hits counter
GALLERIES
Blog Index
The journal that this archive was targeting has been deleted. Please update your configuration.
Navigation
Tuesday
Feb012011

Share The Important Things

We've been practicing our own brand of equally shared parenting since before Amy and Marc Vachon started their Equally Shared Parenting blog and wrote their Equally Shared Parenting book. While Amy and Marc's approach emphasizes the importance of sharing every task, from earning money, to doing the laundry, to feeding the baby, our approach has been one of focusing on our relative strengths and sharing what is important.

Parents and Child



Focusing on our relative strengths


We each have things that we like to do, things we are good at, things we hate doing, and things we are not good at.  Knowing what those are has helped us to create dividing lines in the household chores that work for us.  I understand the argument that a good independent feminist should learn how to do everything herself in case she ends up on her own one day, but honestly, I prefer to focus on earning enough money to pay someone to do the things I can't or don't want to do if I was ever in that situation (which I hopefully will not be).  And really, if I need to learn how to clean a toilet one day, I will. I don't need years of practice.

So our division of labour, focusing on our relative strengths, goes something like this:

Me:

  • Managing finances (banking, investments, bill payments, taxes, etc.)

  • Shopping (groceries, kids' clothes, etc.)

  • Cooking (meals at home, kids school lunches)

  • Vegetable garden (new this year!)


Him:

  • Cleaning (dishes, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, etc.)

  • Garbage

  • Snow removal

  • Landscaping and home repair


Shared:

  • Laundry (whoever notices that a load needs to go in, but arguably more often him than me since he is home more often than I am)

  • Car maintenance (usually he takes his car, I take my car, but sometimes it depends on who has time and is in the right place)


I am generally the primary income earner in our family, which is part design and part circumstance (he has been a student and a stay-at-home dad, while I was getting ahead in my career). However, now that both kids are in school full-time and he is working on finishing his PhD, the roles may reverse again and I may head back to school at some point or choose to work part-time for a while once he has a job with sufficient income.  I have also taken several breaks from my work to be a stay-at-home parent, during each child's newborn stage and also this past spring and summer while we were living in Berlin.

Sharing what is important


We split a lot of things, but we also share what is important: being parents to two wonderful, yet challenging kids.  We have both taken turns being the stay-at-home parent, even though he spent more time in that role than I did. We both think about the best approaches to parenting, even though I do more research and reading on it than he does. We both love our children, laugh with them, play with them, cry with them, and cuddle with them, but we each do it in our own way.

Should dads be less involved?


This week a study was released that the media used to send a message that "Fathers Should be Less Involved in Parenting" -- i.e. Dad should basically be the fun guy, but should not be directly involved in childraising tasks, because this could undermine the marriage. The study, called Relations between coparenting and father involvement in families with preschool-age children by Jia Rongfang and Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan, was published in the journal of Developmental Psychology in January 2011.

In their guest post on the New York Times Motherlode blog, Marc and Amy Vachon summarized the study [emphasis mine]:
The study examined 112 couples with 4-year old children. The fathers completed a survey that rated their involvement in their children’s lives in the previous month, and then both parents were videotaped together as they helped their child with a couple of short projects (e.g., drawing a picture of the family). During the taping period, the parents’ interactions with each other were rated as either supportive or undermining. These steps were then repeated one year later for 93 of the couples. The results: the more involved a father reported himself to be in childraising tasks, the less supportive and more undermining behaviors were seen between the parents on the videotape over time. Sounds pretty depressing, huh?

Yes, it does sound depressing, but the Vachons concluded that these research findings were actually quite plausible. The reason:  The families in the study were not ones that practiced equally shared parenting. In fact, in most of them, very traditional roles existed, with the mother being the primary caregiver (and often a stay at home mom) and the dad being the primary breadwinner.  The dads who had very little experience doing an activity with the kids were more likely to be open to taking direction from their partner, therefore the interaction was seen as supportive. However, the dads who had more experience with their kids were less open to taking direction from their partners because they felt they could do it themselves (even though she, as the primary caregiver, was still offering that direction).

