The New York Times’ parenting blog, Motherload, continually raises interesting questions about the state of parenting in the 21st century. Today’s column centers around the topic of “equal” parenting, and the concern of many wives and mothers that they shoulder a disproportionate share of the household and child-related tasks. Motherload author, Lisa Belkin asks, “Can parenting truly be equal?”
The impetus for the column is the new book, Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parenting, in which authors Marc and Amy Vashon envision a world where both parents work equal hours, spend equal time with the children, and take equal responsibility for the home. No one is the keeper of the to-do lists; neither of their careers takes precedence.
While I’ll admit upfront that I have not read this particular book (and don’t have any real intention of doing so), I’m going to go out on a limb and state, that, no, like any relationship, parenting is unlikely to be completely equal. I’m much more concerned about whether our children are well-taken care of and each of us has the opportunity to pursue some of our own interests and accomplish our professional goals than about whether there’s a dead equal division of labor.
And, let’s be realistic. Is there any way to run a household where no one maintains the family calendar either mentally, electronically, or on paper? Or even worse in my opinion, where two people try to do so?
Yes, I am the official keeper of the family schedule here in Suburbia. That’s not to say that Adventure Guy doesn’t keep his own calendar, often with family events marked on it. He also manages several of the ongoing family commitments almost entirely on his own–Boy Scouts and soccer are his domain–and shares the load of carpooling, doctors appointments, and event attendance. But I’m the one who has the mental map of how all the various pieces fit together.
And that’s okay. It’s also okay that we tend to divide household chores along fairly stereotypical gender roles. In fact, I’m probably much more okay with that division of labor than is Adventure Guy. I’m happy to do the laundry, the grocery shopping and meal planning, and most of the cooking in exchange for his taking care of lawn and car maintenance. And, let’s face it. neither of us enjoys housecleaning and we’ll pay to have it done for us as long as that’s an option that’s financially possible.
With all that said, I’ll put our division of labor up against any couple I know as to its degree of fairness and basis of mutual respect. During our marriage, each of our careers has taken precedence at times. I moved to the middle of nowhere and postponed starting my teaching career when we first married; later Adventure Guy turned down an opportunity to move for a job so that I could gain more experience at my current employment level. Since DD1 arrived on the scene almost sixteen years ago, Adventure Guy has been as likely as I have to be the one who stays home to care for a sick child or who takes one of the kids to a birthday party or an orthodontist appointment. And speaking of birthday parties, he’s made arrangements for them as often as I have. Even more unusual from my informal research is his handling of portions of the Christmas shopping, including all of gift buying for his side of the family.
In the best relationships, parents work together as partners and the responsibilities ebb and flow according to each person’s abilities and circumstances. And, focusing on achieving that balance is a much more relevant pursuit for me than is spending my time tallying the exact percentages of effort each of us is putting in to piloting the family ship.