Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All

Researchers discover the huge benefits when couples commit to sharing equally as caregivers and working professionals.

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kk: From The Parent’s Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.
kk: Today, we’re discussing Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have it All by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober
In this title, the authors expose the myths surrounding traditional male and female parental roles. They provide techniques for both mothers and fathers to be independent earners, enjoy quality family time, and share responsibilities in the household.
kk: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.
kk: Vincent, what does getting to 50/50 mean?
vp: What the authors are referring to is a 50/50 life. This is a life where partners equally share the responsibilities of childcare, work life, and each other or their relationship.
kk: Sounds like the ideal lifestyle. What are the benefits of the 50/50 life and is it realistically achievable?
vp: Actually yes, the authors not only say that it is possible, but it's the best way to have happy healthy kids. They also argue that it will help you maintain physical and mental health and enjoy a healthy relationship. And it is achievable with a team effort.
kk: Who is on this 'team'? The parents or does it extend to other caretakers?
vp: Yes, definitely the parents but can extend to caretakers such as day care, nannies, and extended family. But with this, the authors criticize the idea that childcare hurts your family. They argue that it can help you spend more quality time with your children. Many parents can relate to the struggle of finding the best way to care for their home and children without being criticized that additional help means they're lazy or bad parents. Having part-time childcare help is actually beneficial and will free up parents' time so they can pursue the 50/50 life.
kk: On the other side, what about the argument that childcare can hurt children's development or their relationships with their parents? Does the fear that their child will develop to have a closer relationship with their caretaker stop parents from considering outside help?
vp: That's a really good question. The authors say that contrary to what parents have been told, childcare on a part-time basis does no harm to the well-being of your children. They back up this point with research from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. 15 years of research showed no difference in emotional well-being between children who spent all their time under their parent's supervision, and children who spent part of their time in childcare. Also this is on a part-time basis, and it's this proportion that matters. They are not arguing that you should leave all responsibilities to childcare.
Going back to your question, seeking out extra help should never make you feel like an inattentive parent. Actually, today’s children generally aren’t attention-deprived. Studies show that mothers and fathers spend more time with their children today than they did in 1965.
kk: That's interesting especially because that was during a time when the socially accepted responsibility of mothers staying home full-time to take care of their kids was normal. How can a child of a working parent who spends less time with their children, feel like they get more attention versus a child with a stay-at-home parent?
vp: It all comes down to the quality of your parenting time outweighing the quantity of it.
According to a Texas University study, mothers who stay at home don’t spend much more time interacting actively with their children than mothers who work outside of the home. One reason the authors give for this statistic is that stay-at-home mothers sometimes don’t appreciate the extra time they have with their children. Whereas working mothers tend to cherish the bedtime stories and bathtime they can share.
kk: I mean, they do say distance makes the heart grow fonder. So, having working parents and daycare doesn't hurt the well-being of the child, but what about the effect on the parents?
vp: The authors say that husbands and wives are actually happier and more interested in one another when they both work outside the home. Studies show that after having a child, husbands and wives tend to drift away from each other if the mother stays home and the father goes to work. This is because they lead entirely different lives and don’t have much in common.
But, when they share responsibility, like if the father helps with household chores and the mother works outside the home, partners are more attracted to one another.
kk: Since sharing the breadwinning and household chores helps the relationship, does this effect divorce rates?
vp: Yes. The book discusses a 2006 study that showed that couples who shared household and income-earning duties 50/50 reduced their risk of divorce by 50 percent compared to the average divorce rate. On the contrary, for families where only the man worked outside the home, the risk of divorce climbed to 13 percent above **average.
In addition to lowering the risk of divorce, two working partners also means you can enjoy the benefits of earning two incomes. If a family relies on the husband’s income alone, then he can’t afford to lose it – even if he hates his work. Having two incomes eases the pressure and offers both partners a chance to find work they really love.
kk: That's a really good point. Plus financial stress affects the whole family- that's a lot of pressure to put on one person.
vp: Exactly. Many fathers have already adapted the 50/50 life of working and raising children. But when we look at how shifting to the 50/50 lifestyle effects mothers, we see great examples of the benefits. According to the authors, studies show that working women are healthier and wealthier. First, women who work are more independent, especially financially. Unlike mothers who don't work, working mothers are not set to a budget and supervised by their husband. Remember your first job and how great it was to have your own money?
kk: Yes, I remember the first pay check I got and the exciting rush it gave me knowing I could buy things for myself haha.
vp: Exactly! Working to earn your own money is a powerful thing, especially with regards to your specific needs and desires that others might not understand your spending money on.
In addition to being financially more secure, women who work are both physically and psychologically healthier. One study the book mentioned, found that women who combined the three roles of wife, mother and worker enjoyed the best physical and mental health.
kk: So it seems that, women and men who participate more equally in their family’s responsibilities are better off. Even knowing this, we see less women in offices. Do the authors talk about why?
vp: Yes, the authors actually disprove three common myths that prevent equality among men and women. Myth #1 is that Mothers are incompetent and want to work less after they have children. There was a Princeton study that presented participants with two job candidates with the same skills and were both new parents working from home. The only difference between the two were one was a male and the other female. The female was evaluated as least competent.