Marc and Amy seem to be of the opinion that the parents would be less likely to undermine each other if they were truly practicing equally shared parenting. I think they may be right, but I don't think that means that they wouldn't ever disagree or that one partner would never try to butt in with his or her ideas on how to do things better.

Why squabble over things that aren't important?


Even when things are split down the middle and both partners have equal experience and expertise with a task or responsibility, they will still have disagreements about how to do it best. The one thing we do split most evenly is parenting and we don't always agree on the best approach to everything. When we aren't on the same page, we hopefully discuss it and resolve it more often than we undermine each other. But in stressful moments, that isn't necessarily always the case.

If we were both the experts on everything in the house, however, I think that there would be a constant case of too many cooks in the kitchen.  I don't want someone adding spices to the sauce as I cook. He doesn't need anyone pointing out the spot he missed when wiping the counter. We each have our own tasks and it is just easier when the other person keeps their nose out of it altogether. It keeps the fights to a minimum.

Parenting, however, is the exception. It is difficult enough, important enough, and rewarding enough that it is worth sharing, even if that is challenging sometimes. While difficult situations may strain a relationship, I think that surviving important struggles together makes it stronger.
« Canadian women: We're fat, our kids are fat, and we're letting other people raise our children | Main | Bedtime Stories of Lightness and Darkness »

Reader Comments (24)

I haven't read the study, but this sounds like an exercise that only reflects a couple's behaviour when helping a child complete some projects. Even if the father does engage in more undermining behaviours in this context, that hardly means that it's better for the marriage overall if he is uninvolved. There are a whole host of behaviours that contribute to a satisfying life and a satisfying marriage. Overall, I would rather have a partner who carried more of the parenting load than a partner who supported me unquestioningly as we worked together to help our kids do a puzzle.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I think that is both parents feel like the work is being shared equally, and are happy, then that is good enough. As we say in education, equal doesn't mean the same.

I think this is a sore spot for many women though, it is for me. I feel like I do most of the home related work, and I make all the income. Parenting is shared but the rest of it makes me resentful so it's something we have to figure out.

As for the study, I haven't read it so I don't really feel like I can comment on it in depth but it certainly doesn't sound like enough evidence to conclude that marriages are undermined when fathers are more involved in parenting.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin@MultipleMusings

This is such a source of strife in our marriage. I'd love to say our duties are split fairly evenly but they aren't. The hours my husband works leave little time for helping when he gets home. A part of me wants to accept my domestic and only responsibilities and just be ok with it, but the other really wants help in the home. That part is very resentful and I hate it.

Regarding the study (the excerpt you left, I didn't read the entire study), my husband is less involved as a parent due to his work load and his need to "zone out" at home on occasion. In our case, when I direct him as a parent he gets extremely upset and thinks I direct every aspect of his interactions with the kids. This is a battle I can't win. So even the less involved parents feel this way at times.

This post is something to chew on!

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim @Dirty Diaper Laundry

I think we all want to be acknowledged and valued. Really. I don't want my husband to step on my toes when I'm disciplining my kids nor does he want me to do the same to him. We DO do this, of course, but if we notice it and quietly talk about it later on, it's better the next time. As the primary caregiver and SAHM AND their homeschooling educator, I have a LOT of say in what happens with our kids. So I try to involve him in decisions and discipline and such as much as possible. He's also been extremely verbal about how grateful he is for what I do around the house and I try to do the same for him by thanking him for working so hard so that I CAN stay home.

We're not perfect. But there are obvious methods of communication that people can utilize to make sure that feelings are acknowledged and validated. As long as neither parent "gives up" things will work out in the end.

