Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book 2: Halving It All

So, the second book on my list that has prompted me to write is Halving it All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works by Francine Deutsch.
This book takes a look at equally shared parenting, the splitting of all facets of raising children 50/50 between both parents. Deutsch explains that this can mean each partner takes turns doing each thing or that the two devise some way to split up the different tasks between them. But, in the end, both must agree that the overall workload is split 50/50.

I'm only about one-third of the way through this book, so I can't comment on it as a whole just yet. What I did want to comment on was something that Deutsch talks about in Chapter 5: "Friends and Foes."

"Equal sharers seek out social circles that support their nontraditional lifestyles and avoid those that don't."
"Equal sharers do not simply find themselves in egalitarian social circles that now shape their everyday family life. Instead, they actively work to create this alternative world. For example, when considering to whom to compare themselves, they intentionally choose their more progressive peers."

Basically, Deutsch points out that equal sharers like to surround themselves by other equal sharers. There are discussions in the book as to why this is true, and most of them boil down to people being able to better justify their lifestyle choices when they are surrounded by other people who agree with them.

This, of course, makes sense, but it also seems problematic to me on a larger level.

I am, in my studies, very interested in the dichotomy of individuality/community, especially the role that it plays in shaping American identity. I firmly believe that Americans (and probably people in general, but all of my work has dealt with American examples), are forced into a paradox of having to stand alone and belong. American media and myths are filled with messages of self-reliance, individuality, and finding one's self. At the same time, our ethic is largely based on group identity as Americans (in the melting pot or the patchwork quilt) and our willingness to help others in need.

Before looking at the discussion of these self-created communities in Deutsch's study, I also want to consider what surrounding ourselves with like-minded people means on a rhetorical level. It's very easy to fully subscribe to an idea when everyone else around you confirms it. It is also really easy to fall into groupthink. I think that we see this happening a lot on our social and political fields at the moment. Everything is very polarized, and some argue that this is because people now have more control over what kind of information they take in. We can choose from a wide variety of news sources, television channels, YouTube videos, etc. Rather than making us more informed, however, sometimes this ability to choose creates a very insular worldview: we consciously choose media that reaffirms what we already believe, making it unnecessary to confrot opposing viewpoints with any level of scrutiny or analysis.

Okay, so, thinking about the community/individuality divide and the fact that we are rhetorically strongest when we are able to articulate and understand ideas counter to ours, what does it mean for equally shared parents who seek to surround themselves only with other equally sharing parents?

I, for one, am not going to have this option without cutting out a vast majority of my close friends, something I am not willing to do.

I also do not feel that my equal sharing is a "correct" moral choice. I think that it is the right choice for me and my family. In fact, I have never thought of doing it any other way. Neither has my husband. We've both known from the moment we entered our relationship that we both wanted careers. We've both participated in the day-to-day running of the household since the minute we started sharing one. Granted, we don't share every single task, but we do split all the tasks up evenly. Does that mean it always works perfectly? Of course not, but we always get back to the norm with a discussion and some tweaking.

I have encountered some people who seem to take my plan to equally share as an attack on their plan (or already enacted model). It's not. I find these personal choices just that, personal. There is no way for someone else looking in from the outside to understand the complexity with which a home is managed. There is no way that one method could work for all of the different types of people even in one community, let alone a whole country (or the whole world). I understand that having a sympathetic community who experiences similar challenges and rewards is important for everyone, but I don't think that isolation is an answer to anything.


  1. Two words: I agree.

    Though my husband and I don't really practice co-parenting, yet...

  2. I am aiming to achieve equal sharing although on the way there we have complete role reversal on the traditional model as I complete the hard yards of my training.

    I agree with much of what you have said but I'm interested to see your reflections once you have parented for a while

    I haven't stopped hanging out with non equal shared parents but there is a tension about our differences which really upsets me. If parenting is talked about someone gets upset, mostly we avoid talking about it

    You hit the nail on the head by saying people see your choices as an attack on theirs when in truth most people are just trying to make their family work the best it can..

    But we are humans after all...we have an ego...and on some level we like to think our choices are rather wonderful and possibly better than others if we're not keeping track of our egos.

    And when others question your ways, it cuts deep.

    Humans are complex beings...

  3. bekkles: I think you're right that I won't know how this all plays out until I've been a parent for a while. I think this will be doubly complicated by the fact that I live in a different city and won't see many of my close friends with families on a regular basis. I wonder if the families that I seek out in my own community will more closely follow a shared model. If so, I wonder how much of a conscious decision that is on my part. We are definitely complex beings.

  4. When you're the minority, it may be even more important to have a group of friends who are like you and support you. I definitely find that my husband participates more in child-rearing and general family management than most other men. The only exception is a few couples where the wife has the higher flying career and the husband takes on a greater role at home; they must feel even more isolated! My point is that because the social norm is such that women are expected to do more at home, it is easy to feel guilty for not doing enough, even if you're just doing your equal share. Seeing other people where the wife does more reinforces your guilt as a woman, and may undermine the motivation of husbands who practice equal sharing, since they may feel, subjectively, that they're doing more than their equal share, that they're being real heroes. I agree that this is not a reason to surround yourself ONLY with equal sharers, but I think it is important to have at least a few close friends who are similar to you.

  5. Johanna, I completely agree with that. Isolation goes both ways, so if you are surrounded only by people who parent differently from you, you are just isolated in the other direction. And I think that it's much easier to vent frustrations and find solutions to specific problems with people who are in similar circumstances. I just worry that we polarize a topic that shouldn't be polarized when we try too hard to avoid people who do it differently.