“10 Things a Guy Should Do on a First Date” and Other Stupidness

This is my response to this post entitled 10 Things Guys Should do on a 1st Date that my brother brought to my attention.  I want to publicly say that this post and the millions of posts like it on the internet, written by both men and women, are stupid.

By “stupid,” in this case I mean stereotypical, sexist, heterosexist, cis-gender biased, minimizing of individual differences among those of the “same gender,” diversity squelching, and generally ignorant.  Let’s forget for a minute those folks who don’t even neatly fit into a male/female category, for whom the rules of how to act on a date based on gender are probably most dramatically absurd.

Let’s just think about the number of men and women there are from all different races, classes, ethnic backgrounds, educational levels, with differing political persuasions, from different professions, some who grew up on farms or suburbs, others in cities, some who were born on other continents or studied overseas, who belong to as many religions as you can imagine.  REALLY?  You are going to make a list of rules of how people should act on dates with one of the 150 million females (and that’s just the U.S.) as if there is ANY one thing these women would have in common.

Admittedly, lists like this for women are equally absurd, but I think there are less of those these days as people are somewhat aware of the political incorrectness.  As my brother points out, it’s still okay to make absurd generalizations about women to “help” men, but not as okay to tell women how to please men.  So for all the straight men who have argued to me that there are now “rules” men have to follow that women don’t “because of feminism,” I am here to tell you that if these are the rules you are referring to, they are stupid.

Let’s start here.

Take Charge. We do not want to decide where to go. We will never tell you this, but it is true. Ask us what kind of place and/or food we like; then, pick a place like that. Do not leave it up to us to choose. You are the man. Act like one.

Brilliance!!  Guys, if you want to date someone who’s been in some kind of coma and missed second wave feminism, go ahead and take this advice.  Who wants to date someone who would state they don’t want to have to make decisions?  If “acting like a man” means telling women what to do because it takes too much exertion for us to figure out what we want, that is offensive to everyone.  Seriously??

Mind Your Body Language. If your legs are crossed and your hand is over your mouth, we will unconsciously think you are hiding something. If you are sprawled out all over with your legs spread wide and your hands behind your head, we will think you are a slob or generally loose. Sit up straight, lean in closer, and keep your hands where we can see them.

This makes men sounds like monkeys in a cage under observation by some very suspicious observer.  I don’t know about other women, but I would never be observant enough to notice and or take the time to read that much into a man’s gestures.  “Keep your hands where we can see them?”  Really?  Because all men are predatory and not to be trusted to even move their hands out of sight?  I don’t think so.

No Pawing Allowed. If you’re going to score with us at some point, we will let you know. Trust. Occasional physical contact is OK — a hand to the small of the back, a touch of the thigh, a brief holding of the arm while making a point. Do not grab anywhere in the red light zones. If we want your hands there, we will put them there.

Pawing?  Now the men have been demoted from monkeys to dogs.  Sensational!  I know some readers may be stunned by this, but some women like things to move quickly in the physical department… yes, I’m talking about S.E.X.  There are also men who want to wait… long… take it from me.  We all need to be aware of others’ boundaries.  I have had many female friends complain that a man is never making a move, and others complain that one is too forward.  If you want someone to know your boundaries you have to tell them.  This is true for persons of all genders.

Pay. Feminism, shmeminism. Take care of the bill without comment. That is what we want. Wave off any offer to go dutch. We lied. We don’t want to pay half.

UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.  Ladies, are you as pained by this as I am??  WTF.  SERIOUSLY??  I would like to state for the record that while I am biologically female and also identify with a female gender identity, I do not consider myself part of any “we” that wants to put up a sham of wanting equality only to have a man refuse to treat me as an equal.  THAT is NOT sexy.  Women should pay half!  If you don’t agree, date women like the one who wrote this post.  If you do, date women who will pay half.  Please do not read shit like this and then go around whining about how women are only interested in money, dating is “so expensive.”  BUNK.

When I hear my single male and female heterosexual friends complaining that “all men… ” or “all women…” I want to say where are you looking, and how hard?  What would you be willing to compromise to meet someone who doesn’t expect you to follow a gendered script?  Would you be willing to accept someone who doesn’t follow other culturally prescribed scripts?  Someone who doesn’t have money?  Someone short (mostly for women)?  Someone of a different race or religion?  Someone who identifies as GLBTQIAPK?  Someone who doesn’t meet your friends and families expectations?  Someone divorced?  Someone who demands equality in other areas in addition to splitting the bill?

Most of the rest of these are not so bad, but I  can be put under the category of good advice for ANYONE:

Listen…  Ask Questions…

Everyone needs to ask questions and listen.  EVERYONE.  People who ask questions and listen are more successful in most aspects of life, including dating.  These social skills predict success better than IQ, education, etc.

We really do not care if you are secretly neurotic, deeply insecure, or mildly nuts. We are interested in how you portray yourself. Act confident, interested, engaged, self-assured, ambitious, and happy. We like that. Thanks.

We’ve all been on those dates where people reveal way too much too fast.  If you’re a shrink like me, you are probably married to that person.  Yes, there are those of us who are impressed by someone who will speak openly about his/her emotional life and past struggles.  Of course that depends on the way it is presented.  Everyone has a different level of tolerance for airing one’s baggage.  But in general, it’s probably best to be yourself, without talking like you would in my office.  That goes for men and women.

Bottom line… if you don’t like “the rules” don’t follow them, and demand partners who don’t either.  I often here from men and women that they get better results with internet dating when they present themselves in a very gendered way, or in ways that don’t suit them.  Remember high school?  I probably would have been more popular if I had done a lot of things that didn’t suit me too, but I didn’t do all those things.  Hell, I’d probably have more people reading my blog if it was called “Naked and Horny in the Suburbs” and included photos of me in in compromising positions.  Quantity is not everything.  You are better off with 10 dates with quality people you might actually like than 100 sheep who are blindly following cultural norms.  Quantity is for conformists.

If you don’t follow “the rules” that will make it more likely your peers and future generations will not have to either.  If you don’t like the expectations of the people you are dating, date other people.  Here’s a tip – TALK to people.  When the bill comes, start a conversation.  Even if it turns out you’re totally incompatible, that’s good information that could save you a lot of hassle. You get to have a genuine exchange instead of being fake and following some script that’s going to lead you nowhere anyway.  And who knows… somebody might just learn something.

 Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com.  All Rights Reserved.

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“If Only You Were Born Now” – Up-and-Coming Identities

Originally Appeared on RoleReboot.org.