I believe every marriage should be like this, kids or not. We both stay at home, which I guess is an advantage, but even when I worked I still came home and did my part. So I see that is not an excuse for a husband to come home and say he's tired. But as women, we tend to see the "dirty" side of things, lol. Even when I came home super tired and the living room was clean, clothes washed and floors swept, I'd walk into the kitchen and it was a mess, so I'd wash them.
Thanks for this article, we haven't really sat or made a plan on what or when we should do things, maybe it will help both of us out.
CJR @ The Mommy Blog

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCinella

Since I started reading PhD..., I have always admired (and been envious of) the way you divide tasks. Before I had a child I was somewhat judgemental of mothers who did not let the dad be involved. After I had one and became the primary caregiver, I found myself doing just that, to my dismay. Then my partner lost his job and I returned to work. I still do most of the parenting tasks (although he is getting more and more involved), sometimes ressentfully but also with joy. He is in charge of maintenance (shopping, cooking, cleaning... everything except the laundry). This is not a division of tasks I find fruitful (although I much prefer taking care of my child than cleaning the toilet). But it takes a lot of will, and a lot of time, to change it. And besides, being used to it, my son is adamant that it works.
Thanks, anyhow, for the food for thought.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter'Away from your crazy mom'

Amber:

Just to clarify, I don't think it was the fathers engaging in undermining behaviour. I think it was the mothers. However, I guess it could be both.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Cinella:

We had our division of labour on household tasks fairly firmly established before kids came along (we had already been living together for 7 years), so there wasn't a big change once the kids arrived.

With regards to women seeing the "dirty" side of things, that isn't the case for me. If I'm exhausted, I can come home and sit down in the middle of piles of junk. I can't, however, cook in a dirty kitchen. So if my partner didn't get it cleaned for whatever reason, then I do clean up at least a bit before I cook.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Early in our marriage we developed a system for dividing the household tasks. We'd list all tasks to be done, the frequency they needed to be done (e.g. Daily, weekly) and the estimated time to do those tasks. On some tasks we'd also have to come to an agreement as to the steps needed to complete the tasks, because while "cleaning the kitchen" included wiping out the microwave to me, to my husband, he never would have thought of that.

Once we had our list we'd divide the tasks according to school or work schedules. For example, when I worked 30 hours, and my husband worked 20 hours, he needed to do 10 hours of housework to be even with me, then we divided up the remaining tasks. Every so often we'd adjust or tweak as needed. We did this with childcare too, at least things like bathing, and doing the bedtime routine.

I think it saved us a lot of arguments, and me feeling resentful. We both knew what was our individual responsibility, and I didn't have to feel like a nag. We never allowed one parent do take care of all the childcare responsibilities though. We felt the children benefitted from the active participation and involvement with both their parents. It never seemed fair to me those partnerships in which one parent had to do all the nitty-gritty tasks of child-rearing, and one parent got to be the "fun" parent, and just come around for playtime.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMyFeminineMind

I think it's interesting to note that the study showed both parents working with the child at the same time, which sets up an entirely different dynamic than if only one parent is with the child and they were taking turns being "lead parent" on the task. As primary caregiver, I know that the time my kids spend with Dad is much better if I am totally out of the equation, whether it's having fun, making meals, or doing HW or other chores. It's too easy to get played off of one another, or to swoop in and "fix" it if it is done differently than you would. Also, I realized long ago, that my husband and I have a different set of priorities regarding the household. For me, I'm thinking about the daily laundry and dishes. He, instead, is thinking that the windows need to be replaced and the basement needs to be cleaned out. Things that are not on my "to-do" list at all, but are still important. So I think finding balance with mutual respect is all important.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrace @eatdinner

While I am the stay at home parent in our house and my husband is the working parent, when we are all together, we try to refrain from making one parent or the other a stereotypical good or bad guy. I know it would be great for my husband (theoretically) if he could come home, play, be fun, and do none of the "hard" work of parenting. However, I think that would put much more of a strain on our relationship than if we disagreed on how to handle a situation. I suppose that the disagreement requires (and receives) quite a bit of communication in our house. If we weren't the type to sit down and talk about it, I can see how that would also lead to stress in the relationship. I still don't see how that would be better stress though.

It seems to me that if dad is the fun guy, and mom is the enforcer that leads to much/most of the stress and responsibility on mom. If both parents share those roles, it seems like while there are more opportunities for friction and disagreement, there are also more opportunities for the mom to be so much more than the bad guy of the family.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

I am the full time working parent in my family, with my husband working part time and staying at home with our child part time. Each one of us thinks we do more than our fair share of household labor so I tend to think we must have a reasonably good system of shared division of labor. Like you, we each have things that we are better/more knowledgable/less adverse towards, so we often split things along those lines too.

