Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - Page 9 News List

An experiment in equal parenting

Mothers do more housework than fathers. Twice as much, according to a recent report. So could a US couple’s scheme of strictly dividing childcare and chores redress the balance?

By Viv Groskop  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

I make a note to tell Simon about this.

In the evening we do not experience true and lasting intimacy. Instead we have a row for two hours. I tell Simon that I am livid about his spreadsheet. It should not be about calculating two hours here and two hours there. It should be about him working a three-day week like me. He argues that we cannot be exactly like the Vachons: They both want to work short hours. He doesn’t. I think this is a cop-out. We agree on one thing: We both feel unappreciated by the other.

This is the stuff of marriage guidance counseling. Oh, hell. What have I done?


DAY 4: MY ANTI-VACHON EPIPHANY

I speak to Francine Deutsch, professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and author of Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works.

“One of the things that has to happen,” she says, “is for both jobs to be considered equally important.”

Hmm. I often moan that my job takes second place because it’s more flexible. It’s always mothers who scale back, Deutsch adds. She’s right. If a child is sick or there is a calamity, I would expect to drop everything.

But if I’m honest this has got nothing to do with sexism — it’s about practicality. I work from home — in an emergency it would be ridiculous for me to phone Simon and yell: “You have to come home — I’m working.” Common sense trumps fairness. I am beginning to scent bitter defeat. But maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

DAY 5: PATRIARCHY’S REVENGE

A work thing comes up unexpectedly and I have to call my father up to look after Vera. The breadwinner when my sister and I were growing up in the 1970s, he has become our emergency babysitter in recent years.

I am beginning to wish I had never discovered equally shared parenting. It has only served to prove that Simon was right all along: Things are about as equal as they could be.

Simon works a half-day, finishing early to relieve my dad. Meanwhile I have filled out Marc and Amy’s “Toolbox,” which calculates the division of household chores. It turns out I do 21 domestic chores on my own, excelling in the areas of “present-buying” and “organizing childcare” (I employ the nanny). Simon does 19, although his list includes such fripperies as “snow-shoveling” and “assembling toys.” We do 32 things equally, including preparing meals, doing homework and “filing taxes.”

So it turns out we are both right. We are more or less equal. (But I am marginally more put-upon. Hurrah!) I decide not to fill out the section that works out who makes the biggest financial contribution. At the moment it’s me and I have no desire to rub this in Simon’s face. Later, we both agree that there is more to a relationship than childcare or money: There are hundreds of ways in which you support each other that can’t be measured. Or as Simon points out, “I am expecting you to become infirm before I do. So I will probably be looking after you in your later years. That is a priceless contribution.”

Thanks for that.

DAYS 6 AND 7: THE RECKONING

Simon spends all day Saturday looking after the children. I do everything I can to “share” on Sunday. But I still feel guilty. My obsession with doing everything “equally” was stopping me from seeing how much Simon was prepared to do. Before all this started I was on a one-woman mission to get him on the “mommy track” at work.

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