I frequently find myself thinking ‘If only you were born now,’ while working with middle-aged gender variant people.  The few times I actually say it out loud, it’s painfully clear how unhelpful it is.   A few days ago I found myself trying to explain the concept “genderqueer” to a married, middle-aged natal male who currently identifies as transgender.  He was saying he feels part male and part female, not female enough to start hormones or have re-assignment surgery and transition, but not male enough to continue to pass as male.  I recall saying something along the lines of “all the college kids are doing it.”

To at least a certain subset of 20 year-olds, this man’s problem wouldn’t be perceived as a problem at all.  Identities including ‘both male and female,’ ‘neither male nor female,’ ‘third gender,’ ‘non-gendered,’ and ‘androgynous’ have become increasingly easy for young people to conceptualize.   “Oh, you’re just genderqueer,” I can imagine them saying.   But how does one come out as genderqueer at fifty?  How does one explain to spouses, colleagues, children and other relatives who have never considered identities outside the gender binary?    There would be very real and potentially serious social consequences to coming out for this person.

Even if I could bring him on a fieldtrip down to a local gender studies department or campus LGBT alliance to see first-hand what a genderqueer identity might look like, his peers would still lack any exposure to this concept.  Many adults are still struggling with the idea homosexuality, and most would have a difficult time really understanding transgender identity.  But at least the ‘one-gender-trapped-in-the-body-of-the-other’ idea fits into the gender binary most people are used do, as does attraction to the opposite gender.  Genderqueer is an identity which demands thinking way outside the box, calling into question the very concept of gender as we know it.

Even for those transgender folks who have transitioned, there is sometimes a level of generational envy.  I have often heard transgender individuals fantasizing about how things might have been different if they were born now, with the availability of hormones, surgical advancements, and the increased awareness of transgender children and teens.  Kids now have the option of intervening early enough that puberty never steals their chances of passing as their identified gender.

College is, after all, the perfect time to formulate one’s identity.  Had this middle-aged man experimented with transgender and genderqueer identities in college and chosen/begun his career and long-term partnership already identifying as such, his life would be very different.  College is a safe place and time in which one’s peers are also, in their own ways, testing out different identities.  But, as a wise supervisor of mine frequently says, “one can only choose from among the culturally available identities.”  For most of the middle-aged people I work with, transgender and genderqueer were not a part of the cultural landscape yet when they were adolescents.

A few months ago I attended an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City.  A beautiful, confidant young woman took her place at the “human microphone” in order to speak.  She began by saying, “I am a black, pansexual woman.”  I remember distinctly the pang of envy I felt.  Fifteen years ago I was a gender studies major (back when it was still called women’s studies).  I lived in the gay dorm and hung out with the least gender conforming kids on campus.  But I had never heard of “pansexual” until a few years ago.  It might not have taken me until my 30s to solidify my queer identity if I had.

For me, the labels that existed when I was in college didn’t quite fit.  In retrospect, this was because they all fit into that traditional gender binary.  Lucky for me, dating men and passing as straight fit my identity well enough.  I had the privilege of putting the knowledge I was queer on the back burner until an identity that fit me better was imagined by our culture.

For others, the feelings of being gender variant are so profound and all-encompassing that life simply cannot go on, at least not without suffering and struggle.  I believe this is why so many parents are working to open up space for their children to explore minority sexual and gender identities.  Once that stage in life when our identities are naturally in flux has passed, there is no way to get that time back.

I often wonder what my life would look like right now if I had had pansexual Identity on my radar in college.  It might look exactly the same, but have simply feel more authentic for longer.  Despite my envy, I am deeply encouraged by and utterly respectful of the kids that are coming up now.  They are fundamentally re-thinking gender and opening up space for fuller and richer lives for those who don’t fit easily within the gender binary (and really, for everyone).

That said, we always need to be looking forward, making more space, thinking further outside the box.  There are children growing up right now who will live their whole lives in silent desperation because they fit identity categories the culture has yet to offer.

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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No More Martyr Mommy: 10 Ways to End the “Mommy Wars” and Free Ourselves from One-Size-Fits-All Motherhood

Intro – My Stab at “Attachment Parenting” and Subsequent Detox from Mommy Martyrdom

Three months into parenting, my husband sat me down and told me that I had to stop breastfeeding for the sake of our children.  It took a few weeks, but I realized he was right.  My whole life had become about my breasts.   My twins were born 7 ½ weeks premature, so I pumped breast milk while they were in the NICU.  I was blessed (or cursed) with plenty of milk for both babies, but struggled with painful plugged ducts.  I had to manually knead out the plugs for what totaled hours per day to prevent Mastitis.  The babies had difficulty latching, and when they could latch, feeding them by breast was usually painful.  I was told they had “tongue-tie,” which led to a gut-wrenching decision about whether to have the skin under their tongues cut.  Then there were the trips to La Leche meetings, doctors, and lactation consultants.  When direct breastfeeding couldn’t happen, I had to pump eight times a day as well as feed both babies eight times a day.  There were times I fed one baby on one breast while pumping the other, then fed the other baby.  By then the first breast needed to be pumped again.  I spent approximately 12-15 hours per day in breast-related activities.

I remember the sinking feeling I had when I first read about Attachment Parenting during my three months of bed rest.  At the time, I thought it was because things like baby wearing and co-sleeping would be nearly impossible with twins.  I realize now it was because deep down, I knew it wasn’t something I could do.  This was problematic because back then I believed AP was the “right” way to parent as a well-off, progressive, somewhat “crunchy” mother.  So I did what I could with twins, which for me meant becoming obsessed with breastfeeding.  Other moms of twins I met took a more flexible stance, stating “I’m going to try it and see how it goes.”  I distinctly remember thinking that was not good enough.  I was going to breastfeed these twins no matter what, because that was what they needed me to do.  That was how I was going to attach to them.

But for me, breastfeeding was not a natural process that fostered attachment in a manageable way.  It was torture.  So why did I continue?  I was a martyr.  When those unacknowledged fears about not having what it takes to be the right kind of mother crept to the surface, I beat them back with self-sacrifice.  I had three months of bed rest, and outright physical pain day in and day out to wear like a badge reminding me I was good enough.  So week after week, instead of acknowledging my mixed feelings like loving my babies tremendously, but fearing the loss of my independence, I strove to prove what a good mother I was.  I channeled all the normal terrors a new parent feels into managing my breasts.  But my kids didn’t need me to be a martyr.  Did that breast milk help them?  Of course!  What they needed most, however, was a sane, flexible mother who was in touch with her own feelings, strengths, and weaknesses.  After three months, I had to let go of martyrdom, face who I was, and figure out how I was going to attach to my children.

