How ironic that right after I post about dangers of Mommy Porn, the New York Times exacerbates this problem to include men. Take a look at the insipid photo that illustrates the article about shared care by Lisa Belkin.

But first, a disclaimer: I know Lisa, she’s super nice and fun, and she talked with me about how I could be the person in the article who is the train wreck example of shared care.

A second disclaimer is that Amy and Marc, featured there as the poster children for shared care, are also people I've helped—about how to pitch themselves to the media so they could get some articles written about themselves and get a book deal. And they, too, were nice.

So it’s ironic that I am going to bitch about them now. Specifically, I’m going to tell you why I wanted to rip all their heads off when I read that piece about shared care.

1. Shared care shields people from the reality that their careers are not great.
It’s rare that shared care works long-term for someone who is very good in the business world. Some people are great at management, some people are born leaders. These are people who catapult up to the top of the business world, in whatever sector they are in. And they love their work.

These are not the people who do shared care. It is simply not appealing in the long run to the best workplace leaders. The people who think they want to try this usually end up frustrated after downsizing their career for shared care. Read closely and you'll see examples of this in the article. In fact, there is not an example of someone who is competing at the very top of their field who ended up enjoying shared care.

2. You need a lot of money to do shared care.
With one stay at home parent, you only need one parent to pull in a ton of money. With shared care parenting, you need two people who can make miracles happen in their chosen profession; two people who are so clever and specialized that they can figure out what to do for work that is part-time.

Already, this is a big feat since the Washington Post reports that most women who stay at home full-time would rather work part-time but they can’t find the jobs. But you also need people who have salaries high enough so that if you made both the salaries part-time, the family could still not only survive, but actually grow and still be financially okay.

Look, I know that usually when the topic is money and people are saying they don’t have enough to do what they want with their lives, I am a hard-ass and I tell them to move to a place with a lower cost of living. But I can’t help noticing that most people who make shared care work have their families helping them, which means they have to stay in the vicinity of family and do not have the ability to move to more economical locations.

3. Shared care kills two careers.
I am about to support this claim with very sloppy research from people I have met. But this seems okay because the New York Times is announcing a major trend based on interviews with what appears to be about ten couples.

So based on my own research of about ten couples who did shared care and hated it, everyone’s career takes a huge hit.

Dylan Tweney, editor at Wired.com, told me that his career definitely took a hit from doing shared care with his wife and daughter for two years. He freelanced, and he points out that you cannot grow a business if you are working four hours a day. You have to always be earning money, so you can’t afford to take time to expand your markets.

4. Shared care requires an unlikely match of personalities in a marriage.
Newsflash: Not everyone has the personality to stay home with kids. There are some people who get their energy from leading. Those people need a team to lead. There are some people who are caregivers. They are energized by meeting peoples’ personal needs.

In fact, pairing those two types makes great couples. Corporate life is designed up for leaders to thrive, and leaders—yes, proven—do better when they have a caregiver type at home, taking care of their personal life.

Here’s some more news: It’s unlikely that two caretakers would marry each other. They just don’t. They are not attracted to each other. I have not much to prove this except that I am conscious in the world. And so are you, so you know this intuitively. And this means that marriages are not generally optimized to work for two people who both want to stay home with their kids.

5. Shared care caters only to detail-oriented types.
Shared care might actually be the most inefficient division of labor in the history of humanity. With one stay-at-home parent, he or she maintains a schedule, checks in with no one, and announces to the work-at-the-office parent what will be happening at home.

With shared care, the schedules are insane. When Tweney talks about the intricate schedules he and his wife had—that actually required the help of neighbors because they didn’t have family near—he says, “It’s definitely more efficient to have one person in charge. There is a lot of overhead to managing shared care.” And this is a theme even with the people in Belkin's article who love shared care.

For some people—visionaries, big-picture thinkers, leaders—managing the details of a shared care schedule would be mind-numbing and soul-crushing.

The fundamental problem with Belkin declaring a revolution in parenthood today is that the revolution is in a demographic she is not a part of. It’s like the New York Times covering the blogosphere. They don’t get it, so they focus on the craziness instead of the mainstream.

But the real trend that we really have here is that Generation X puts parenting before anything else—even men. Gen X is horrified by the self-centered parenting that they received. And Gen X is an inherently revolutionary generation. We have little to lose: We are the first generation in American history to earn less than our parents. We are a generation largely berated and misunderstood by the media, so we have no great image to protect, and we have been handed nothing on a silver platter, so we have nothing to squander.

The history of the revolutions—French, American, Russian—is the history of people with nothing to lose recognizing the need for change. Generation X is that group today. And shared care is just one, small way that Gen X is expressing their revolutionary nature: with their parenting.

62 replies
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  1. grace
    grace says:

    I read the original article, and I do not share Penelope’s disgust. Still, such a balanced marriage is a rare thing. My husband and I tried shared parenting, and although I loved working part-time, I still found myself responsible for 90% of the home organization. I work full time now and the home is still my responsibility. I wish my husband would have ripped up “the List” and not deferred all home decisions to me. He says I like having control. I say that I can’t stand having the same dishes in the sink for 3 weeks. I’m sure things are not as perfect as that article makes them out to be.

  2. grace
    grace says:

    One more thing. I disagree with Penelope’s points about a crappy career. For those who like being at home (like me), the career downsides of less money/advancement mean little. Our careers are part of a bigger life picture, and if we are truly happy, that is what is important.

  3. Margaret W
    Margaret W says:

    Just a small bitch. Gen X is not the only generation to earn less than their parents; many, many people across the age spectrum are underemployed, have been downsized, etc. It’s not a generational problem, it’s an economic one, and to limit it to one generation downplays the significant shifts that have happened and are happening still throughout business, labor and culture. Issues like healthcare, labor protections, globalization… they affect everyone.

