Parenting re-imagined

More room to answer God’s calL

A few months ago I started this series with a question my students have asked: If two people are equally talented, can it be one person’s calling to support the other person? It’s an important question. But if the work world were reorganized, as I suggested last month, it might be a question that fewer people have to struggle with. How great it would be if two people, equally talented, could raise a family and work in the public world together, while supporting each other.

The Equally Shared Parenting (ESP) movement is one attempt to do that. It encourages both partners to share equally in four “domains”: child rearing, housework, breadwinning and time for self. In ESP both parents work in their chosen field at half- or three-quarters-time rather than full-time. Both parents are responsible for running the home and knowing details of each child’s physical and emotional development. The result includes mothers without the resume gaps that so many women today have after taking time off. It is an inefficient life in some ways, but everyone benefits from integrating each part of who they are with the needs of the family.

Though the shared parenting movement has been around since the 1970s, it gained more traction recently when Marc and Amy Vachon took to the internet to share their story. Their book, Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents, along with the accompanying website, have galvanized parents who are committed to supporting each other in the professional world and at home.

With essays outlining the benefits and challenges that accompany the four domains, the Vachons argue that ESP is parenting with “half the work and all of the fun.” For Christians the goal would be that both parents have room to balance their lives so that at any given time, no matter what the chore, each understands God’s call to them in every aspect of their lives.

Breadwinning: both parents put in about the same amount of time on their work, and the financial responsibility is shared.

The Vachons and others like them recognize that the work world is the first key to beginning ESP. If both partners share breadwinning they are likely to scale back professional life while children are growing up. This means that if they are lucky enough to find work that allows job-share or a 30 hour week, they will watch peers pass them by in the office. Often ESP families must make do with fewer amenities, reducing spending as they scale back hours at the office. On the plus side, ESP families are more able to survive economic downturns because bread winning is shared. And both partners have the ability to respond to God in the public world throughout their whole lives.

Children: Parents collaborate on childcare and each spends about the same amount of time alone with their children.

The Vachons share a story of a time their daughter fell off a swing. When she got up, she ran to her father even though her mother was standing right there. Others watched this and Amy worried that the other mothers would judge her. In our culture mothers are expected to know about children and fathers usually learn from the mothers. With ESP, however, mothers let go and fathers step up more fully.

The home: Both parents become adept at all chores, and appreciate all efforts.  

Equally Shared Parenting does not require a 50/50 split with care for the home but rather encourages each partner to know about all aspects of the home. The balance comes in the fact that each partner spends an equal amount of time and commitment to the tasks. The Vachons also point out that couples who share household responsibilities have more emotional and physical intimacy.

Self: parents having alone time to develop themselves in different ways without guilt.

Getting enough sleep, caring for our health, being involved in volunteer activities or hobbies – all of these are important. ESP makes it possible for parents to care for themselves in a balanced way.

Equally Shared Parenting isn’t for everyone, but how wonderful it would be if more of us had a choice to stay fully involved in our work and with our families. And if Christians are really going to answer God’s call to transform culture, arrangements like this give us – all of us – the ability to be responsive to God in every part of our lives.

  • Julia Stronks has practiced law and is the Edward B. Lindaman Chair at Whitworth University, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. She lives in Spokane, Wash.

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