This article is not a criticism of Attachment Parenting or any particular parenting style.  I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding, and any and all parenting strategies that work well for a given parent-child pair.  This article is, however, a criticism of the societal standard that mothers be selfless martyrs who want nothing more than to focus on their children’s needs.  For me, Attachment Parenting became the stick with which I beat myself with that societal ideal.  Women have to be able to talk about the ways in which the ideal of the blissful, selfless mother oppresses us.  We have to be able to discuss where that martyr ideal intersects with Attachment Parenting, “helicopter parenting,” and other parenting trends, without being seen as damning those practices or the parents who practice them.  I think breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, and a general nurturing, child-centered stance can work great for many parents as ways to attach to children for whom these practices are feasible and welcome.  I do have a concern with the term “Attachment” Parenting due to the implication that other parenting somehow does not foster attachment.  If one needs to practice a technique that is extremely child-centered and does restrict a mother’s freedom quite a bit in order to attach, than what does that say about mothers who can’t sustain that loss of freedom?  The implication is that their children will be less securely attached.  But the research shows that’s not true.

1)Changing the Conversation from Parenting Content to Process – “Attunement” Parenting, a Strategy for Everyone 

Early in my parenting journey, I had to let go of my fear that because I didn’t feel blissful about mothering infant twins, and because sleeping with them and wearing them didn’t work with my temperament, my children would not be securely attached.  The haze of baby brain eventually lifted just enough for me to remember I had a Doctorate in Psychology.  I thought to myself, ‘I know what secure attachment is and what is necessary to achieve it.’  I went back to my textbooks and watched videos of Mary Ainsworth’s classic “strange situation” attachment experiments.  I paid extra attention to whether my children showed signs of secure attachment, instead of obsessing about what parenting techniques I was using.  What I remembered is that attachment is about attunement.

Children feel secure when adults are responsive to them.  Some children might respond well to a parent holding them most of the day, others might feel quite overwhelmed by this.  Children need to feel a sense of basic safety and responsiveness.  However, times when a child’s needs are frustrated are also a necessary part of development.  This helps them learn to self-soothe.  How do we know when to meet a child’s needs and when to give them space to manage things on their own?  The only way to know is to be attuned to that specific child.  If I were going to start a parenting trend, I would call it Attunement Parenting.  It would stress the fit between the parent’s strengths and the child’s needs.  Any parent or caregiver can practice attunement parenting, including moms, dads, grandparents, stay-at-home parents, single parents, gay parents, parents who work part or full-time, non-traditional families, families from a variety of ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and those who practice a wide variety of parenting techniques, including Attachment Parenting.

2)Striving for the Ideal Parent-Child Match instead of an Ideal of Self-Sacrifice

The other critical aspect of Attunement Parenting is attunement to oneself.  If being a stay-at-home mom, having my children in my bed, and lengthy breastfeeding come naturally to me and feel fulfilling then I am likely to be present and able to attune.  If these practices lead me to depression and resentment, then I’m not going to be able to attune to my child.  However, in a society that measures mothering by self-sacrifice, admitting one is not temperamentally well-matched with such practices can come with the price of social censure and extreme self-doubt, rather than a simple recognition that we all have strengths, weakness, preferences, and limitations.  The crucial truth is self-sacrifice doesn’t necessarily correlate well with attunement, and thus, attachment.  In fact, decisions like working or staying at home, breastfeeding and formula feeding, whether to co-sleep, etc. have not been shown by research to impact child adjustment.  This means none of these practices are all good or all bad.   For example, there is some point at which the damage of maternal stress would outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding.  My guess is research shows similar outcomes regardless of these choices because parents who are choosing what optimizes the match between their temperament and their children’s likely have the best outcomes regardless.

Time parents spend with children and the way they spend that time doesn’t impact research outcomes because attunement is not measured in the time or content of interactions.  It is measured in the intonation of interactions.  Thus it can occur during breastfeeding or bottle feeding, between children with one main caretaker or a variety of devoted caretakers, and whether a parent is home one or twelve of the child’s waking hours.  It’s about being responsive.  Truly seeing and truly hearing.  My son makes a silly face.  I laugh.  He makes a funny noise.  I mimic it.  He hugs me.  I hold him tighter.  He pulls away.  I let him.  He goes and plays on his own.  I write or read.  Twenty minutes later he tugs on my leg and I sit down with him again.  Or, I make him wait a few minutes, if I see he can tolerate it.  For me, I am most attuned when I have time away.  I would be a worse mom if I didn’t work part-time, make time to write, go out with friends, and do yoga.  I also don’t feel full-time work is right for me right now.  This is my balance.  For another mother much more time at home or work might be the right balance.  But how can we attune to ourselves, and structure our lives to maximize the fit between our nature and our child’s in a culture that tells us good mothers are martyrs?  How can we face our ambivalent feelings about parenting when we are being told good mothers should feel only bliss about parenting?

3)Getting Comfortable with Ambivalence and Telling Each Other the Truth

Ambivalent feelings are part of being human.  Every mother feels some ambivalence about mothering.  This does not mean wishing one wasn’t a mother, but rather, having positive and negative feelings at the same time.  Unrealistic cultural ideals actually increase ambivalent feelings because in addition to the natural negative and positive feelings parenting evokes, we feel inadequate and guilty for having the negative feelings.  For many mothers, those negative feelings become so threatening that they can’t tolerate them, especially in the current cultural landscape.  Being a martyr is a way to manage those feelings.  When I was enduring physical and emotional pain “for my kids” while breastfeeding, I didn’t have to feel guilty if deep down I wanted to run away to a desert island somewhere, or even just take a nap.  Normal ambivalence is confusing.  Normal ambivalence mixed with the societal ideal of the blissful, martyr mother results in the paralyzing guilt so many of us feel.  The way out of that guilt is to normalize ambivalent feelings – to tell each other the truth.  Some days I fantasize about not having kids.  Sometimes my kids annoy me.  A lot of the things I need to do for my kids are nothing but hard labor, and I don’t enjoy them.  Sometimes my writing, time with my husband and friends, and my work feel more fulfilling than my kids.  Attachment Parenting, for me, would have been too overwhelming.  These are my truths.