kk: Why did they come to that conclusion?
vp: One reason could be that mothers don't challenge the assumption that they must want to stop working once they start a family. When women have children, employers often presuppose that new mothers want to cut down to part-time work. As a result, they receive less responsibility, lower status and reduced pay.
kk: Which probably makes them less confident returning to that job. Okay, what's the next Myth?
vp: Myth #2 is that in order to be successful, you need to work around the clock. The authors say that overworking is dangerous. Imagine a surgeon who has been working a 16 hour shift without a break and is fatigued and overworked. Who you want them performing surgery on you? Probably not because it could be dangerous. Unfortunately many companies across industries have employees who feel overworked.
kk: How does this relate to working parents?
vp: Mothers and fathers can eradicate this myth that only the people who work insane hours are valuable employees. For example, working parents can convince their boss to focus on achievements, not on working hours. This goes back to the concept of quality over quantity. The result being, more productive hours at work and more quality time spent with family after work.
kk: That's so true and I like how the quality over quantity theme comes up again to apply to work and relationships. What is the third myth?
vp: Myth #3 is that women and men are treated equally in the workplace. The authors note that inequality in the office is alive and well, but thankfully, some progress has been made.
kk: So what can working parents, especially working mothers do to stop this myth?
vp: The authors share studies that found that inequality in the workplace is sometimes reinforced by a tendency of women not to stand up for themselves. This makes the male-dominant workplace harder to change. Simply put: not speaking up harms women professionally. But, more mothers returning to work and adopting the 50/50 lifestyle is a long-term solution. Once there are enough women in a position of influence, the system will self-regulate.
kk: What are some other ways that men and women can get closer to a 50/50 solution?
vp: According to the authors, collaboration between partners is crucial to achieving a fair and equal partnership. They say that to avoid falling into traditional gender traps, both partners have to think ahead and stay adaptable. For example, that could look like writing out all the responsibilities that come with work and children and relationships and distribute them equally. It doesn't have to be set in stone, tasks can change, but doing this sets the right mindset for collaboration and a healthy relationship. Thinking ahead in this way makes it much easier to live 50/50, because it heightens awareness of traditional parenting roles that can creep up on a relationship and threaten it.
kk: That's a really good point. Thinking ahead is definitely key. Along the lines of thinking ahead, what about maternity or paternity leave? I feel like that is a barrier to being equal in the workplace.
vp: Good question, this is a strong topic the authors talk about. Incredibly, maternity leave is still not guaranteed for all working mothers. Even in the US, it’s not mandatory to give new mothers paid leave. Knowing that you won’t be able to take sufficient time off work to recover from childbirth and care for the newborn – that’s a strong incentive to quit your job!
kk: Yes 100%, thats horrible.
vp: Thankfully, though, society is making headway. If you’re an expectant mother, it helps to make it clear you’re coming back to work before you take your leave. Male superiors are often unfamiliar with motherhood and may be concerned if mothers display uncertainty about their future plans. So both expecting mothers and fathers should learn what they are entitled to, even if your boss doesn't. Most importantly, make it clear that you plan to return to work as soon as possible. You can even let your boss know what date you can be expected back in the office. That way, you’ll reassure your boss. You’ll be making it obvious that work really is important to you, and that you’re looking forward to coming back to the office.
kk: That's such a good point to make sure they don't forget about you and what you contribute to the office while you're off.
vp: Yes. Another aspect that helps get to 50/50 is support for both men and women. Since men have traditionally focused on work and had less responsibilities at home, getting to 50/50 means actively encouraging fathers. Having kids is an adjustment. For example, if a mother is overprotective and put down their partner when they are trying to help, will only steer him away from engaging with children or having confidence taking on these responsibilities.
Men can also do their bit to support mothers. All men, for example, should be kinder to them when they return to the workplace. While maternity leave plays a critical role in retaining female employees, showing empathy and patience when the mother returns to work will help her to get re-situated. The authors talked to working mothers who said that the first few months of juggling a job and baby are the toughest, but if their boss is supportive during this time, it makes the transition smoother.
kk: Plus, it probably encourages them to work harder and sets a good example for other employees who are considering having a baby but are worried about their work.
vp: Exactly. These are the changes that will make workplace environments more suitable for the 50/50 lifestyle.
kk: It sounds like the key takeaway from this title is we aren’t forced to play out the traditional housewife-businessman roles of the generations before. By planning ahead, talking through disagreements and divvying up responsibilities fairly, couples can enjoy a healthy, equal partnership.
kk: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.
vp: And I’m Vincent Phamvan.
kk: We’ll see you next time.

After interviewing hundreds of parents and employers, surveying more than a thousand working mothers, and combing through the latest government and social science research, the authors have discovered that kids, husbands, and wives all reap huge benefits when couples commit to share equally as breadwinners and caregivers. Mothers work without guilt, fathers bond with their kids, and children blossom with the attention of two involved parents.

The starting point? An attitude shift that puts you on the road to 50/50—plus the positive step-by-step advice in this book, Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All.

Here are real-world solutions for parents who want to get ahead in their careers and still get to their children’s soccer games; strategies for working mothers facing gender bias in the workplace; advice to fathers new to the homefront; and tips for finding 50/50 solutions to deal with issues of money, time, and much more.

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