    Hearts, Margaret

  4. Emily
    Emily says:

    I read about shared parenting when I was pregnant, and asked my husband to read it – but he just wanted to DO it, not overthink the whole thing to death. I think we are probably doing about 60-40 (me doing 60) without any scheduling or planning, and we both work full time and care a lot about our work. BUT, I think the crucial factor here is we only have one child. If we have another, I don’t know what would happen. I don’t think what we’re doing would really work. My husband has a daycare attached to his work, which I think is another crucial factor, and his doing all the driving and picking up at daycare gives him a lot of points…

  5. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    Wow. You hit so many nails on so many heads here, I’m even more impressed than usual.

    Especially love your more out-there ideas without scientific evidence, because I agree with every single one :)

    I think it’s good that Gen X has been asking questions, experimenting & all that revolutionary stuff, and I don’t think we are obligated to find The Answer to all of this just because we decided to reject the old ways we despised.

    What matters is that people get real about their choices and give up this dream of “having it all” in the sense of having a whole pile of cakes, eating them too, and expecting to stay as slim and fit as before. We need to have some basic understanding of who we are as individuals and what we want as far as family life, and then decide what we’re going to sacrifice. You can’t have children for free, and it’s a very weird fantasy really that they can come first all the time and have the Best Parenting and yet neither parent needs to be even slightly put out by their existence -the Angelina Jolie dream.

    Maybe the problem is about how “having it all” is now a social game everyone’s supposed to play, or they look like a failure? Is that why we have to pretend to be perfect in all areas- fear of rejection by all the other perfect have-it-all families?

  6. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    I’m not a parent, but when this piece came out in the NYT my knee-jerk response was, “ha!” – Penelope, it’s like you read my mind.

    I have a highly-structured work life (which I love and have no desire to downshift), I couldn’t stand this much regiment in my personal world as well.

  7. Queercents
    Queercents says:

    Speaking of the history of the revolutions – I just finished watching the HBO miniseries about John Adams. While he has prominence in our nation's history as a founding father and patriarch of an important family of politicians, diplomats, etc… He didn't appear to be a great dad. John Adams loved his work. And while the egalitarian nature of his partnership with Abigail was unique for the times, I doubt he would have made a good Gen X spouse had he lived today.

    History aside, most of us still hope to have it all:

    1. To have a good marriage
    2. To have a stellar career
    3. To be a great parent

    Pick two out of three and be done with it. The share cared folks obviously value 1 and 3. Or as you write: Shared care kills two careers.

  8. Nancy King
    Nancy King says:

    The story is that the world of parenting and work are changing. Women are in the workforce and more men are wanting to take a stronger role in parenting. (I’m married to one!) The idea that a career suffers is what needs to change. Careers are defined in a much different manner. I agree, as one who straddles the boomer/Gen x label, those younger than me are questioning it all and are changing the definition of career. I’m more than happy to see it happen too!

    It certainly shows in my recruiting work. I do find myself explaining to some CEO’s why the up and coming VP’s seem to ask a different set of questions and have a different set of priorities, and it’s not just those with kids.

  9. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    I took one look at that ridiculous photo (dad folding laundry and mom playing the piano??) and almost didn’t bother to read the article. Talk baout stereotypical imagery! Penelope, seems like you did a good job of helping them sell themselves to the media, I’m just not sure what they have to say is of any value.

  10. William
    William says:

    Thanks, Penelope.

    2 years ago we made the leap for one of us to be home with our two little ones (6 and 4). Had no idea how it was going to work, but glad we did it.

    Now, I have a renewed desire to be home with them more and can now attribute it to my Gen X-ness. Doing what is right is rarely popular. I can live with that.

  11. Jim Eiden
    Jim Eiden says:

    I agree with Queercents comments.

    I have decide for options 1 and 3. I have recently turned 42 and as my years go on. I decided several years ago to concentrate on IT contract consulting as my main source of income (Although I have several side projects). I got tired of pulling 80 to 90 hour weeks missing family time that I cannot get back. Now I take off the time I want (at my own expense) and do what I want when I need to.

    My wife travels 100% for her job. She works from home on Mon & Fri. This September we will be married 18 years. Last week my wife had to go to Las Vegas for work. She took my 9 year old daughter with her and they had a great time. My daughter helped her a lot at work there, and they got to stay at Mandalay Bay and go swimming in the evening.

    I personally don’t care about my carrer or job title anymore. I am a father and my kids are my responsibility. We made the choice to have kids, so now my wife and I are accountable.

  12. CreidS
    CreidS says:

    @Margaret:

    Nope, Penelope is correct. Gen X is the first generation in american history that will have lower living standards than their parents — shorter life spans, less money, less mobility, no social security, no medicare, less “good stuff.” Hell, our taxes will skyrocket when our parents start to need health care. Why? Because our parents couldn’t save for their future.

    Here is one article among many: http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/retirement/2008-05-19-generation-x-retirement_n.htm

    * * * * * *

    Oh thank you for the link. I bet I will reference in a million more posts. So handy.

    –Penelope

  13. Lisa Belkin
    Lisa Belkin says:

    Penelope — You are super nice too. Sorry you wanted to rip my head off.

    Remember (you should know better…) that by writing about something I am not advocating it. I am exploring it. I don’t do shared care. Wouldn’t work for me. But, it is definitely worth exploring, both because it is a definite option for some who might not otherwise have thought of it, and also because of the light an alternative sheds on business as usual.

    And you are right about a couple of things. Let’s take all your points in order:

    1) Shared care shields people from the reality that their careers are not great
    Kinda. But the opposite, too. What it does is make you stop and decide exactly what your career means to you. Not everyone is you (or frankly, me) in that they define themselves by work. Marc and Amy and many of the other couples who have tried this simply don’t. And for them this is a more organic way of doing things, with working fitting around life rather than the other way around.