I was finding myself not only afraid to speak of these feelings, but afraid to admit to other moms that my husband and I were practicing equally shared parenting.  I felt like admitting I was not    martyring myself and doing way more than my husband was admitting to being a bad mom.  I have a team of people parenting my children, including my husband, my aunt and uncle, a part-time nanny, my brother, and close friends.  That team provides a level of energy and a consistency of attunement I would never be capable of on my own.  I set it up this way because I  knew that for me being an isolated, full-time mom would not provide optimal attunement for my kids.  I believe other moms (and dads) have the right constitution to make that work well for them.  I’m not one of them.

4)Letting Go of Guilt – No More Martyr Mommy!

Since that time when I stopped breastfeeding, I believe I have set things up exactly right to optimize my mothering capabilities.  There is just one problem – the paralyzing, debilitating guilt.  Author Pamela Druckerman writes that for many moms, guilt is a way to negotiate a way    out of constant self-sacrifice.   “If we feel guilty about these things, it allows us to do them.   We’re not just being selfish. We’ve ‘paid’ for our lapses.  Of course, guilt also saps the pleasure  from these activities.”  Thus, I take “me-time” and I spend it torturing myself about having it.  So how do we make peace with our guilt and stop feeling like bad mothers?  We do so by changing and expanding our notions of what a good mother is.  We do so by insisting on shifting the focus  from how much we are torturing ourselves, to the things children need most.  Children need basic attunement, a physically and emotionally safe environment, adults who model effective, respectful communication with each other, and who are as emotionally healthy as possible.  ‘Do                 my children feel a basic sense of safety in the world and that their needs are generally responded to within a reasonable amount of time?  Then I’m going to go ahead and get that massage and not torment myself about it!’

5)Stressing Flexibility

Attunement to ourselves means staring down the intersection between our own psychology and cultural standards.  Do we know why we are doing what we’re doing?  If not, we run the risk of missing the forest for the trees.  I took breastfeeding to an excessive, unhealthy place to manage my own anxieties and feelings of inadequacy, partly driven by a societal standard I knew I could never meet.  “Overparenting,” “helicopter” parenting, and everything we hear about the “right way” to parent can lead us to such distraction that we are not attuned.  Fixating on parenting “techniques” can also take our attention away from much more problematic family dynamics and emotional problems that could be impacting our families like relationship conflict and depression.  Attachment parents can be wonderfully attuned if they know themselves and their children.  All parenting requires flexibility.  Otherwise, we run the risk of trying so hard to follow a parenting rulebook that we stop listening to our kids.  Sometimes when I spend time writing or return from work and my own guilt is bubbling over, I come home determined to connect with my kids.  In their toddler way, they make it known that they don’t need me hovering and distracting them from their play.  They’ve been with an attuned, loving person all day.  Kids are wired to learn and develop with basic safety in place and basic needs being met.

6)Stop Blaming our Feminist Mothers and Start Demanding More of Men

The focus on parenting “techniques” and the ideal of the blissful/martyr mother takes the focus off of men to take more responsibility for childcare, and keeps the lion share of responsibility for child rearing on women.  These ideals can also be terribly alienating and invalidating to those many men who already take a great deal of responsibility for childcare.  It is critically important to ask ourselves as who is benefitting from an unrealistic ideal of motherhood, and who is profiting when we reinforce that ideal by fighting over how we should be parenting.  While we are busy making each other feel inadequate (even if simply by not admitting to each other any negative feelings about mothering), millions in profits are being made selling us products, classes, lessons, and books that will bring us closer to “perfect” mothering.  While we are blaming our feminist mothers for motherhood getting lost during the feminist movement, we are distracted from demanding the political and structural change needed to finish what they started.  The fact that our political and structural support systems haven’t changed much and men haven’t stepped up the way we needed them to, doesn’t mean our mothers’ efforts were wrong-headed and we need to focus our lives more on caretaking again.  What we need to do is keep working to make those needed changes.  Throwing another generation of feminists under the bus is just another way to keep pressure off others to change and keep it on us.

7)Fighting for Institutional Change

As women’s roles expanded during second wave feminism, less of our collective energy was spent on childcare.  The way to reconcile that is not to convince ourselves that motherhood should be blissful for each of us, and we should be willing to lose ourselves completely to it.  We need to re-structure society in ways that promote the nurturing of children so they can get their needs met without women giving up feminist gains.  Men’s roles need to expand.  Institutional barriers need to come down.  My husband left a high-powered job with a low quality of life, 8 months after our kids were born, for one where he could be home more.  He told his boss he was leaving because as a man, availing himself of the options utilized frequently by female employees, like 70% schedules and long maternity leaves, would have been career suicide.  His boss simply agreed.  We need to take the energy we are expending critiquing each other’s parenting and put it toward demanding generous paid leave for women and men, state-sponsored childcare, and flexible work schedules for women and men.  In The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir describes an ideal in which “motherhood would be freely chosen—that is, birth control and abortion would be allowed—and in return all mothers and their children would be given the same rights; maternity leave would be paid for by the society that would have responsibility for the children, which does not mean that they would be taken from their parents but that they would not be abandoned to them.”  It truly does take a village.  When we ask ourselves if we’re good enough, let’s ask ourselves if our village is good enough as well, or if it is “abandoning” our children to us.

Even without these structural changes, we can begin to structure our lives differently.  We can speak up and admit we need help.  We can ask fathers, family, and friends to do more.  However, this requires not undermining those other participants in childcare and giving up some of our control over the private sphere.  One of the well-researched barriers to father-involvement is feelings of inadequacy in fathers as parents.  We need to believe fathers can parent in order for them to be expected to do so.   Keep in mind how we would feel if men micromanaged our work in the public sphere or made it obvious they didn’t believe we were capable of running companies or countries.  We can also hire help or and we can create exchange systems where we help each other without becoming overcome with guilt for utilizing childcare.

8)Viewing Raising Children as a Village Responsibility

We can put the focus of childcare on a village of which we are a part, rather than on ourselves as women, without our children suffering.  In fact, children derive great benefit from more than one primary caretaker.  A large body of research shows positive outcomes for children in a wide variety of areas when fathers are more involved, ranging from school performance to relationship satisfaction later in life, to having a greater internal locus of control, to greater flexibility in gender role identity.  Although less researched, there is no reason to believe the addition of other adults, including same-sex parents, grandparents, nannies, etc. would not produce similar benefits.  If we make the choice to stay at home with children and be sole primary caretakers, we should do so because it is right for us, not to make up for our mothers’ feminist leanings or because we believe it will harm our children if we don’t.  All parents need support.  Stay-at-home-moms and dads as well as working parents need their village.  The idea that one parent alone with children most of the time was ever the best way for the majority of people to structure childcare is highly unusual in the course of history and in other cultures.

