Tag Archives: parental roles

Equal parenting: What is fairness?

In reading The New York Times’s article “When Mom and Dad Share It All” by Lisa Belkin, I could not help but think about whether or not the “equal shared parenting” described here is really the best option in a household. It seems that what we have read about and what tends to be posed in literature when it comes to the splitting of parental roles are the two extremes: the traditional model with the maternal figure being the primary or sole caretaker and this “equal parenting” with a 50-50 split between the two parties. An example of this latter strategy can be seen in the Vachon family, where “They would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence” (Belkin).

But what if one has a naturally more demanding career and does not have as much free time? Or what if one person loves cooking and another hates it? Should these things still be evenly split no matter what? Perhaps rather than splitting each task itself in half, tasks can be split according to skill set or flexibility. Even in just remembering that long list that we came up with as a class of household tasks one must oversee, it seems inefficient to try to split every single one up, and potentially unfair if it puts more of a burden on one parent to meet those needs.

Judith Warner supports this notion and even takes it a step forward in her Time post “Equal Parenting: Why We Need to Rethink a 50-50 Split.” She talks about how, if one partner wants to do more of the caretaking role, should they not be allowed to because it would break that balance? Or if the breadwinner of the family — and in her case she talks about instances where the wife inhabits that role — feels they are unable to dedicate their full half, does that make them an inadequate parent? I think that rather than “equality” necessarily, we should focus on the concept of “fairness” when it comes to the matter of shared parenting.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Warner, Judith. “Equal Parenting: Why We Need to Rethink a 50-50 Split.” TIME.com. TIME, 1 June 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.


Big Question: What is motherhood?

As our understanding of gender evolves we must ask, “What defines motherhood?” Until the mid-twentieth century, motherhood was generally confined to reproduction, childcare, and housework. [1],[2] Despite many decades of change, this traditional understanding of motherhood remains the basis of our social knowledge. Nonetheless, with the groundwork done by previous waves of feminism, today’s mothers are challenging traditional feminine motherhood unlike ever before.

With third-wave feminism’s reevaluation of femininity, mothers are uniquely challenging the presumed responsibilities of motherhood. Specifically, they are exploring different divisions of childcare and housework. Instead of accepting traditional motherhood responsibilities such as feeding and clothing, women are asking why they shouldn’t be the ones to mow the lawn. Moreover, many are noticing and demanding change in the unequal amount of time they spend (while working full time) on household chores and childcare compared to men.[3] Today’s women are increasingly focusing on inequalities in their family lives, meaning tomorrow’s mothers and fathers may approach the world from a different perspective.

The question of what motherhood is must also be asked in the context of family variability. Increasingly, there are families comprised of two gay or lesbian parents. Can a family have zero or two mothers? For many today, motherhood is separate from reproduction. Outsourced childcare, especially to nannies of vastly different cultural upbringings, is increasingly common.[4] Many women have children through alternative processes such surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization, meaning children may not be biologically related to or physically born from their mothers. Variability means that today’s motherhood is about complicating, if not transcending gender.

Ultimately, our evolving answer to the question, “What is motherhood?” is of particular importance due to the historical role motherhood plays in the family—humanity’s foundational social unit. In considering the bigger picture, we thus must ask, “As motherhood changes how will our society as a whole change?”


[1] Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “The Sexual Politics of Sickness,” in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women, 2nd ed. (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), 113.

[2] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 189.

[3] Lisa Belkin, “When Mom and Dad Share It All,” NYTimes Magazine, June 15, 2008, 4, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[4] Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, “Global Woman,” in Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology, by Estelle Disch, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 445.