    2) You need a lot of money to do shared care.
    Nope. Uh uh. Simply not true. Of the couples I talked to, only one was making real money. There were graduate students and freelance computer programmers, and school teachers. In fact the reality is the opposite — you CANT make a booming income and do shared care (See your Dylan Tweney example above). Because, to truly share, the thing that needs to be racheted down is work. And in this world you don’t get rich working less than 40 hours. True, this will not work for families who are currently holding three jobs to make ends meet. But if you think of the two most common alternatives: Mom and Dad both work full time and pay for childcare, Dad works and Mom stays home (or the other way around) and both parents work somewhat reduced hours, there is the most income coming in in option one, and the least in option two, and share care is in the middle (depending of course on the specifics of the careers).

    3. Shared care kills two careers.
    Yes. That’s my problem with it and why I don’t do it at my house. Bruce and I are way to ambitious and work-centric.

    But while we are on Statement Number Three, my dear, I do take major issue, with your saying, here and elsewhere in this post, that the New York Times (in this case that would be lil ol me) “is declaring a major trend based on about ten couples.” First of all, the piece is all about why the heck this ISNT this a trend. No. Not a trend. Absolutely not a trend. The opposite of a trend. Those who are doing it are unquestionably unusual and going against the prevailing winds. And puh-lese. Ten people? You know better than that about what it takes to write something like this. I spent eight months interviewing dozens of couples. Cheap shot Penelope.

    4. Shared care requires an unlikely match of personalities in a marriage.’
    Yep. Absolutely. Both partners have to be from Neptune. Isn’t it amazing that any of these couples make it work?

    5. Shared care caters only to detail-oriented types.
    Kinda again. I think what it comes down to is this. Couples like Marc and Amy do worry about each detail — ONCE. How will they do the laundry? They have a detailed conversation that would drive many people crazy, but after that it is over. They don’t bring it up again. Which saves them the dozens (hundreds?) of smaller conversations that take place in most households over who is going to do what on an given day. And also, once they decide how it will work they don’t think about it any more. If Amy knows Marc will cook dinner on Thursdays, she doesn’t have to think for a moment about dinner on Thursdays. I have started to use this comparison : in a truly shared marriage both spouses get to be the husband, in the traditional husband sense. Because those husbands can simply and safely assume that “it” will get taken care of, whatever it happens to be. They know that someone else is in charge of keeping track of the details, and the emotional temperature and the tasks of family life. Must be nice.

    By the way, how is the Farmer? Been checking regularly for updates on my favorite unfurling blogosphere tale..

    Lisa

    * * ** * * * * *

    Hey, Lisa. I am so happy that you responded. I always tell people that I blog because the conversation is so amazing, but this really takes the cake. So you make my day.

    It’s too bad that one the day you make my day I have also taken a cheap shot about the research you did. I’m sorry about that.

    Mostly, though, I am just happy that there is a lot of attention to this topic. From you, and the NYT, and from everyone else commenting about it online. And, really, from Amy and Marc’s publisher. I just want people to talk about it. Because when I did it I felt really lost and looked for guidelines and a community and I wish I hadn’t done so poorly during that time. So maybe this discussion will mean we’ll all make good choices for parenting/marriage/kids. Or at least we’ll all make better ones.

    –Penelope

  14. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I have to say I laughed at Amy and Marc’s page (sorry Amy and Marc!) Maybe my ex-husband and I need to go after a book deal–we are the anti Amy and Marc (after all, we’re divorced)–in the lovey-dovey sense, that is. As far as shared parenting, though, our non-marriage is basically the same as their marriage. He has a work schedule that allows him to be home Mon and Tues after school; mine allows me to be home Thurs and Fri after school. We live 5 minutes apart, the kids spend time with each of us every day, we equally split sick days/school holidays and each pay 50% for camp and the occasional babysitter when we can’t take off work. We work together to try to avoid using babysitters as much as possible–and I have to say we’re not doing too bad a job of it, seeing as we both work full-time yet our kids have a sitter for one hour once a week after school; the rest of the time they’re with one or the other of us.

    Have our careers suffered? Depends on what you consider suffering. He is a PhD statistician who works for NIH–it’s not like he’d be putting in 12 hour days at the office anyway. I suppose he could make more money working somewhere that wouldn’t be able to accomodate the schedule we have established; then again, he’s not ambitious at all anyway so he wouldn’t be doing it even if time weren’t an issue.

    For me, my career is pretty much at a crawl anyway, since I took 8 years off to be home with the kids full time (they are 12 and 10 now, btw). Yes, it sucks to have to have started back at square one and to now have to limit myself to jobs that allow me to leave work at 3 on Thursdays and Fridays. But whatever–it is what it is.

    Then there’s my marriage–which is also equal: he does floors and yard work; I do laundry and bathrooms–we take turns with dusting, grocery shop together, share cooking.

    So how do I pitch my non-romantic shared parenting story and get a book deal? ;)

  15. Amy
    Amy says:

    Penelope,
    Where do I start? Having read your blog for awhile now, I recognize this as your style of attacking an idea. It doesn’t feel good, however, to be directly on the receiving end. So, the only thing I can do is realize that this isn’t personal when you get down to it; it is about your idea of a life well led bumping up against mine.

    I agree with many of Lisa’s points above, so I won’t repeat them here. Taking offense at your attack on the picture in the NYT Times is pointless, except to say “you try posing with your kids for 6 hours of action shots, with no chance to pick the picture you like best, and see what comes out from it.” It isn’t so easy, and frankly, the result could have been far worse.

    Equally shared parenting is a family model – an example of what a true egalitarian relationship could look like. It is not for everyone, but it is so rarely dissected and discussed that it was high time for the discussion to start. If the article helps that happen, then I call THAT a life well led – at least for now.