9)Taking back our Time, our Money, and our Mental Resources

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf muses about a fictional character, Shakespeare’s sister.  She talks about what this woman might have accomplished if not for societal barriers and expectations side-tracking women.  How much time and money are we spending focusing on what type of mother we should be, if we are “mom enough,” researching and buying the safest products, monitoring our children instead of letting them play and develop on their own, providing the absolute perfect environment for neurological development, spending hours online trading cloth diapers, attending classes we’ve become convinced our children can’t do without, or paralyzed by guilt that we are not doing these things?

Meanwhile whether we are working or not, we are modeling to our kids that a woman’s role is to obsess over caretaking.  Making the choice whether to stay at home with children or how much of one’s time to spend focused on children is and should be a very personal one, and there are no wrong choices.  But these choices as well as choices about parenting techniques and purchases related to our children are not made in a vacuum.  They are made in the midst of societal standards, and social sanctions.  At this point in history, meeting those standards is related to the extent to which one is martyring oneself – putting one’s own needs aside for children.  Fathers are not subject to these same sanctions.  Consider the choice for a father to stay at home with children.  For the father, there would be sanctions about not being a provider, rather than not being self-sacrificial enough.  For men, simply “babysitting” their own children is often seen as martyrdom.  How can we truly make honest choices with such double standards in play?  It is short-sighted to think that these norms have no impact on our decisions.  Even when they don’t truly don’t impact our decisions, they can have a profound impact on how we feel about them and our level of guilt.

10)Asking Ourselves, “What Would I Tell My Daughter?”

So is parenting all about selflessness and martyrdom?  Yes and no.  Let’s ask ourselves, as mothers, is this something I really need to be a martyr about?  Is this a time I need to be totally selfless?  And then let’s ask ourselves if we would ask the same thing of a father.   Parents must be selfless a lot of the time.  They have to put their children’s needs first in profound ways.  But there is a difference between meeting a child’s needs and making one’s identity about being a martyr.   My kids may well have needed me to stay in bed for three months to give them the best chance of survival.  This was one of the very, very few things my husband could not have done.  But, they did not need me to suffer through pain and anguish trying to breastfeed them in the circumstances I was under.

In our culture, the only way to talk about self-care for mothers is to couch it as beneficial to children.  What about self-care because we are humans and deserve it?  Selfishness is part of human nature.  Let’s take back the term “selfish” and own it.  I am selfish.   I want to eat a hot meal uninterrupted.  I want to use the bathroom by myself.  I want to have lengthy conversations with adults while my kids wait, bored, for me to put my attention back on them.  I want to go out with friends.  I want quality time with my husband.  I want a career.  I want hobbies and interests.  I want to be an agent of social change.  I want to be passionate about things other than my kids.   I often catch myself feeling like admitting these things makes me a bad mother.  But when I really think it through, I conclude that in my case, they make me a good mother.

When I am feeling guilty about my mothering, I have a little mental exercise that I do.  It’s called, “What would I tell my daughter?”  If my daughter was grown and had her own children and came to me with the things I’m struggling with, what would I tell her?   Here are some of the things I would tell her.   “Go to the spa.  Accept all the help you can.  Have sex with your partner.  Validate that you have a wonderful village helping raise your child and stop beating yourself up about it.  Read.  Enjoy your work.  Structure your life in the way that makes for the best match between you (and your partner) parenting well and your children’s needs being met.  If your child has another parent, make the same demands of him/her that you make of yourself.”  It is critical for us to remember that we are modeling being adults for our children.  What does mommy do when she feels overwhelmed, stressed, and burdened?  Does she squelch those feelings and keep pressing on or does she ask for help?  Does she structure her life in a way where she feels whole and balanced, or does she make her life about being a selfless martyr?  Does she take a night off and pamper herself, or does she get more and more resentful until she yells at her children?

Let’s Start a New Mommy War Against Mommy Martyrdom!

Let’s not send our daughters the message that mommy means martyr.  If we can’t tolerate the thought of doing something for ourselves, perhaps we can tolerate modeling something better for our daughters… and perhaps… each other?  Let’s start a movement we can all get behind.  A “Mommy War” against those who are profiting off our insecurities and perpetuating ideals that keep our focus off the rights we should have as mothers and parents.  A movement where we are trusted to make choices that make sense in our particular circumstances.  One where we can truly join with men, rather than buying into motherhood ideals that subtly suggest men are lesser parents.  Let’s draw our line in the sand and demand better for ourselves.  Let’s not do more than we would reasonably ask of others.  We are mothers, but first and foremost we are people.  No more martyr mommy!

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.





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My Mother’s Day Resolutions

The following is my Mothers Speak Out Mother’s Day Declaration.

Gender Fairness.  When I find myself doubting if I’m doing enough or good enough as a mother, I vow to ask myself, would I have the same standards for a father?  If not, I will ask myself if I am enforcing an unrealistic standard for myself, or failing to fully value/demand contributions of fathers.

Guilt AssessmentWhen I feel guilty about my mothering, particularly about the many parts of my life that are not focused on my kids, I vow to ask myself, “What would I tell my daughter if she was grown and had children?  Would I think she should feel guilty about this?”

Rhododendron in my yard on Mother's Day

Validate my village.  I believe it takes a village to raise a child, and have created a wonderful one.  We are a parenting team.  I vow this year instead of feeling guilty for utilizing my village to validate the choices I made – they are good choices for my children and me.

Come out of the mothering closet.  This means being honest with other mothers about my experience of mothering, including the emotionally, physically, and mentally hard aspects of parenting, as well as the fact that I’m practicing egalitarian parenting with my husband.

Stand up for fathers.  I vow to speak up when fathers are being portrayed as less than full parents!

Demand more from fathers.  Fathers are “mothers” too!  I vow to keep insisting fathers be brought into the discussion as the “mommy wars” inevitably rage on.  Mothers arguing about how to mother serves to continue to let men off the hook of full parenting.  This is a disservice to men, women, and children, and offensive to all those wonderful dads, like my husband Seth, who as fathers, are every bit as much a “mother” as I am.

Martyr no more.  I refuse to buy into the mother-martyr standard of mothering.  I will not engage in the competitive martyr mentality and try to one-up other moms, and I will let go of guilt about not being enough of a martyr.  I will speak up about all the ways I don’t martyr myself in order to empower other mothers to do the same!

