Monday, June 23, 2008

Equal Scary Parents

I was surprised not to read more posts / references to this article in the NY Times magazine last week (on Father's Day, no less) - When Mom and Dad Share It All.

(I just fact-checked myself - Bitch wrote about it, but I just saw it. Becca, I really expected something from you, and you, Casey.

It's about hetero couples who actively choose to divide their work - as parents, homeowners, etc - equally. I say hetero, because the data on lesbian couples shows a more even split, and there's not enough data on gay men yet. Hetero couples, however, typically split their work much less evenly.
...the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one. If you break out couples in which wives stay home and husbands are the sole earners, the number of hours goes up for women, to 38 hours of housework a week, and down a bit for men, to 12, a ratio of more than three to one. That makes sense, because the couple have defined home as one partner’s work. But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all. The lopsided ratio holds true however you construct and deconstruct a family. “Working class, middle class, upper class, it stays at two to one,” says Sampson Lee Blair, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo who studies the division of labor in families.

Friends, that is seriously f-ed up. I think we've got a good 50/50 split going on over here. Jesse cooks; I plan the meals and shop for them. I pull the laundry and sort it, and whoever is around washes it, hangs it, folds it, puts it away. We both straighten up as needed, and seem to trade off bursts of dishwashing. I keep the family calendar, plan trips, manage school documents etc - Jesse takes them to the doctor most often and can be found at the pool or playground much more frequently than me. He mows the yard; I plant things and keep them watered. We take turns taking out the trash. He does more bedtimes and teeth brushing, I take people to school every day. Most importantly, at the end of the day, either we're both on duty, or we communicate about needing time off, regardless of who did what work during the day.

But wait, there's more!

Housework, in this context, is defined as things like cooking, cleaning, yardwork and home repairs. Child care is a whole separate category — one that is even more skewed. The social scientist’s definition of child care “is attending to the physical needs of a child — dressing a child, cooking for a child, feeding and cleaning them,” Blair says. It doesn’t include the fun stuff, like playing and reading and kissing good night.

Where the housework ratio is two to one, the wife-to-husband ratio for child care in the United States is close to five to one. As with housework, that ratio does not change as much as you would expect when you account for who brings home a paycheck. In a family where Mom stays home and Dad goes to work, she spends 15 hours a week caring for children and he spends 2. In families in which both parents are wage earners, Mom’s average drops to 11 and Dad’s goes up to 3. Lest you think this is at least a significant improvement over our parents and grandparents, not so fast. “The most striking part,” Blair says, “is that none of this is all that different, in terms of ratio, from 90 years ago.”

This one reminds me of questions about my last name -

Messages, loud and soft, direct and oblique, reinforce contextual choice. “A pregnant woman and her husband,” Deutsch says, “how many people have asked her if she is going to go back to work after the baby? How many have asked him?”

When I was recently married, people would ask me what my new last name was, or what my maiden name had been, and I would always reply that neither Jesse nor I chose to change our names. This would elicit blank stares and puzzled looks.

The article goes on to talk about how we often make this worse than it is by our own words and actions -

She has a similar response to those who say that they would love to share equally but that one parent — almost always the wife — has parenting or housekeeping standards that the other cannot (or will not) meet. Dad dresses the children wrong and diapers them wrong and sends inadequate thank-you notes and leaves the house a mess. This may look like a cranky power struggle, Deutsch says, but the dynamic, which sociologists call “gatekeeping,” also reflects social pressures.

Jesse and I learned this lesson early on, when Hannah was an infant. As a new parent, I didn't know any more than he did, even though I'd given birth to her. I had to learn to let him do things his way, and not micro-manage every aspect of his parenting, and he had to learn that I was not intrinsically better suited for it than he was. Once we cleared that up, our partnership worked like a charm, and still does.

I loved this excerpt -
The problem made itself clear on the morning Amy went back to work and in that clarifying moment handed her husband the List. She was feeling anxious and vulnerable when she scribbled the schedule, she says. He ripped it not in anger (because Marc is the laid-back type who rarely gets angry), “but he clearly was telling me to butt out of his day with Maia.”

And my favorite line -
Marc’s first reaction was to point out that he was far more of a contributor to home and hearth than any man he knew. Amy told him — à la Francine Deutsch — that other men were beside the point.


Dialog, anyone?


peevish said...

Love the title!

This is one reason I'm not looking forward to re-entering the paid labor force. Who will do the laundry and clean the bathrooms while I'm gone?

Agent X said...

i read this article and thought a couple of things - 1. loved that Marc ripped up the note but I would have totally written the note too and 2. Marc had said that he decided to cut back on work/enjoy life more before he was married and then found it hard to find women who would date him - I was wondering where you would find such a person? Because I could totally be into that kind of person.

The weird part was how much they seemed to keep track though like god forbid one do more or less than the other. That would be too tiresome to keep track of.

Krispy said...

I'm tempted to track my day according to time and duties - because aren't all those survey results just guesstimates? What is my typical SAHM day really like? Would I be surprised? Would I be pleased? Would I be mad?

There's no doubt that the article feels that things are seriously f-ed up too. I complain about it AND yet I have a very supportive pitch-inny kind of partner! (as many people like to point out to me, at times to my annoyance. They seem surprised that an adult male can do something like interact with their child on a playground.)

I am more in sync with Amy's last remark that "other men are beside the point." It is about how each person FEELS in that relationship. Does it matter if the split comes down to 60/40 or 70/30 if both sides are okay with it and it works for both of them?

At a job, one relies on "teamwork;" allowing each players to work to their strengths. Why is it seemingly skewed to do the same thing at home? I think few parents consider themselves a team when it comes to parenting or housework - but are in competition with each - who does more, as this article points out, it is more about the idea of keeping score.