Does Truly Equal Parenting Exist?

Last weekend The New York Times magazine published a rather long article on shared parenting entitled, “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, shared parenting is when both parents attempt to split child rearing responsibilities equally.  In the piece, Lisa Belkin profiles several families in their efforts to skew traditional gender roles in favor for a more balanced approach to raising children and tackling household chores.

I can see the attraction to this parenting technique, at least in theory.  When both parents work a compressed or alternative schedule, children get to spend more time with mom and dad - and mom and dad share equally in everything, from bath time to bedtime. 

The biggest challenge of shared parenting, as explained by the article, is the tendency to fall into traditional gender rolls due to societal pressures or simple preferences.  She buys the birthday gifts and sends the thank-you cards because he doesn’t see the need and she doesn’t want to be perceived as rude.  He prefers mowing the lawn and she prefers shopping for the kids’ clothes - does that mean that they aren’t sharing responsibilities equally?

The most interesting section of Belkin’s piece pertained to the research on lesbian couples.  It appears that there are discrepancies between the maternal parent and what is called the “co-parent” (non-maternal parent) in female homosexuals when children are infants and still nursing - but as offspring grow and separate from the breast, lesbian couples seem to split household and child-rearing duties fairly equally - without any regard to the gender role patterns heterosexual couples tend to fall into over time.  This makes perfect sense, of course, because both parents are women.

Here are a few questions for all of you parents out there:

  • Do you feel like you and your partner share equally in the household and child-related tasks?
  • How do single parents and stay-at-home parents feel about this approach?
  • Why do you think that couples who make an honest attempt at equal parenting tend to fall into traditional gender roles?

As someone who is still undecided about whether or not to become a parent, I look forward to your comments!

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8 Responses to “Does Truly Equal Parenting Exist?”

  1. Becky@FamilyandFinances Says:

    I’m not a parent yet, but even as a newly married women, I can see the gender roles in marriage. For my husband and I, it is definitely personal preference that just naturally tends to run along gender lines.

    My husband enjoys mowing the lawn and fixing things. He hates laundry and shopping! I detest home improvement projects (unless they involve gardening!) and feel pride when cooking for him and doing the laundry.

    I plan to stay home when we have kids, so we will be pretty “traditional” parents. I don’t mind it at all - it makes me think of the simplicity of the 1950’s. :)

  2. Chad @ Sentient Money Says:

    I would think a 50% split would be very rare in heterosexual couples. It’s not even so much that men or women won’t do certain chores, but both sides usually have different views on when some things need to be done…like cleaning.

    Of course, this is all based off of theory, as I have no significant other.

  3. Kelly from My Small Cents Says:

    I’ve been talking about this a lot with a friend of mine. We’re both moms to young kids, working part time, with husbands who have bigger salaries than we do. This leads to inequalities, but those aren’t necessarily bad, I don’t think, as long as both partners feel respected and it’s by choice.

  4. Agent99 Says:

    “Misconceptions” by Naomi Wolf is a good read on this topic if you want to explore further.

    I definitely do not feel that we share parenting 50/50 in my household (1 child, age 2). Some of it is the income discrepancy - my husband is the sole breadwinner right now as I stay home to save on daycare and retrain in order to make a career change, so sometimes I suck up some stuff in order to support him at work. Some things I do because I prefer the way I do them (financial planning, bill paying, some parenting issues, including scheduling appointments and social stuff), but in general, I’d like more support around the house (pick up crap after you use it, at least). We have a sitter for when I take consulting projects, and then we really feel the stretch of not enough time. It impacts stuff like meal planning and the grocery bill for sure, as we end up relying on more convenience stuff. If I were a full time working parent, I don’t think we could pull off running a household the way we like it run without some cleaning help and a really good childcare situation. Luckily we are in professional fields and this is possible if needed, so we count our blessings.

    I have a friend who is an attorney, and her husband was the lesser earner, so he is the stay-at-home dad in their situation. She feels like he shuts down when she gets home, and she handles all stuff like dinner, bath, night wakings, plus housework. So he’s basically putting in an 8-10 hour day, as if it were just a job. Needless to say, there is friction of a very difficult variety.

    The advice I give to friends considering children is “do it if you can’t imagine not having a child in your life.” I think it helps to feel it in your bones, not just “Maybe it would be a good thing to do.” Of course I say this as someone who was ambivalent but had a child before 30 due to a known reproductive health issue that gets progressively worse. I was not ready (they say you never truly are but come on), and the adjustment was all that harder. It is NOT pretty some days, even with two parents on the job. Think stomach bug tearing through the whole house, that sort of thing. Anyway, it’s not something to do just because you “should.” There are a lot of points to be made for or against it, and it’s a hard choice with a lot of societal and personal ramifications either way.

  5. Frugal Babe » Archive » New Sewing Machine Says:

    […] Girl has an interesting article about splitting parenting duties.  My husband and I both work at home for now, although I’ll be going back to the library on […]

  6. Bridget Says:

    I want to know what the split was for gay men. I can understand the lesbian couples but I think married gay men with children are the key to mothers’ equality. I think they will show that men are just as capable and nurturing as women and may liberate the men from the “breadwinner” position and free women from the “forced” mother position. Some of us women love being mothers but we’re just not cut out for the full time gig. Most men aren’t full time dads so why should we?

    Great post and I’m happy to have found your blog.

  7. Almost Frugal Carnivals, Festivals and Link Love — almost frugal Says:

    […] Girl talks about shared parenting. I read the original article she references, in the NY Times, and I like her take on […]

  8. S.X.R. Says:

    We don’t have kids yet (although we have needy pets), but luckily in our house chores and responsibilities are mostly based on who does what better. He does the dishes and I do the laundry. He does the sweeping and I do the litter boxes. Etc. I’m also fortunate that he likes a clean house so we never fall into the sometimes stereotyped male slob issue. We also take on more responsibilities if the other is temporarily really stressed or busy with work/family issue/etc so that person has time to tend to the issue at hand (eg. when I was trying to finish my thesis). I feel very lucky we are so compatible on these issues!

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