Demand mothers’ rights.  “Mommy wars” turn women’s attention off the ways in which institutions in our culture have not caught up with the women’s movement and are failing us, and turn it onto ourselves.  When we are paralyzed by guilt or tearing each other down, we are not banding together to demand better.  Mothers and fathers need family-friendly, human-friendly policies to promote work-life balance!

Copyright 2012, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.


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Mother’s Day

THIS SUNDAY, MAY 13, 2012 — Mother’s Day in the United States — women everywhere will simultaneously post this letter to their blogs, websites and Facebook pages, to honor the work of Mothers around the world.

YOU ARE INVITED TO ADD YOUR VOICE. To join our Mother’s Day Blog-In simply,

1. Copy & paste this letter on your blog, Facebook or Google+ page.

2. Add your name and links to your site, work or organization in the comments below. 

3. Tweet, share and post the link to your letter using the hashtag #MothersSpeakOut

We also invite all mothers to post a comment or image about their authentic, true reality as a mother — ones that they don’t often see reflected in the mainstream media.

* * * * * * * 

Together, Mothers Are Powerful. 

Last month’s furor over the remarks of political pundits and candidate’s wives launched a flurry of conversation among mothers.

Mothers have a voice of their own to add to the discussion. Authors, activists and others have been writing and identifying the issues raised this political season for decades, and women have been listening, again and again.

It’s time for mothers’ own voices to be heard.

We are a bi-partisan coalition of women’s organizations, experts, and writers who have diligently worked on bringing mother’s issues into the mainstream political discussion.

Some of us are advocates, and some are community organizations. Many of us are authors and experts about mothers’ lives as well.  All of us recognize the value of a mother’s contribution to her family, both the paid and unpaid work that women do.

Our message is simple: all mothers need more support.

This Mother’s Day we want to get the word out about our ideas, our work, and our priorities. We offer the following list to provide resources for real information and places for women to gather for intelligent discourse on the many problems — and solutions — to the issues facing mothers and families.

We offer this list as an alternative to the tired and cliched coverage of mothers in the mainstream media.

Please join your voice with ours this Mother’s Day. Together, Mothers are powerful.

* * * * *

To the Queer Kids of the United States: Amendment One is a Form of Bullying

Originally Appeared on RoleReboot.org, also appears on Feministing.com

This letter is to all the queer kids, the gay, lesbian, and bi kids, to the young adults who identify as transgender, genderqueer, pansexual, and/or androgynous, to the questioning kids, to the kids who were born intersex, to the high school and college kids in North Carolina and around the country.  This is to the elementary and junior high kids who are gender variant.  This is to all the kids who don’t fall neatly into the categories of “man” or “woman” or whose sexual and/or affectional orientations aren’t exclusively toward someone who falls into the opposite neatly-defined category.

Yesterday, a group of grown-ups voted overwhelmingly to use constitutional powers in the state of North Carolina to define marriage as between “one man and one woman.”  These were no doubt many of the same grown-ups who for much of last year were all riled up about bullying in schools and teen suicide.  As you probably know, the state had already used its constitution to ban “same-sex marriage.”  Apparently it was not enough to stop gay folks from marrying, the voters of NC felt the need to be absolutely sure there would be no way you would share equal rights, through civil unions, or any other measure.  Instead of democracy being utilized to protect minorities against hostile majorities, in this case, it is being used to legalize discrimination.  If this was really about marriage and its meaning, why not stop at a marriage ban?  This is bullying pure and simple.

When I was in high school, there was a rule that in order for a same-sex couple to attend the prom, they had to appear before the principal, “explain the nature of their relationship,” and get permission.  According to wikipedia, bullying is a form of “aggressive behavior,” involving “intimidation or coercion” that is often characterized by an “imbalance of power.”  Our school administration had more power than students, and was coercing same-sex couples not to attend the prom by setting up an intimidating situation.  What high school couple, gay or straight, would feel comfortable having to explain “the nature of their relationship” to the high school principal?  Grown-ups can bully kids as well as other kids.

That was 16 years ago.  I would like to think that if your school principal made rules at your school blatantly intended to bestow certain privileges on straight kids, and outright deny them the queer kids, grown-ups would be up in arms, civil rights lawyers would be on call, change.org petitions would be circulating, and youtube videos would be going viral.  What if the football coach decided to require you to be straight to be on the team?  What if the criteria for being on the honor roll necessitated being cis-gender?  What if the graduation requirements included “gender normative behavior,” clearly identifying you as “male” or “female?”  Adults would never stand for other adults bullying you in this way and stomping on your rights.  And yet… haven’t they?  Denying crucial rights of being able to protect yourself and your future family sets up a series of intimidating situations.  These scenarios, like not being able to come to your partners aide at the hospital, facing loss of rights to your own children, and financial discrimination, are meant to coerce you into gender and hetero-normative behavior.

Amendment one is bullying, pure and simple.  It may not send a kid to the brink of severe depression, or worse, the way daily threats and slurs by other kids could, partly because, as young people, your peer group is so critically important.  However, amending the constitution of a state to make sure you will not have rights that straight people have adds to an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation.  Any grown-up who doesn’t see that is kidding themselves.  Perhaps when they cast their ballots yesterday, North Carolina’s adults weren’t thinking about gay kids sitting in their rooms contemplating whether it’s preferable to live in this world queer or not live in this world.  Perhaps they were picturing other adults who those voters imagined could weather that emotional burden.  Perhaps they were not thinking of human beings at all.  Perhaps they think that by passing this law they will somehow prevent or contain your queerness, but we know that’s as absurd as thinking keeping you ignorant about sex is going to stop you from having it.  Eventually it is going to occur to you that our society is bullying you.  The emotional toll of living in a society that would amend constitutions to deny you rights and the inevitable outcome that will have for some of you will be blood on the hands of those grown-ups in North Carolina.

I know what you’re thinking queer kids.  How are they even going to figure out which relationships will count as “one man and one woman?  Will transmen count as men?  Where will the line be drawn?  Will full gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy be necessary to be considered solidly within one or the other gender?  Or will natal biological gender stand no matter the steps one has taken to change one’s biological sex?  How will a natal woman who identifies as male but doesn’t have a penis determine who he is legally permitted to marry?    Thus, does this law actually also require one must be cis-gender to marry?  What about the almost 2% of North Carolina’s population who were born intersex and thus don’t fit biologically into male/female categories?  Will they be allowed to marry anyone?  No one?  What about the folks who identify as genderqueer, androgynous, neither male nor female, or both male and female?  Will these folks be able to marry?

