Would We Say That to Dads?

Full post appears here on RoleReboot.org.

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The 10 Commandments For Working Fatherhood

5 Comments To Avoid Saying To A Working Dad

The Myth Of The Rich, Selfish Working Dad

Have you seen these headlines? No? That’s because they don’t exist. Links to the real headlines appear at the end of this piece. They, and the millions like them, are actually about working moms. Working moms are without a doubt the most picked apart, analyzed, written about, advised, talked down to, talked up to, monitored, and micro-managed group in society. And when working moms speak about being working moms, we listen, and then we attack.

This article is not meant to weigh in on any of these debates. Rather, this article asks the critical question: Would we say that to dads?

If the topic du jour sounds absurd when the word “Dad” is substituted for “Mom,” we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if our energy is being well utilized. Instead of answering and re-answering the age-old questions about working moms—Are they harming their kids? Are they helping them? Are they too selfish, too rich, and spoiled, too frazzled, pulled in too many directions?—let’s ask a different question. A critical question.

Why aren’t we talking about dads?

Click here to read the rest!!

Then check out these additional ridiculous headlines, gathered and re-gendered by reader Mark.  Thanks Mark!

Runner Dads: A running dad’s guide to jogging with the stroller

The New Unmarried Dads
 
More Dads Say Full-Time Work Is Ideal
 
Working dads, don’t try to be perfect at home
 
Tired Dads Are More Dangerous Behind the Wheel Than Drunk Dads
 
More Work and No Play Puts Today’s Dads in a Tough Bind

 

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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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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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My Husband Does Do That Part 2 (Not My Mom Part 3)

In the early 1900s, pink was considered a color for boys.  Wikipedia quotes an article from a 1918 trade publication as saying; “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink.

Imagine seeing a boy baby dressed in pink?  Imagine dressing your baby boy in pink?  How can these things feel so wrong down to the fiber of our souls and yet be so completely and utterly culturally constructed and random?  But they are.

Despite my belief that gender roles are largely socially constructed, I do not practice what I preach.  I don’t live my life as an androgynous being.  Anyone who saw me would know I was a woman.  Not a girly girl, but also not a woman who is trying to make a statement about gender.  Just your average woman.

I don’t wear make-up or much jewelry, don’t do nail polish, refuse to spend more than five minutes doing my hair.  That said, I enjoy looking nice, and let’s be honest, part of that is looking my gender.  Unless I can somehow magically extract my own mind from its cultural context, I’m never going to look in the mirror at the long dark hair on my legs and think –  I look so beautifully natural, time to go out for a night on the town. 

I try to strike a balance in which I can feel good about myself in the real world, but don’t allow myself to be convinced that I have to mutilate myself, go through painful procedures, put chemicals on my face, take drugs or pills, or buy expensive hair and skin products (again filled with chemicals) to feel like a woman.

I guess you could say that balance is also reflected in my choice of mate.  While Seth also looks like a man, his gender role is quite flexible.

Seth doesn’t have a macho bone in his body.  I know more about sports than he does, and that’s not saying much.

He doesn’t talk shit about women or make nasty jokes or brag about sexual conquests (no really, I’m certain).

He is 100% comfortable with homosexuality.

He is wonderfully domestic.  He is a better cook than I am, does more housework than I do, and he is every bit as competent with our infants as I.

I’ll never forget the first time my husband and I had my Dad and step-mom over for dinner.  Seth cooked so I could talk to my family.  My Dad was utterly perplexed.  He just sat there stupefied, unable to understand what was going on.

I had arrived… I was not my mom!

I often hear women complaining that their male partners don’t “help” enough with children, do housework, etc., but these same women don’t seem willing to be flexible in their own gender roles.  As long as we have the attitude that we can do it better, men probably won’t step up, because what man enjoys feeling incompetent?

We have to believe men can care for children and manage homes, just as we believe we can run companies and lead nations, rather than expect them to “help” while we maintain control over the domains of children and home.  How would we react to that kind of attitude toward our entering the public sphere?

If you want a truly egalitarian life, don’t accept a partner who doesn’t, and don’t be fooled by the belief that there are no men out there with flexible gender roles.  You don’t have to swear off gender all together, but be willing to practice flexibility yourself.  Be the kind of person you want to find.

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