    My definition of a career has nothing to do with being on top of others or launching new companies or making a pile of money. A career in middle management, where I feel I’m making a difference and helping others, is just what I want. No judgment of others who want differently, but there is room in the world for people who don’t aspire to the standard American dream.

    If you count up all the hours that Marc and I discuss how to divide up our housework or childraising, or strategize for the best work schedules or jobs, I imagine they would be right about average for an American couple (without a lot of arguments). The idea with ESP is that we actually TALK about this stuff; we leave no stones unturned.

    Our personalities and lives wouldn’t work well any other way. Other couples would never choose ESP. The fact that an egalitarian marriage with kids can work is good news for those who want it, and shouldn’t be threatening to those who don’t.

    Whether a couple chooses equal sharing or traditional arrangements or a full-time dual-income model, we’d love to see this choice be as purposeful as possible. And sometimes that takes hard work – to find the right job (even the right TWO jobs, yes), budget accordingly, and buck what society tells you is YOUR dream.

    I guess we’ve arrived if Penelope devotes a whole column to attacking us! Think I’ll go celebrate….

    * * * * * * *
    Thank you for commenting, Amy. And maybe this is will end up being like a little teaser for the book :)

    Your last line makes me laugh. I have always been fascinated by you and Marc, which is why I helped.

    I do like to think that I pick the most interesting/innovative people to pick on. And I confess to always being a little flattered myself when someone takes time to tell me that I’m wrong.

    –Penelope

  16. leslie
    leslie says:

    The other recent NYT article of late that is relevent to this is about Google’s on-site child care center. This seemed an enlightened attempt atp helping dual income career couples with childcare. Unfortunately, they decided recently to increase the cost so that only uber high-earners (probably multi-millionares with vested stock options) could afford the fees. The rich get richer because they can afford child care.

  17. bill martineau
    bill martineau says:

    “P” causing trouble again I see.

    Queercents rolled out the big three of having it all(career, marriage, parenting), but most people believe it’s impossible to have them all. Unfortunately, what most people fail to understand is that you have to work at them all. Everyone knows you work on your career (how to get the raise/promotion, etc.), but how many people view their relationship with their significant other or their kids in the same way. Are you seeing the downsides and working proactively to correct them or just fighting fires to get to the end of the day?

    Why is the division of duties/roles among parents viewed like some recipe where only specific ingredients and amounts work? Can’t it be more a la carte?

    Can’t you see people describing their marriage as standard 50’s working husband/stay at home wife, but we switched cooking/cleaning/grocery shopping over to me while she took on family finances along with more individual social &/or gym time for stress management.

    Who knows maybe that could work as well!

  18. tinyhands
    tinyhands says:

    Neither married nor a parent, I have no opinion at this time on the relative merit of shared parenting.

    I merely wanted to agree with Amy for calling Penny out on this being another typical ‘attack blog.’ This site, in general, spends a lot of time espousing the Gen-Y view of the world, attacking “traditional” thought and models. More than once I’ve read about how careers need to be redefined to fit how Gen-Y sees the world, that there is no such thing as career progression / career ladder anymore, etc. I find it odd that the table is so quickly turned to attack what is new and different.

    Again, neither right nor wrong imho, but inconsistent with the other ‘advice’ previously offered.

  19. StellaCommute
    StellaCommute says:

    Shared parenting works when both people think their children are as important as other aspects of their lives — they simply find ways to make it work. I agree with the other posters: GenX lived through some of the most self-involved parenting ever. Parents left their families to “find themselves”, or disappeared into a fog of cocktails and whatnot, or otherwise left their children to raise themselves. Having experienced this, I’m not about to let my children languish without someone to pay attention to them. Yes, I send the little one out to daycare while my husband and I work, I at home as a fairly high-level webby person, and he at a used bookstore. But we’ve managed to arrange our lives so that he gets to work a job he loves (garnering and vending used books, not exactly a gold mine) and I work hard at something I really enjoy to provide health insurance and other amenities that having a real salary offers. The shared parenting means that he takes the kids to the doctor more often than I, he goes grocery shopping at least as much as I do, and so on. It doesn’t feel like a big cultural trend, it doesn’t feel like we’re making enormous sacrifices to have a pleasant lifestyle where neither parent is seething with resentment because they’re shouldering the lion’s share of the homekeeping/kidkeeping chores. We are just doing what equal partners do (even though our money contributions aren’t equal). What’s the big whup?

  20. Dave
    Dave says:

    Queercent’s list (marriage, parenting, career, pick 2) sounds suspisciously like a saying I’ve often heard in the software industry (quality, speed, cost – pick 2)

    Most of the comments seem to be from people who’ve decided to skip career in order to concentrate on the others. We made a different choice – we dropped parenting as an option (unless you count the fur kids) It has worked out well for us.

  21. Viviana Sutton
    Viviana Sutton says:

    Thank you. Insipid is the word. In fact, that photo looks borderline smug to me. I am glad that Amy has commented and made a very human reference to the fact that there is a story behind it.

    This lifestyle, like any, is FINE if it is what you want. I’m again glad to hear from Amy that she gets it that this is not for everyone.

    Penelope–you are the best at what you do because of your willingness to take things like this apart and point out that there are strengths and weaknesses and areas of subjectivity.

  22. Sarah Rottenberg
    Sarah Rottenberg says:

    Ok, I usually love your writing. And I had my own bones to pick with the shared care article. But I think that this post is just silly. Here’s why:

    1) There’s more than one definition of successful career. As other commenters have noticed, you seem to be saying that only high-powered, high-stakes careers are worth having. I have a great, interesting, career that is changing the way corporate America does business and I work four days a week. I also have the pleasure of working with some impressive people who do great work part time. Based on my non-scientific research, I disagree with your notions of what makes a good career and a successful businessperson.

