In 1961, Kurt Vonnegut published a satirical dystopian short story, “Harrison Bergeron”. In this futuristic short story, every American is finally equal. No one person is smarter, stronger, more skilled, or more beautiful than the other. People who are born smarter or stronger are fitted with handicaps (bags filled with birdshot, heavy weights, disruptive radios, etc.) to bring them down to average. Through government regulated handicaps and Diana Moon Glampers, Handicapper General, this absurd standard of perfect equality is enforced on the population.
The basic premise of Vonnegut’s story is that perfect equality, down to having equally shared preferences and intelligence, isn’t possible. Reading through Lisa Belkin’s When Mom and Dad Share It All, I can’t help but be reminded of Vonnegut’s story and wonder if such an equal 50/50 split of housework is possible. Belkin provides a lot of examples of equally shared parenting, and the potential problems that arise. In one case, it’s a matter of preference; the wife enjoys doing the shopping for her child’s clothing while the husband doesn’t. Another is feasibility – what if one spouse/partner would prefer to work at home rather than work outside? How does one deal with the question of money and finance? If one partner earns a higher salary, is he or she required to contribute more to the house financially? The questions that arise are endless.
Personally, I prefer Marc and Amy’s (of the Equally Shared Parenting blog) response to shared parenting. On their blog, they start off with the codicil that 50/50 split of housework and childcare isn’t for everybody. What they emphasize more is the equality of choice, that both parents have equal say and responsibility in both housework and childcare. For example, when they discuss “breadwinning” they write that both spouses’ careers, regardless of what kind of career, are equally important and both partners are required to make equal sacrifices in order to balance the house with their careers, such as leaving work to take care of a child or passing by promotions. It is less about both father and mother making the same amount of money, or spending an equal amount of time at home, but rather assuming and equal amount of responsibility at home and receiving an equal amount of respect and consideration for their chosen career. Marc and Amy emphasize the importance of equality of choice in other aspects of shared parenting as well. For example in “childraising”, they write about how both parents, including the father, have a right to decide what is best for their children. While Marc’s parenting decisions are not necessarily the same as Amy’s, she still respects the decisions that he makes regarding their daughter, just as he does hers. With the removal of “mother knows best”, the arguments of men not knowing how to handle children or that women should know how no longer apply. While their daughter’s clothes may not always match perfectly and the house may not be ordered the way Amy wants it to be, they manage an amiable 50/50 split of responsibility, with neither Amy’s nor Marc’s contributions being deemed more valuable than the other. Marc and Amy may not have a perfectly equal 50/50 split of housework and childcare, but their equal split of responsibility for the house and their child appears to me like a more feasible and workable model of keeping house.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All”” NYTimes. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.
“Equally Shared Parenting” Amy and Marc Vachon (2011) http://equallysharedparenting.com/index.html
Vonnegut, Kurt. “Harrison Bergeron”. 1961.