I haven't read the study you quoted, so I cannot speak directly to it. I do know that my husband and I feel like one sometimes underminds the other, particularly witih respect to discipline. I don't know that I think less involvement by the father is the answer, but rather talking about the differences in our approaches and philosophies and having the sense of mind at the time of conflict to respect one another and consider the model of relationship and gender interactions we are presenting to our child.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShana

Annie, thanks for sharing more about how you and your partner are making it work for you. My husband and I naturally split what needs to be done along the lines of what we are both good at doing or what we prefer doing. He and I both work fulltime.

Interestingly, the topic of "splitting up the work" isn't something we ever talk about, as I reflect on things for this post. I will have to ask my husband if he likes our current arrangement (I am assuming he does).

When it comes to parenting, for us, I do sometimes provide direction to him. I have a stronger knack for understanding toddlers (our older two are age 4 and 2) and the baby is very attached to me since she's only 4 months old and nursing. I do all the reading on parenting tactics and skills. I wonder if my husband does feel undermined if I give him parenting suggestions? Perhaps the key thing is: when I do give him suggestions, it is rarely "in the moment". Instead it is usually later after the kids are sleeping or somewhere else and don't hear us talking.

I like the idea of "Equally Shared Parenting". But it isn't necessarily turning out that way for us. Right now, our 2 careers are equally demanding. It will be interesting to see what happens over the years, if one of our careers takes off stronger or if one of us decides to stay home with the kids.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

I agree with you that coming to an agreement saves a lot of arguments! We divvied up the household chores too (not in such a specific way as you guys, but it works for us!) The major improvement for me was I got to STOP BEING A NAG! My husband knows what he has to do, he does it his way and his time. And vice versa. House/money stuff was fairly easy once we sat down and made a plan.

What is much more difficult AND REWARDING is sharing the parenting. Although we each have our styles, we want to be united in philosophy, major issues, and values. That takes a lot of conversations DAILY on the nitty-gritty of parenting. And that makes it work :)

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Schwenke

Thank you for sharing your "household economy" with us. I am always very curious to hear how other couples split things up. I work full-time and am the "breadwinner." My husband is a stay-at-home parent and artist who occasionally teaches art classes. I agree with a prior commenter who mentioned that both partners feel that they do the greater share of the work - my husband and I joke (that is, when we are not arguing about it) that when both of you are putting in 150%, all the time, and your life seems like unremitting toil, it is very easy to feel that you *must* be doing more than your fair share, when the reality is that babies and toddlers are just a *ton* of work!

It is important to remember and notice all of the "invisible" work that your partner does - stuff that you don't notice because it's just taken care of. For example, my husband does all of the car maintenance, etc. I haven't even stuck the registration sticker on my license plate in five years. The gas tank is generally magically full. Because it's handled, I don't tend to notice it, and I don't appreciate the work that goes into it. That sort of thing.

So when I'm thinking, "I work all day and THEN I make dinner and THEN I do the bedtime routine, and THEN I fold laundry," I try to remember that some things in my life are so well-taken-care of I don't even NOTICE them, and that's thanks to my hubs.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterInder

This study made me laugh. We are a somewhat equal household, but I do the vast majority of parenting-related tasks. However, my husband is constantly suggesting different ways for me to complete my own work. He's a maven who really does try to apply the most effective method to each task, but it drives me nuts. I'm folding the diaper just fine, thank you. ;)

I like your task designations, and I wonder how many modern households look more like yours than the un-involved dad model. Instead of focusing on nitpicking spouses, maybe they should study the long-term impact of involved fathers on the emotional well being of their kids.

