultaneously desire for closeness and connection and the desire for risk of adventure.  What the graphic shows is that if either you or your spouse is drawn too much to the safety and security of closeness, the willingness to take risks with each other will be compromised, showing up as being less interested in the erotic. At the same, if either spouse is overly concerned and interested in the erotic, the closeness of commitment is frightening because of the fear that the familiarity of closeness will lead to boredom in the bedroom.

While sexuality thrives on excitement and risk, commitment thrives on comfort and stability.  As Parel says, the need for the adventure and excitement is hard to generate with the person you look to for comfort and stability.

Parel talks extensively about the pitfalls in marriage that will have a negative effect on maintaining an erotic sexual relationship in long-term, committed marriages.  Such pitfalls, which affect our ability to maintain our simultaneous interest in commitment and erotic excitement include:

  • Gender stereotypes of men and women in which women are cast as longing for love, essentially faithful, and domestically inclined and men are cast as biologically non-monogamous and fearful of intimacy
  • The residuals of our Puritan heritage, which is deeply suspicious of pleasure and moralizes about anything that strays from heterosexual, monogamous, marital, and reproductive sexuality. While today there is a blatant marketing of sexual images that seem so anti-Puritan, the central idea that sex is dirty still thrives in us.
  • A major thesis for Parel (and many others she cites) is that our difficulties in creating a wonderful sexual relationship that thrives in long-standing marriage is often grounded in our own personal issues or insecurities. Since both people have such insecurities, a negative dynamic between spouses will play out in the couples’ sexual relationships.

Perel’s book is worth taking a look at because she takes an in depth, psychological approach to understanding the how and why a rich, vibrant sexual relationship is at risk in a long-term commitment like marriage.  She presents a number of stories about couples with whom she has worked, eloquently explaining the societal and personal issues that prevent them from having the sexual relationship they want.  You can click on the thumbnails below to get a sample of the stories about couples with whom she has worked.  ID-100157105

Another good read is “How to Think More About Sex” by Allain de Botton.   This is a very readable book in which de Botton argues (like Parel) that 21c sex is a balancing act between love and desire and adventure and commitment.   de Botton is a Swiss philosopher, who founded The School of Life in London, England.  This is a ground-breaking enterprise that aims to make academic learning applicable to real life.  You can sign up for The School of Life Newsletter at (https://us-mg4.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.rand=7r6p0cn3qhr29).

References

deBotton, Alain. (2012).  How to Think More About Sex.  New York: Picador.

Perel, Esther (2007) Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.  New York: Harper.

Dominus, Susan.  “The Sexual Healter”. New York Times. Jan.25, 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/fashion/Sex-Esther-Perel-Couples-Therapy.html?_r=0)

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