Equity + Home x Balance = Half the Work, All the FunJune 18, 2010
The expression “hands-off dad” is not a term in my husband’s vocabulary. Since the birth of our son, Noah, three years ago, my husband has served as the primary breadwinner, yet he requires no prompting when Noah needs a playmate, the house needs to be cleaned, or groceries need to be shopped for. Equal parenting gurus Amy and Marc Vachon would be quite proud.
The married couple and parents have coined the term “ESP,” otherwise known as equally shared parenting. They strive for clarity and an equitable division of labor among couples raising families. Beyond the division of domestic tasks, Amy and Marc also work equal hours, spend equal time with the children, and take equal responsibility for the home. Although I was a stay-at-home mom until our son turned two, when I went back to school and work, my husband and I divided duties equally without ever having a discussion; it was instinctual.
We began practicing ESP techniques long before I knew of the Vachons, but they are capitalizing off what should be widespread behaviors. However, what should be a common practice is not, because our society does not reflect equality when it comes to division of labor within families. Although women make up 50 percent of the workforce, we are still expected to not only work hard but also run the households and the PTA. Within The Shriver Report, a recent study of working women in America, Heather Boushey stated, “Most women today are providing for their families by working outside the home — and still earning less than men — while providing more than their fair share of care giving responsibilities at home.”
According to a recent article in the New York Times titled “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All,” 85 percent of Swedish men take parental leave to care for their families versus only 23 percent of American men. I cannot even imagine the plight of single custodial fathers left to make up the responsibility of two parents. Here in America we tout our progressive culture yet, if our culture serves as a mirror to society, what is our mirror reflecting?
Even with legislation such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, America is one of the lowest-ranking developed nations in terms of parental leave. Knowing that my husband’s multi-week vacation proposal to stay home with our son was met with raised eyebrows from his employer is a prime example of why our culture is stagnant in areas of paternal involvement. My friends and co-workers have echoed that sentiment. Why is a work-life balance and active paternal involvement still not the cultural norm? Equally shared parenting is tough in any aspects, but especially within American culture.
In my husband’s own words, “The best gift for father’s day is time well spent with family.” It would be nice if the gift could keep on giving throughout the year.
This post is by AAUW fellow Maureen Evans Arthurs.