    2) You forget about the power of the and. Most people aren’t all one thing or all another thing. Several times in this post you reduce people to singular traits that you seem to think of as opposite ends of a spectrum: caregiver or leader, people who love their work or people who love their kids. I know that people can be both – and do both well.

    What’s most puzzling is that the whole post seems to contradict notions that you espouse about the workplace changing, the changing role of families in people’s lives, etc.
    Honestly, it seems like you just wrote this to try to get a rise out of Lisa and Amy. Who responded so graciously. I’d personally like to read more from you that supports alternative approaches to the whole work/family thing and less snarkiness. And yes, more about the farmer.

  23. willy
    willy says:

    Yeah! Let’s hear more about the farmer! I heartily second the commenter on the last column who suggested Penelope write chick-lit. I think your insights, your humor, your candor, your “voice” would make for a great novel – Please consider writing more!

  24. ML
    ML says:

    I also know one of the couples in the article. They are an incredibly hard working, highly educated (both Ph.Ds), devoted same-sex couple. One of the points the author raised, I think, was that same-sex couples might be model for a more equitable distribution of household responsibilities. I didn’t see it as an article about trends, just about different approaches to living a life with children.

    Once you have kids your life’s work changes from what-can-I-get-for-me to how-can-I-make-sure-they’re-happy. Being good at your job brings wages, which keeps the the kids fed and allows them to do fascinating things with you. Enjoy your job and work hard at it, but understand that the benefits of your job are no longer just focused on you.

    The problem comes when more time is spent bringing in wages than doing fascinating things with the kids. Anyone who has missed a school recital because of a meeting understands this. That’s hard, and different people handle it differently. Some people start to think they don’t need as much in wages as they thought.

    The article could be good for Gen Y to read carefully. Soon they’ll realize (and, by the way, no one understands this until after they have kids, no matter what they say) that they can’t text their friends or feed their blog while they’re feeding kids. Parenting always takes more hands than you have and no technology will ever change that.

  25. TIMMY!
    TIMMY! says:

    It seemed pretty obvious to me that the NYT photo was just posed–an exaggeration to make a point.

  26. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    Stellar careers can shield people from the reality that their lives aren’t great.

    * * * * *

    Yes. So true. I feel compelled to point out that Melanie (commenter here) has a stellar career at Sun. Melanie’s blog is really interesting when it comes to getting a peek into how a big executive at a big company manages family. Sometimes the person who delivers the message makes the message more compelling, and I think it’s true in this case. Click the link on her name…

    -Penelope

  27. CAK
    CAK says:

    Yes to everything except #2.
    I am a bedside nurse working weekend nights. My partner is a weekday day-shift worker. We cover all the hours this way. Our son is a child with special needs/disabilities that will never live independently. So, we are locked in to this. It works for us because, as Penelope says, we are both caregiver personalities. We hardly make enough money to get by. Excellent analysis!

    In turn, I “support” one of my sons by caring for his daughter, my granddaughter, so that both can work full-time days. So, the point about family involvement and support is also well-taken. (However, the grandparents who take care of grandkids, in lieu of daycare, cannot possibly one of those formerly self-absorbed Boomers, can they?)

    No one has brought up the leadership assertion that Penelope makes. I think that she is correct in that assertion, as well as the others. Leaders are people who are compelled to be charismatic leaders . . . Joan of Arc didn’t have kids, did she?

  28. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    I enjoyed reading all the thoughtful responses and the defense comments by the blog subjects. Was quite pleased to see how much caring I perceived in the comments. In the end what children remember and employers notice is, did you care. Care enough to do a good job when no one was watching and to love your children. Take it from this oldster that caring and love is the key to relationships, child rearing and life. So it is my prayer that all the caring I saw in the comments be rewarded soon by a glance a comment or whatever such that you receive acknowledgment that your effort and your caring have been noticed and appreciated. And by that notice you feel a little less stressed and receive blessed assurance your efforts were and are not in vain.

  29. Marla
    Marla says:

    I don’t agree that, across the board, Gen X puts parenting first – don’t forget that there is a lot of variability in humanity. Some people want careers and not families, some people don’t like other people in general (which would make having a family difficult and having a career nettlesome too), some women don’t want anything to do with women’s roles, some people get more satisfaction out of stellar careers than drool…

    Just before we start all singing the praises of Gen X and how they/we all would have 100% family and 0% work if they/we could have it our way….

    Sexuality is a spectrum, right? So are life interests, desires, gender roles and values.

  30. chris
    chris says:

    Gen Xers may or may not be the heroes. You can learn one of two things from being treated generously (or selfishly). You can learn generosity, to be a giver; or you can learn to be a taker. It is a toss-up, what you will take/learn, I believe. I have 5 grown kids and the numbers are evenly divided about learning to be a taker vs learning to be a giver.

    Practicing altruism, or developing the caregiver side of oneself is not specific to this or that generation, I don’t believe. You’d have to show me the research, the hard data, to convince me otherwise.

  31. Atlanta Xer Working Mom with stay at home Dad and baby!
    Atlanta Xer Working Mom with stay at home Dad and baby! says:

    We have pretty much determined that the two working parents with no support (hired or otherwise) model works for no one. Us GenXers are wanting something different as you point out. However, not enough of us are managers yet, so how do we get companies to redefine work and provide more part-time options for parents (or others who want a life). It’s a huge loss of intellectual capital to have people who want to work part-time and contribute but who have to no good options for doing so. My husband and I would love it if we could both work full part time and parent part time. We both love work and love parenting our daughter. On StrengthFinder by Gallup we are both Focus and Achiever (in our top 5)and obviously being home raising a baby there isn’t a lot of times for those strengths to get utilized! SO, let’s stop saying “uh huh, yea, things suck” and starting thinking about how we can change things for the better! Post your ideas here!

