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)

 

 

 

 

THE CASE FOR FILTH

MARCHE SQUALOR“The Case for Filth” is the fun title of a NYT opinion piece by Stephen Marche, writer for Esquire and author, who takes a look at the discrepancy between the amount of housework done among well-educated, egalitarian-minded husbands and wives.  Marche references a 2015 study done by the Council on Contemporary Families, which looks at housework, gender, and parenthood patterns between 1965 and 2012.  Here are some of their findings:

  • Gender is still the most influential determinant of who does housework and childcare today despite the increases in mothers’ employment and the expressed desire of the majority of women and men to share employment and caregiving responsibilities.
  • Data from 1965 to 2012 shows that women’s and men’s housework and child care are much more similar today achieved through
    • Steep reduction in women’s housework and modest increase in men’s housework
      • Men increased their core household tasks such as cooking and cleaning, not just fun tasks
      • Even women with time available are cutting down on domestic work; what sociologists term “disinvestment”Family in park
    • Both mothers and fathers have increased time caring for children
    • Still substantial gender differences in time and kind of activities spent in child care time and activities
  • Gender differences persist; why not more change?
    • Still have entrenched individual and cultural beliefs about the “essential” qualities of being a woman versus being a man. Do women spend more time cleaning and doing laundry because of gender expectations about appearance and femininity?  Do women get caught up in cult of domesticity?  For Marche being “fetish” about domestic life is the macho equivalent for women
    • Is it related to gender inequities in earnings? Some household activities can be outsourced by eating out and using dry cleaners.  Outsourcing may be more difficult for single women who earn about 80 cents for every dollar a single man earns.
    • An interesting finding is that in some countries, women who make more money than their husbands tend to do more housework. Sociologists say this can be an effort to reduce so called “gender deviance” created when men and women have gender atypical occupations and earnings.

Marriage should be equal.  And, there is lots of advice about splitting the housework to create equality, much of which is useless.  Advice about how to split up the housework relies too much on being “fair” requiring some kind of objective evaluation of who does what.  What this approach fails to appreciate is the perception of effort in doing such tasks.  Whatever task I am doing, I am aware of the actual work done and I am more aware of the effort it takes me to do the job.  Effort is perceptual, not objective.

In addition, trying to be objective about doing tasks propels you into an “exchange” approach to housework; you are in some kind of transaction with each other.  This doesn’t work because exchange transactions are based on maximizing one’s self-interest not about tending to your relationship.

The HIP Marriage

Mothers and fathers have a new cultural norm about marriage and parenting that Richard Reeves calls the HIP marriage, i.e. high investment parenting marriage.   Parenthood has become associated with a gendered division of housework even among couples who maintained relatively egalitarian patterns before the birth of a child.  When the first child is born:

  • Father’s increase their paid work time and decrease housework
  • Mothers decrease their paid work time and increase housework

While fathers today feel that children are entitled to men’s close attention and time, mothers are still held accountable to standards of intensive parenting more than father are.  All parents are working longer hours in paid work, housework, and child care; they are pulled between work and family.

Some suggestions:

  • As Stephen Marche says, do less and care less about tidiness: leave the stairs untidy, don’t make the beds, don’t repaint the peeling ceilings, dishes can wait, etc.Dirty dishes
  • Outsource what household tasks you can
  • Don’t let housework continue to be a feminist issue; remember house work is not something wives owe to husbands
  • Housework and taking care of children is the daily stuff of which the relationship is made. You are married to help each other; helping each other the marriage
  • Work toward changing workplaces that value long work hours and value work over family
  • Because paternal leave is so stigmatized, create your own “Daddy Quota”  (say on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon) when Daddy is solo and in charge.

Achieving and maintaining gender equality in household tasks and child care is not going to be easy.  Most couples fall into unequal patterns without their conscious intention or awareness.  Successful egalitarian couples are vigilant and proactive in decision making BEFORE and AFTER the baby is born.  Keep in mind the kind of life you really want together.

 

References)

Noah Berlatsky.  “Spouses Probably Shouldn’t Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly.” The Atlantic.  March 19. 2013. (http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/spouses-probably-shouldnt-try-to-split-household-tasks-exactly-evenly/274133/)

Stephen Marche.  “The Case for Filth.”  New York Times.  December 7, 2013.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/opinion/sunday/the-case-for-filth.html?_r=0)

Richard Reeves.  “How to Save Marriage in America.” the Atlantic.” February 13, 2014.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)

Llana Sayer.  “The Complexities of Interpreting Changing Household Patterns.” (https://contemporaryfamilies.org/complexities-brief-report/)

Brigid Schulte.  “After the Baby: Dads Do Less at Home.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/05/07/once-the-baby-comes-moms-do-more-dads-do-less-around-the-house/)