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)

 

 

 

 

PARENTING: THE BAD NEWS AND THE GOOD NEWS

Good News Bad News

According to the British Psychological Society, there is a widespread belief in every human culture that children bring happiness.  When they think about parenting, parents tend to conjure up idealized images of perfect children.  As noted by this psychological group, “…even when the prospective parents understand that raising a child will be painstakingly difficult, they tend to think quite happily about parenthood, which is why most of them eventually leap into it.”

From the perspective of the species, it’s perfectly understandable why people have children.  From the perspective of the individual, however, it may seem more of a mystery.  Most people assume having children will make them happier.  However, research often seems to suggest otherwise:

  • Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning behavioral economist, found child care ranked 16th in list of pleasurable activities (even housework was ranked higher)
  • British economist Andrew Oswald found among tens of thousands of Brits with children compared to those without that it isn’t that children make you less happy; they just don’t make you more happy
  • Sociologist Robin Simon from Wake Forest University found that parents are more depressed than non-parents.
  • Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor of psychology and best-selling author of “Stumbling on Happiness”, notes that while we refer to children as “bundles of joy”, they are not a source of happiness. “Once people have kids, there’s a downturn in happiness,” Gilbert says, which isn’t reversed until the kids move out.  “Of course we love our kids,” said Gilbert. “I never said don’t have kids,” but the scientific data is tough to refute.

Choosing to have children

It used to be that you just had children; you didn’t stop to think about it.  It’s different now.  We have choices, and most of us choose to have children.  Christine Overall, in her book “Why Have Children: The Ethical Debate” proposes that the choice to have children calls for more careful reasoning than the choice not to. Overall explores how we might think systematically and deeply about this fundamental aspect of human life.  She talks about several perspectives on the this choice including issues of reproductive rights, religious values, family values, and political values.   She also talks about the anticipated consequences of the decision for both individuals and society.

Overall also points out the gendered nature of the decision.  While both you and your spouse have to think about the choice, the choice has different meanings, implications, and risks for women thaID-100107216n it has for men.

In the end, she offers a novel argument. She proposes that the best reason to have children is to establish the biological parent-child relationship–which is not only genetic but also psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral.  For Overall, the formation of that relationship is the best possible reason for choosing to have a child.

Traditional Parenting

We used to view children differently

While historically children were viewed as economic assets to their parents, in modern times childhood has increasingly become a protected privileged time.  Once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became subjects to be stimulated, instructed, and groomed for success.  As one writer notes, “Kids, in short, went from being our staffs to being our bosses.”

Middle- and upper-income families tend to see their children as projects to be perfected.  These families spend much time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution.  All of this is very tiring work; yet parents feel they are putting their child at risk if they do not give them every advantage.

Parents of all incomes are spending more time with their children now, including working mothers.   While today’s married mothers have less leisure time and want more, they still think they don’t spend enough time with their children.

The bad news

A 2003 meta study (a study of studies) found the usual result the couple’s overall marital satisfaction went down when they had kids.   People start out marriage with high marital satisfaction as you can guess.  It goes down when the couple has children, and rises when the children leave home.  This result shows up regularly in relationship research.

In addition, the research also shows that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy than married parents, that babies and toddlers are the hardest to parent, and that each successive child produces increasing unhappiness.

Surprisingly, research has also found happiness with life decreases even if parents are well enough off to buy more child care.   Couples that become parents later in life may experience a greater loss of freedom and a loss of autonomy as they have children. It may also be that the longer they wait to have children, the greater their expectations about what kids will bring to them.

The good newsID-100124369 (1)

The good news is that there is newer research that expands on the impact children have on us.  Matthew White and Paul Dolan, two British academics, demonstrate why having kids may be a good idea after all.  They figured out that measuring happiness and satisfaction can be improved upon if you measure thoughts and not just feelings.

What they found, reported in the Research Digest (digest.bps.org.uk) is based on a study of 625 participants who completed an on-line questionnaire about their previous day, which generated an average of ten episodes per person.  These episodes included; eating, reading, time with children, watching TV, and commuting.

Their findings confirmed other research measuring pleasure from these kinds of activities, i.e., that we spend a lot of time doing things we don’t find pleasurable, including “work” and “shopping”.  “Time with children” and “sex” ranked about mid-way on the pleasure scale, far below “outdoor activities” and “watching TV”.

However, when they had the participants rate the reward from engaging in these same activities, “work” was the top scorer with “time with children” not far behind.

White and Dolan conclude that if you look only at the pleasure of an activity, like spending time with your children, you will conclude that this is having a “bad time”.   But, when you consider how rewarding spending time with your children is, you will conclude that you are having a good time. So, spending time with children may not always be pleasurable, but it may by quite rewarding.

Here is a schematic which shows the more complex understanding about how we experience our time with our children and other life activities.

RewPleAct

 

Daniel Gilbert thinks that children actually offer “moments of transcendence” like when your child says “I lub you” after spending 5 difficult hours with your 5 year-old.ID-100238653

Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institute has coined a clever acronym for a current trend in millennial marriages, the HIP marriage, which stands for a High Investment Parenting marriage.  The HIP marriage is built on a strong, traditional commitment to raising children together that is grounded in an egalitarian approach to marriage.

High Investment Parenting is about 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 couples sharing the roles of both child-raiser and bread-winner, a must in order to create and maintain and equal marriage

References

“Maybe having kids is a good idea after all.” Research Digest, Blogging on brain and behavior.  The British Psychological Society. 2007 (http://digest.bps.org.uk/2009/07/maybe-having-kids-is-good-idea-after.html)

Overall, Christine.  (2012).  Why Have Children?  The Ethical Debate.  MA: MIT Press.

Reeves, Richard.  “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/)

Jennifer Senior.  “All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting.”  New York Magazine, July 4, 2010. (http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/)

“Think having children will make you happy?  The Psychologist. (www.thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-22/edition-4think-haveing-children-will-make-you-happy)