  32. Norcross
    Norcross says:

    Growing up, my parents did the “shared care” setup, but not by design. I am the youngest of 3 kids (ages 35, 31, and 27), and we all benefited from my parent’s career choices. My father is a minister, so his work week was flexible and often did the chaperoning and weekday doctor’s visits for sick kids. My mother is a school teacher, so she would often be driving home as I was getting off the schoolbus. It was rare that someone wasn’t home growing up. Mom handled early morning swim practice, and Dad handled afternoon football practice.

    The choices my parents made were based on having a life outside of their careers. Even so, my mother is one of the most respected people in the area in her speciality (special education), and my father has been offered numerous positions at the regional and national level in the ministry.

    Life, like most other things, tends to take care of itself, regardless of how much you push it.

  33. Metta
    Metta says:

    Penelope writes:
    I do like to think that I pick the most interesting/innovative people to pick on. And I confess to always being a little flattered myself when someone takes time to tell me that I'm wrong.
    – €“Penelope

    As always, you’re entitled to your opinion, Penelope. But you often confuse your opinion with facts (This post is no exception. The NYT article was not about a “trend” as Lisa pointed out). Or rather, selectively use “facts” to back up your opinion.

    I rather doubt that you are flattered when someone tells you that you are “wrong.” But you are big on spin, on just about everything. (For all your analysis of others, you’re woefully lacking in self-analysis on this and many other topics. Just my opinion.)

    You don’t have to attack others to put forth your opinion or to refute someone else’s take on life. Your opinion is valid as YOUR opinion. I find it fascinating that you are so vehement and defensive in almost all of your posts, no matter the topic. You can agree to disagree without the snarkiness.

    Perhaps it has not yet occurred to you, but others do not see the world as you do and have different values. You can’t seem to imagine, for example, that well-educated, highly competent people who have had or could have “Top” careers could actually choose to get off the traditional work treadmill. Instead you have to marginalize them (“Shared care shields people from the reality that their careers are not great.”) — only losers opt out of the system. Only those who can’t make it at the top are willing to try something different.

    ALL work has value and people lead in different ways. As others have pointed out, it is quite possible to lead AND be a caregiver. You just need to expand your definition of “lead.”

    You really are a perfect example of what Melanie geo wrote in response to this article:

    Stellar careers can shield people from the reality that their lives aren't great.

    And finally, is it possible for you to view the world without segmenting by generations?

    You just love gross generalizations about any “group”, whether it’s Gen X, Y, baby boomers. Life is more diverse. You seem to have fallen prey to the labels ascribed to people by the marketing types like yourself (all of life is not about marketing, branding and self-promotion Penelope.)

    Although I disagree with you on a lot of what you write, I heartily support your right to voice your opinions. And I love the discussion it stirs up. That may be your true gift. But sometimes, I think you just write stuff to stir it up. And that’s not very authentic, something you seem to pride yourself on.

  34. John Feier
    John Feier says:

    Margaret W. wrote: “Gen X is not the only generation to earn less than their parents; many, many people across the age spectrum are underemployed, have been downsized, etc.”

    Matta wrote: “You just love gross generalizations about any "group", whether it's Gen X, Y, baby boomers. Life is more diverse. You seem to have fallen prey to the labels ascribed to people by the marketing types like yourself (all of life is not about marketing, branding and self-promotion Penelope.)”

    What seems to be missing in both comments is an understanding that generations are real and have been the subject of countless studies in the social sciences. It is NOT a marketing concept. There ARE similarities amongst people born in certain periods. Strauss and Howe (1991), co-authors of the highly-acclaimed, “Generations,” can confirm what Penelope is referring to here.

    There IS a such thing as “Generation X” or the “13th Generation” as Strauss and Howe refer to it. Besides being born from 1965 to 1982, these people have other commonalities, including, but not limited to, the following:

    * Disaffectation with governance, a lack of trust in leadership, particularly institutional leadership
    * Rampant political apathy
    * Increase in divorce
    * Increase in mothers in the workplace
    * The zero population growth movement
    * Availability of birth control pills
    * Increase in educational variance
    * Decrease in educational funding and loan availability
    * Changed career options require more academic requirements and intellectual skill
    * Concerns on environmental destruction and ecological issues
    * Inception of the Internet
    * The end of the Cold War

    I would highly encourage anyone to look at the book, find their generation and look for similarities between themselves and the generations that make up American society. Once again, it is NOT a marketing concept.

    As for Margaret’s assertion that EVERYONE is experiencing economic problems, that I do not dispute. What I do dispute is this notion that the 13th Generation was not the first to have a lower standard of living. This is true. If we look at the economic situations surrounding when each generation came of age, there’s no other way that you can say that other than to say that we are the first generation to have made less than the preceding generation. Up until now, each generation had made more than their forbears. That’s what Penelope is referring to here.

  35. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Penelope,

    Your reply to Lisa Belkin included the following –

    “I just want people to talk about it. Because when I did it I felt really lost and looked for guidelines and a community and I wish I hadn't done so poorly during that time. So maybe this discussion will mean we'll all make good choices for parenting/marriage/kids. Or at least we'll all make better ones.”

    I can think of something worse. You never tried shared care and wonder if it would have worked for you and your not yet ex. At least you can say you gave it a try and it didn’t work out. I see shared care as an option working for certain people. My sister and her husband have made it work for their one child. Their work hours were already set up to make it work – she works as an LPN from 11 PM to 8 AM and he works the standard 8 AM to 5 PM. It wasn’t easy for them as there wasn’t any family living nearby. However my brother-in-law was either sent from heaven or came from another planet as he takes things in stride so well and manages to make things work regardless of the obstacles. My brothers and I refer to him as St. Bob which you could really appreciate if you knew my sister. The point is they somehow make it work and I don’t think it’s always a 50/50 split in the work involved. Maybe it works out that way in the long haul but I sense there are times where one of them is doing more – much more. I think one of the friction points in shared parenting is when one or both partners keep track of their efforts and may feel the other partner is not contributing enough to the total effort. That’s my opinion and probably just one of many factors involved.