I don’t need to tell you the answers to these questions, because you already know.  The answer is they don’t know.  The answer is many of those grown-ups who are so enraged about kids being bullied don’t even know these identity categories exist.  Perhaps they’ve never sat and talked with someone who is suffering the torment of feeling her gender identity does not fit with her biological body?  Perhaps they’ve never considered that male and female might not be neatly defined, discrete categories for everyone in society?  Perhaps some of them are themselves transgender, gender variant, or were born intersex, but feel you should live your lives in silence and conform to gender norms as they did.  Perhaps they believe by stopping you from marrying, they can force Pandora’s box closed and never have to wrestle with any of these questions.  But they can’t, because of you.

This is not one of those letters apologizing for the bigotry and ignorance in the world you are about to inherit.  It is a call to action and a recognition of your tremendous power.  The balance of power may lie with the bullies now, but that is going to change.  Many of you voted and advocated against this amendment yesterday, and many more of you will be voting soon.  You young people are overwhelmingly more likely than your parents and their peers to support equal rights.  You are thinking outside the gender binary and questioning traditional notions of identity with language and ways of being that are not even on the voting public’s radar yet.  As more parents demand rights and respect for their gay and gender non-conforming kids, and as you all become increasingly empowered, your voices will become louder.  Through natural demographic shifts your numbers and the numbers of your allies will increase.  As you continue to use the internet and social media, tools you utilize better than any of us, that power imbalance will start to shift, as you become more and more visible.  So if you are feeling bullied today I want to validate that feeling and say that yes, you are being bullied, but it is not forever.  It gets better.  You are going to fix this.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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Math is Not Enough – Negotiating Egalitarian Marriages and Partnerships

I recently received an email from a reader asking how Seth and I negotiate finances in our marriage.  Conflict over finances and division of labor is rampant in marriages and partnerships, whether traditional or egalitarian.  In traditional marriages where roles may be clearer, with men laboring outside the home, and women inside, conflicts may still arise about how to spend money and who controls it.  If roles are reversed, the same dynamics can still appear.  For example, a stay-at-home dad talks about how he found himself going out of his way to sexually please his high-earning wife to gain power over financial decisions in this post on Role Reboot.  Conflict can also arise when partners disagree about how traditional or egalitarian their marriage should be, essentially a question of how power will be negotiated.

In egalitarian marriage, there is a commitment to equalizing power.  This inherently asks more of partners in the way of negotiation.  If power imbalances exist, we are called on the rectify them, rather than accept that as “just the way it is.”  The main power dynamics in traditional, heterosexual marriages relate to gender.  Thus, in egalitarian marriage, we equalize power by giving gender less weight.  Firstly, this means power is not given out or assumed based on gender (traditionally on being male).  Further, the value of labor is also not dictated by gender.  Traditional “women’s work” has historically been devalued.  Additionally, women do not earn the same pay as men for the same labor outside the home.  As a result of these societal realities, to be truly egalitarian, the value of labor must be separated from its monetary value.  Thus, our value in the relationship is not earned, it is inherent in us as people and independent of our earning potential.

Egalitarian father Seth, holding O's hand

Secondly, in egalitarian marriages, decisions about how to structure division of labor in families are made based on criteria other than gender.  For example, a question may arise about who will do the dishes after dinner.  A traditional way to solve this problem would be concluding doing dishes is woman’s work.  An egalitarian way to solve it could be to base it on who cooked dinner, who washes dishes more efficiently, who has time on a given night, or deciding to take turns no matter what else is going on.  You can see where the answer might be clearer when based on gender.  Gay couples do not have the option of dividing labor based on gender and thus are sometimes more well versed in  division of labor negotiations.

Often it is tempting to assume in egalitarian marriages “everything is equal” so there are no power dynamics.  But, power imbalances and negotiations occur in all human relationships.  Egalitarianism requires constant negotiation.  It is not a pronouncement made at the beginning of a relationship that holds true for all time, it is a guiding principal that informs our continual interplay with our partners.  I frequently see couples attempting to “balance” power in marriages and relationships with math.  For example, couples will calculate who spends more hours working, who does a greater number of household tasks, who spends more time at childcare, who brings in or spends more money, or who feels like the most shit at the end of day (okay, that one is less mathematical).

These mathematical negotiations can sometimes give us a global idea of how equal things are.  For example, Seth works full-time and I work part-time and am home with children part-time.  When counting childcare as work (as any sane person should), Seth and I both work approximately 12 hour days five days a week.  We split childcare on weekends (not with any kind of mathematical formula, it just works out that way).  Obviously, working full-time, he makes more money than I do, but I provide childcare which enables him to leave the home and work.  Seth and I don’t plan out our schedule so that we both work the exact same number of hours, but doing this math gives a rough estimate of basic equality of workload.  However, there is way more to equality than this kind of math can quantify.

Seth's creations for a dinner party

Our finances are completely combined, which is ironic, and a little frightening, as I swore for years to never mix my money together with a man’s.  Before marrying, Seth and I had a plan to pool our earnings together, no matter how different, make all necessary monthly payments, and then split the remainder into two separate accounts.  This would be “our own money” with which we could do what we pleased.  This plan was egalitarian in that the power to make financial decisions was not based on level of earnings or the type of labor each partner would be doing.  When this plan was made, however, Seth and I were living in a magical fantasyland where people have extra money at the end of the month.  One major thing we didn’t anticipate was that shortly after having children, Seth would leave a job at which he was miserable, for one that paid almost half as much, but affords him greater happiness and more time with our precious babies.

This experience is a great example of continued negotiation.  We make a plan for division of labor and finances, than we tweak it and tweak it, and sometimes throw it out and start all over.  From what I’ve seen, in most marriages, one or often both partners feel they are doing more than their share.  Math calculations meant to “prove” who is doing more often fail to take into account critical aspects of true equality.

Aspects of equality that can’t be measured by math and should be part of division of labor negotiations:

1)       Strengths, Weaknesses, and Limitations – People are wired differently.  My husband simply has more energy than I do (or than most anyone does).  He keeps going and going, like the energizer bunny.  Asking him to do less tasks just to make things exactly even is a waste of family resources, and expecting me to become more like him is unrealistic and unfair.  There are also times in our lives when for whatever reason, we are capable of more or less.  Emotional and medical crises or ongoing conditions may require us to take on significantly more than a partner.  Unless these situations are deal-breakers for our relationship, they need to be taken into account when dividing labor.  Equality does not mean equally capable at all times, it means equally contributing to the extent one is able.  Yes, egalitarian marriage is a little like socialism.

