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)