    Mark

  36. Christine
    Christine says:

    I agree with Penelope that shared care won’t work if one or both partners have stellar careers. Nope. Can’t do it. We all only have so much time and energy. But honestly, how many of us have stellar careers? How many of us want stellar careers? My husband worked a high-level, high-profile management job with lots of excitement for five years. He was great at it, but it almost ruined our lives. Talent alone isn’t enough for a stellar career, you also need the desire and the temperment.

    Now my husband is no longer a manager, but produces excellent work that is meaningful to him and is valued by his superiors AND works a 9-5 schedule. Of course he isn’t making as much money, but now I can work at something that I like four days a week.

    And now we can do shared care. I buy the clothes, track the appointments and take our 4-year-old son to school. My husband is a member of the preschool board, takes care of all the school stuff (except the tuition bill; I pay the household bills, so I do that), and picks our son up from school. Household stuff we split roughly down the middle.

    This works for three main reasons: my husband is a responsible adult who rarely forgets things; we live in a small apartment that requires little work to maintain; and we only have one child. If I had a big house, three children and a husband who’s happy to keep dirty dishes in the sink for three weeks, this would not work.

  37. cb
    cb says:

    This article feels like sour grapes. In fact I’ve read 5 articles on the site and they all seem remarkably weak given the connections and expertise that you allegedly posess.

    I’ll be blunt (because this is the comment section in a blog and, um, why the heck not)… you seem like a self-centered narcissist with an over-inflated ego and a marginal degree of ‘knowledge’. I’m willing to guess that you are a beautiful and energetic woman, but at a certain point that hits a wall. It seems that you’ve hit it.

    I’m willing to keep reading because I believe that you do, infact, ‘know’ something. But I’ve yet to read anything of value here.

  38. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    Penelope is absolutely right. I have a further observation to make.

    Back behind the scenes, there have always been families where care was shared and both parents were there for the children. I refer to families supported by “mom and pop” businesses — family-owned stores and restaurants, family farms and ranches, and so on.

    I grew up in such an environment. We had a butcher shop. My father cut the meat and my mother kept the books. We kids helped around the store. (We also raised a few cattle, and that also helped pay the bills.)

    It’s funny that the NYT didn’t mention this kind of family setup. But maybe not — there’s nothing revolutionary or new-generational about it, so it doesn’t make good copy.

    Penelope is right on another point: When both parents are working the “mommy track,” they will be perpetually pinched for money. Owners of Mom and Pop businesses never get rich either.

  39. sophie
    sophie says:

    I have two points to debate/question. First, the prevailing idea that a career must be high powered, big income, business-oriented and of a leadership role to be successful.

    My husband is none of the above (except a somewhat high income) and I, like most people, consider him very successful, both in his career and as a person. As a skilled tradesman, he earns a very good salary. His easy-going personality is such that he never wants to be in management – he finds it egotistical, stressful and a pain. Plus he would earn less money.

    He likes his job but his real life begins when his 4) 10 hr/week workday is done. Family, friends, hobbies, volunteer, etc. – those are the things he loves and his job serves only as a mean to support and enjoy them.

    My second question lies with the idea that generations earn more or less than their parents. How is this decided? At what age? And in what numerical terms?

    At 40+, I earn a higher salary than my parents did when they were in their 40’s, even by comparative economic standards. Yet I have less money because life and spending habits are different. I sent all my kids to college, whereas my parents did not. Because we are a credit society, I pay lots in interest rates while my parents seldom did beyond their mortgage. I generally have more “things” than my parents did at my age – more cars per family, more technology, etc, and have traveled more at 40 than my parents did. Because of these things, I have far less cash flow.

    Yet, when I reach 70, the age of my parents, I possibly will have worked ten years longer than they did. My earning potential is much greater and because I’m doing more to manage my retirement, I hopefully will have more money than they have. Who knows? Not me, until I get there.

    Life and earnings are relative. I don’t see how we can be comparing generations, when some of them are not done living. Who knows what’s ahead for each of them?

  40. Leanne
    Leanne says:

    We shared care from our first son being 8 months old to 3 1/2 years – and we mixed a second babe in when he was 22 months. We both worked three days each out of the home – so each had three days where one was the primary care giver and one family day when we were all home.

    We chose to end the arrangement because the first born was in a state of constant confusion … “Are you in charge today mummy ….” “is it a mummy day ….” were two of the most common questions out of his mouth.

    So in all this chatter no one seems to have commented on what is best for the individual children involved. Some kids just do better with a single primary carer filling the majority of the time in the role.

    To simplify life for our wee ones I went back to work full time and my husband stays home full time.

    Now the boys know who is in charge of the home environment and are much more settled with this arrangement. Alas I am not so taken with my dear one’s domestic prowess … or lack thereof.

    After two 1/2 years back full time I suggested that next year I might stay at home and my husband might go back to work … but no he feels his technical skills are now behind the expected standard for his career and this is not a real option.

    Personally I think he has grown fully accustom to the stay at home routine and will not swap his sunny carefree days in the park for the chill of office politics ! Scardy cat.

    Out of interest he is a baby boomer and me at 11 years younger am a gen Xer all the way thru … read what you like into that. Cheers for now Ms P

  41. John Feier
    John Feier says:

    Sophia said: “My second question lies with the idea that generations earn more or less than their parents. How is this decided? At what age? And in what numerical terms?”

    Let’s use the metaphor of a snapshot in time.

    Let’s take a picture of, if it were possible, the standard of living of someone living in the 1920’s. Then, let’s compare that to the same kind of picture of someone in the 1960’s. Then, let’s fast forward to today and take a similar picture.