2)      Happiness – A related concept.  If everything seems “equal” according to math, but one partner is horribly miserable, things may need to shift.  Equality must take into account a balance in overall happiness, including ability to pursue life passions, career satisfaction, personal and spiritual fulfillment, etc.  For example, one partner may take a less appealing job that pays more so the other who has been miserable in his job for years can go back to school.  Supposed “equality” can really suck if one’s partner is miserable!

3)      Emotional Toll – Some labor is more emotionally gruelling , and thus takes a toll on the body, mind, and heart in ways that cannot be quantified by time.  An hour spent consoling a screaming child, talking a suicidal patient into voluntary commitment, sitting by the bedside of a dying parent, or taking a critical deposition of a hostile witness really can’t be mathematically compared to an hour spent entering benign data into a database, writing a brief, monitoring children playing harmlessly, or creating an architectural design.

In general, childcare is extremely emotionally taxing, and care of one’s own children is emotionally taxing in ways our culture fails to grasp even at a basic level.  Inner turmoil and guilt surrounding natural ambivalent feelings about our children can tax us to the extreme.  These feelings are particularly culturally forbidden for mothers, and may be worsened for mothers who make the choice to practice equal parenting.  Additionally, mothers do not receive the positive validation men do for childcare.  On the other hand, men who engage in frequent childcare must face the emotional toll of being perceived as gender variant, as well as not performing their culturally sanctioned roll as “provider.”  Many of us experience the effects of these feelings but are unable to articulate them to ourselves or our partners.  Emotional work, whether in or outside the home, requires extra time off to process, decompress, unwind, and care for ourselves.

4)      Physical Toll – Some work is also more physically grueling than others.  Again, garbage collecting, landscaping, and repeatedly carrying 20 pound twins cannot really be compared to sitting at a desk or in meetings most of the day.  An hour at a physically grueling job may take a greater toll and require more time to recover physically.

5)      Personal Preferences and Quirks –  Ahhhh… the downfall of many a well-meaning egalitarian couple!  There are levels of necessity for both household labor (including childcare) and work outside the home.  For example, feeding children is a life-or-death task.  Sweeping the floor can be put off for a time, but eventually has to be done.  You could probably get away with never folding sheets, although most people would typically want this to be done.  Waxing furniture is a task that could be seen as totally unnecessary.  Partners will have different opinions about which tasks should be prioritized and how much.  For example, if one partner cannot leave the house unless the sink is empty of dishes, that person may end up doing more than “his share” because he has this requirement.  The less necessary the task, the less weight it should be given in the division of labor.

Many people require their homes to be neat and clean in a way that goes well beyond safety, cleanliness and even basic aesthetic desirability.  These people cannot really expect their partners to do half of that work if they don’t see it as necessary.  Further, some people are workaholics and do way more work at their jobs than is necessary.  If this fills some need for them or is just part of their personality, they can’t really expect their spouse to rise to the same level of workload when it isn’t necessary.  Some people view cooking as a hobby, or find cleaning soothing and relaxing.  These tasks should be given less weight when compared to onerous chores.  In general, if a partner has preferences or quirks that require unnecessary work to be done, the other partner cannot be expected to fully reciprocate that.

6)      Division of Labor Equalizes Over Time, Not at a Given Time – Calculations meant to assess division of labor at a given point in time in the life of a relationship cannot possibly take into account inevitable ebbs and flows.  While one partner is engaged in an artistic, educational, or vocational pursuit that is all-consuming, the other may take on a greater share of household and childcare labor or financial burden.  Several years later, the other partner’s goals may be prioritized.

7)      Career and Earning Potential Losses – Partners who spend time at household labor and childcare inevitably make career sacrifices.  For example, I am progressing in my career slowly right now because I am doing more childcare and working part-time.  To look at it pragmatically, if Seth and I were to break up, I would have incurred vulnerability in terms of my earning potential and be less advanced in my career.  Things like missed promotions, earnings one could have made, research that could have been published, and books unwritten are impossible to mathematically quantify.  I often hear partners complaining that their partner is not contributing financially, but I rarely hear those partners recognizing the sacrifices their partner is making by “not contributing financially.”

8)      Normalizing Overload – This is a big one!  Many people assume that is they are completely overtaxed, their partner must not be doing his/her share.  The fact that one or more partners feel completely maxed out and almost at the brink of collapse does not necessarily imply inequality, at least not within the couple!  This is especially true if a couple has young children, needy aging parents or other crises going on in their lives.  The truth is two people can feel taken advantage of and miserable and the reality can just be their lives are equally sucky at that time.  Taking feeling overwhelmed as a sign your relationship is inequitable can unnecessarily add marital problems to your long list of stresses.  I personally believe family life structured around one isolated couple and their children is quite unrealistic and leaves us all overburdened, especially when combined with economic inequalities and lack of social supports for families, but that is another post or twelve.

9)      Sometimes Equality Requires Outside Help – There are times when in order to reach equality, not just based on math, but based on the criteria above, outside help is needed.  For example, let’s say Amy and Sue are a lesbian couple.  Amy is extremely high energy and ambitious.  She works 80 hours a week at a hedge fund.  Sue stays at home with their toddler, and is pregnant with their second child.  If Sue has a typical energy level, it may not be realistic for her to do childcare almost all the children’s waking hours while Amy works.  Even though Amy is the one contributing financially, Sue may need at least part-time help to stay sane and remain the person Amy married.  In my opinion, getting a bi-monthly house-cleaning service is the single most cost-effective way to lessen the labor load in a household.

10)  Respect and Basic Fairness versus Mathematical Debate – If discussions and negotiations of division of labor respect both partners, allow both to be heard, and focus on compromise they are likely to be more successful.  Negotiations based on proving one has been wronged or putting down the other partner’s contributions are doomed to fail.  Partners who feel criticized, blamed, and underappreciated are unlikely to agree to compromises that make the other partner feel things are more equitable.  We need to be able to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and truly empathize with what their labor is like in order to respectfully negotiate.

So how do you know if things are “equal” then?  There is no mathematical equation that will spit out what each partner is “worth” in terms of productivity level in a family’s division of labor.  The most important thing is to remember how much your partner is worth to you.  If you are with the right person, your partner is priceless, so his or her happiness  is of the highest value.  Maintaining an egalitarian marriage in an emotional, not a mathematical calculation.  Ultimately we must ask ourselves if there is basic fairness in our relationship, and if there is, avoid making our partner the enemy.  Focus negotiations on solutions rather than blame and accusations.  If basic fairness is lacking, that may signal that partners don’t agree on a foundation of egalitarianism.




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