A Brief Review of
Equally Shared Parenting:
Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents.
Marc and Amy Vachon.
Hardback: Perigee, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger Smith.
In Equally Shared Parenting, Marc and Amy Vachon, layout plans, ideas, and encouragement for parents desiring to make their lives (not just parenting duties) as balanced as possible. The book title is a bit of a misnomer because it contains little actual parenting advice, but is solely concerned with the “Equally Sharing” part.
The philosophy (which the authors unfortunately abbreviate ESP) isn’t about turning traditional gender roles on their head — it’s about balancing equally all the elements of partnership and raising children. The authors define these as: child-raising, bread-winning, housework and time for self. Additionally “equally shared parenting aims to create an equal partnership between parents and an individually balanced life for each.”
There is much to be admired in what the Vachons present. Their approach to parenting is really a life approach and requires dedication, ambition and much communication to make work. Most people interviewed for the book embraced a form of voluntary simplicity. They’ve given up tenured-track professorships, climbing the corporate ladder, and normal upwardly mobile behaviors in order to put their families first. This doesn’t mean work isn’t important—quite the contrary. Ideally, the spouses would both have jobs they truly enjoy and could commit to doing extremely well. For example, most couples include two spouses working reduces or flexible schedules–something you have to be gutsy and hard-working enough to attain. This reduced schedule usually means less income, but it also means less paid childcare and more family time.
While I truly admire this aim for balancing, the family-centric focus of the book leaves little room for those of us with a more church-centric or community-centric focus. However, the authors would be the first to tell you that their ideas are suggestions or reminders—not hard and fast rules. In other words, tweak as you need or like.
Although you probably woudn’t pick up this book if you weren’t at least interested in a more balanced family life, there is good advice here even for more traditional partnerships. The Vachons took one section of the book to specifically address each gender. Amy reminded women that they need to let go of being “in charge” of how things are done at home and of the “right” to be the preferred parent. She advised women to treat their husbands as competent. Marc reminded men that they aren’t babysitting or biding time until the real parent gets home. He encouraged men to get competent—to embrace housework, cleaning and kid-time.
The authors offer another good reminder to any set of parents—communication is key. If the way one spouse sweeps the floor of cleans off the table drives you batty, nagging will never improve things. However, if you both discuss and decide what each chore entails (i.e., sweeping includes emptying the dustpan and cleaning off the table includes wiping it off as well), you’ll move toward real change.
Although there were times where I felt the Vachons were needlessly repeating themselves, the book is a kind, reflective and encouraging resource for couples striving for more equality and balance in their lives.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com