    Oh, but wait a minute…while we’re busy taking pictures, people are being born and dying. Entire groups of people have characteristics in common that are mostly found among people born in a particular frame of time. We end up calling these people of common characteristics and which are born in a particular frame of time, “generations.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be a strict 17 or 20 year period, but for some reason, strange as it may seem, people have more characteristics in common between themselves and others born in a particular generation than they do in others.

    Some of these characteristics are economic in nature, and as we have already established, there are different standards of living at different points in our American economic history.

    As Margaret W. correctly pointed out, the times we live in are hard on EVERYONE, but that does not diminish the reality that Generation X is the first generation to have earned less than their parents simply because they came into existence in a time when wages started to stagnate.

  42. Angela
    Angela says:

    I’d just like to add the point that shared care doesn’t necessarily have to be done with both partners working part-time. My wife and I each work full time and we squeeze the workweek into 4 hours, and each take a day at home with our 2yo daughter (who goes to daycare 3 days a week). I’m still a workaholic to be honest, but I like spending that day alone with my daughter.

    At some point my daughter will be in school full time (so no more compressed workweek) and my wife and I will still be sharing care. It’s about sharing the “second shift” just as much as about sharing “stay-at-home” time. We know of other couples (not a ton, but a few) who both work full time but who equally share the second shift. In my opinion that kind of sharing allows BOTH parents to prioritize their careers.

    That said, it is unfortunate that many jobs out there require far more than full time work, and thus don’t even allow a person to equally split that second shift. That means that anyone who equally shares may well be at risk for limiting their earning power, even if they work full time. But this is a problem that women have been facing since we entered the workforce in large numbers — equally sharing makes it a problem for men as well, and that’s alright by me (if it’s a problem for men, maybe something will be done about it).

    For mt part I’m very happy that I don’t have to manage our whole household along with my career.

  43. debbie
    debbie says:

    Penelope – I just have to post – You’ve come to the dark side :) All joking aside, my first post ever on your blog was on your post “Quit work for a while to have kids, Your career will be just fine” Where my comment was essentially – I don’t think so, a quick snippet from my post:

    For high profile, lucrative careers, you are flat out wrong. Your life may be just fine, but your high profile, lucrative career will be OVER!

    Now you believe “share care kills two careers” ie a minute off the gas pedal and your career will take a huge hit.
    I get the sense some of the things you’ve been going through the last few months have effected your view point on life-work balance. Just something to think about. I thought some of your view points were naive (sorry for the bluntness) and so would be interested to hear how/why they’ve changed.

    My two cents – the huge advantage of “shared care” extremely loosely defined is that both parents are more plugged into their kids lives. I think fathers are often devalued for the contribution they make. I know that my husband’s patience, goofiness and different interests all bring huge benefits to our kids and making sure that he has the time to spend with them is incredibly important. I know several mothers and fathers who work long hours (80+ a week), travel for weeks at a time, etc. and it’s hard on the other parent and the kids. I know that’s not exactly in line with “shared care” in a true 50-50 mix. But I think many couples will never achieve a true balance, but would benefit enormously from the simple idea that both parents need to be plugged in.

  44. Carla
    Carla says:

    What a luxury it must be to plan for “shared care.” Many of us do it because we have no choice. My husband and I are both self-employed, so when we, Gen-Xers both, had kids, we squeezed in work around parenting as much as possible. And then we added child care.

    Our kids in the preschool years were in daycare three days a week, with me one day and with him one day. It was the most economical situation. Neither one of is a “caregiver” personality, but we both had the ability to keep our businesses going at about the same pace as before by taking a day off a week.

    I think our kids benefited from it, and it really took me out of myself to have a non-working day (although the cell phone and blackberry would intrude too often) with the kids. I am not a stay-at-home-mommy type, but when I gave up my day off two years ago, I really missed it. Still do.

    Carla

  45. Ardith
    Ardith says:

    Always interesting, Penelope. And you write brilliantly. Here are my two cents. Every generation believes it’s revolutionary in one way or another; seems to go with the territory. And in one way or another, each is. Finger-pointing toward the last generation regarding parenting skills (or lack thereof) and its impact on the current generation is also standard practice.

    Kudos to Margaret for her remarks. For unless you’re in the middle or upper class in Russia, China, or now Brazil, everyone gets the opportunity to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous economic fortune. And whether our focus be work, home, or a combination of the two, knowing which works for us and pursuing that lifestyle is what should make us proud. Deciding that one or the other has more value is not.

  46. HKV
    HKV says:

    I thought the photo from the NYTs was on the money – the staging and color treatment lent a surreal quality. A kind of creepy portrait of our 21st Century nuclear family ideal. The treatment fit the idea that this could be managed gracefully by all parties – if only we had better self-discipline – more self control, were fundamentally, impossibly better people. I think it speaks volumes that this couple are getting/seeking publicity for their great feat. I don’t find the picture insipid – I think it’s rich with subtext.

    That being said, as a musician who is with another musician in CA, we are not in the position of expecting 6 figs from one or both (hah!) and there’s nothing like low expectations to ease the pain – as well as a healthy sense (not to sound sanctimonious – sorry) of what is actually important in life – Good luck to the wage-slaves!

  47. 1WineDude
    1WineDude says:

    Interesting stuff for sure.

    Not sure I’d compare Generation X with French revolutionaries, though… a bit too ‘Fight Club’ isn’t it?

  48. Monica
    Monica says:

    I’m neither a parent or married, but one of Amy’s sentences hit a big chord with me: “…there is room in the world for people who don't aspire to the standard American dream.”

    The idea that EVERYONE not only SHOULD aspire to be, say, a CEO or president, but actually CAN be, always amused me. Yes, it can in fact happen to any one person, but BY DEFINITION not to every person. A company only has one CEO, maybe a hand-full of other top-level staff. That’s all it CAN have. Lots of other people are needed to do lots of other tasks, without whom a CEO would not have anything to “CEO” over.

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