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeigerin

one of the things that can be nice in dividing chores is making sure you're each doing something that the other person *hates* to do, even if you don't particularly enjoy doing it. So my husband scrubs the toilets and I do the meal planning. Taking over something your partner hates to do, whether it's a small chore or a big one, can make a huge difference in your co-parenting lives, because you're paying attention to each other & looking out for each other. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about what's "even" or "fair" - we just do, and it shifts all the time, depending on what's going on. As with kids, there are times when one of us needs more slack and the other one does more work. Like when I was pregnant I was very ill (bed-ridden ill). My "job" was gestating, and my husband had to do everything else. Literally, everything else. It was hard on him - he had to take care of me and our toddler and everything in the household for months - and I recognized that, so I try to find ways of facilitating his needs during stressful times in his life. So for us a big part of the equation is just being attuned to each other and concerned about each other. Listening, and responding (and sometimes not needing to be told because we're paying attention). But we also tend not to fight about major things - like parenting styles and finances. We don't always have the same approach, but we share fundamentals, and that makes life so much smoother.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

The Fatherhood Institute has recently come out with a study ranking countries based on how equally shared were parenting responsibilities. By the way, they found the opposite - that involved fathers led to better adjusted, more confident kids.

http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/FI-FiFI-Report-2010_FINAL.pdf

Our household divides labour by skill/convenience as well, although our breakdown is perhaps a little less "traditional." I handle the finances and do most of the dishes, my husband does all the groceries and cooking. Everything else, we generally do together (laundry is a family activity, for example).

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

I feel very lucky to have the partnership I have with my husband. Especially in these first months after each of our kids were born, he's picked up a huge share of the household tasks. The rest of the time we split things up pretty evenly, I think, in ways that have come about pretty organically. I take more of a lead with parenting decisions and approaches, mainly since I stay home and so I "deal with" the kids more often...He'll defer to me on matters over which he doesn't have strong feelings one way or the other, and for anything else we talk things through and try to make it feel as fair to each of us as possible. It's nice that we are on the same page on so many issues, and I try really hard *not* to be that mom who feels so controlling and has to undermine the father's parenting abilities...

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

Hi! I've enjoyed your post, and am a big fan of your blog. Thanks for tackling a great topic here. I do want to clarify, just for the record, that equally shared parenting is not ever about splitting each chore down the middle. That would be rather onerous, and just not much fun. Rather, we aim for approximately equal involvement and time spent in each of four areas of life together as a couple with kids: breadwinning, childraising, housework, and recreation. The reason for this is so that each partner gets a balanced life with enough of each of these areas on a daily/weekly/yearly basis, and neither is tempted to direct the other as the primary parent/primary breadwinner, etc. Within each domain, tasks can be split in all sorts of ways - focusing on what is practical, who likes to do what, who cares most about what, etc. I love your idea that we focus on sharing the things that are the most important.

We do think it is useful to try to share a bit of every task - not necessarily 50/50 but just so that we can pinchhit for each other as needed without a lot of instruction, so that we each continue to stay 'in the mix' with all of what it takes to raise a family, we stay connected with each other by being able to walk in each other's shoes, and we keep life interesting.

Anyway, just wanted to pop in and say thanks for all of your wonderful writing!

Best,
Amy (equally shared parenting)

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Vachon

[...] also need to be willing to let go, work with their partners and accept that they cannot do it [...]

[...] and one where the work, overall, is split equally with each parent tending to different tasks. Like me, Badinter prefers the latter model: There is an economical use of time, access to the child by both its parents, and greater parental [...]

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBadinter's "The Conf

[...] equally shared parenting [...]

This is the first time I'm commenting, although I've followed your blog for quite some time now.

We do shared parenting. I'm a university teacher with 7 classes a week (3 working days, around 5 hours per day), and my husband is a musician (gigs on weekend nights). We're both at home much of the time. I cook and shop for food and breastfeed our younger daughter. He cleans, washes up, does the laundry, and keeps things in order. We both respond to our children's needs and take turns taking our older daughter to preschool and picking her up.

The link didn't take me to the study, but from what I've gathered here, I'll still comment :). I don't think we "undermine" each other when we're both helping a child with something, but we can sometimes have different opinions (should she wear boots or sneakers today? juice or water for lunch?) because we both feel our children are our business.

I suppose one could argue that in families where the father doesn't participate in childrearing only the mother is allowed to have an opinion. She's the sole "expert". The father shuts up. There's no disagreement, but does that make for a better marriage? Where the couple don't really have interest in their children and knowledge about them in common? I wouldn't like to be in that kind of marriage, that's for sure.

February 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLitcrit

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...