Several weeks ago, Emily sent this post around to Bethany and me. This is not a piece I would have run across normally, since I don’t usually frequent the Scientific American site, but this article was at once both fascinating and horrifying for me. The article is long; it’s the description from a tenured faculty member at Harvard of how she managed life, work, husband, children, and a tenure-track position without losing her mind. I found that her thoughts on parenting were reflective of a common attitude concerning balancing work career and family life.
At the risk of making my blog post really long, I’m going to quote her entire paragraph on managing parenting with two careers:
- I aim to raise kids as an equal 50-50 partnership. This is a big one and I don’t want to make this seem obvious — the idea below was born after a long time of growing arguments and anger and resentment, which neither of us are eager to remember. Moving on though, we now happily tell our method to all parents.The basic idea is simple. We play zone-defense during the week: only one parent has childcare at a time. I do five days morning drop off (7-9am) and two days evening pickup (6-10pm), my husband does three days evening pickup and no drop offs. When you are on kid duty, all responsibilities are yours (feeding, bathing, where did the gloves go, yes I understand you want to cry inconsolably right now for no reason). But all rules are yours too; the other parent has to stay clear out of it and no comments allowed. When you are off kid duty, you can schedule the time as you please, stay late at work or take a tennis class or go drinking with buddies. No questions asked.I mostly work those days or schedule work-related social events on those evenings. This tag-team parenting also means we don’t all get together as a family during the week usually. So we decided: no job related work on the weekends. No reading or writing email, no reading grants and papers, no preparing lectures, no conference calls. The weekend is either for getting organized at home or just spending time together. We also carved out a chunk of our budget to get household help 3 times a week, to create more time for us on the weekends to be together as a family. Finally, if you want to break the rules, then you have to trade: for every evening I cover for him, he has to cover an evening that week for me. For every weekend I travel, I have to give him a weekend day off. No free lunch.
This arrangement of parental duties is destructive to both children and families. To steal a thought from Emily’s husband, this sort of agreement between Mom and Dad mimics a divorced household. During the week, the parents schedule the parenting duties: Tuesday is Mom, Wednesday is Dad. Tuesday is Mom-rules, Wednesday is Dad-rules. It doesn’t look like they have family dinners during the week, or even that the ‘off’ parent sees the children. The children get ferried back and forth between Mom and Dad, but the house remains the same.
The children in this scenario are treated more like the family car than as little people. Just as the car does not care who takes it in for the monthly oil change, the children do not care who puts them to bed at night. As the car has no preference for brand of oil, the kids do not mind the shifting rules from one night to the next. It is a mistake to think that children brought up with this kind of inconsistency will not carry that into their adult years. Children in this situation are not being treated as whole beings with an immortal soul–they are being treated as an item needing scheduling.
This sort of thinking is not damaging to the children alone. It is poison for our marriages. The author’s thinking that everything is tit-for-tat, that, as she says, there is no free lunch, is fundamentally wrong. There is no part of a marriage where we should keep tabs. It goes against the whole idea of a Christian marriage. Marriage is a giving of my life for that of my husband, and his for mine. Part of marriage, and family life, is not keeping tabs. Instead, we focus on how we can love and serve each other, husbands and wives, parents and children.
The funny thing about keeping tabs is that you usually don’t keep track of how often your husband has washed the dishes this week. Most of the time, you’re charting your own work, and how much your husband owes you. It’s our nature to do it that way. But part of being married is learning to deny yourself this nit-pickiness and learn to wash the dishes when they need washing, not when it’s your turn. To take out the trash when it needs taking out. To put the children to bed when they need putting to bed. To discipline the children when they need it. To cuddle with the children when they need it.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that family life can be divided this way. Our children are whole beings. Just because their physical needs may only require one parent at a time to be tending to them does not mean that their emotional state will be served equally well by this arrangement. They have been created for routine and consistency and simple lives with the same people, day in and day out. Give them the honor and dignity of a home life that nourishes them.