Likely the most misunderstood and sometimes debated phrase in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” Most Mormons seem to believe that the division of labor between mother as nurturer and father as provider is a form of “separate but equal” each in their own sphere providing for the needs of children and family. The debate in that phrase comes from those who hope that it suggests each partner working equally in each “primary” responsibility, and that those tasks are shared equally. Maybe there is a chance that the church and its leadership is moving to a time where women are encouraged and supported in President Hinckley’s declaration “The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women” where they can do just as the prophet said which is to: “Set your priorities in terms of marriage and family, but also pursue educational programs which will lead… to a sense of security and fulfillment in the event you do marry.” (1)(2)
If there were to be a way where mothers could work and continue in their ever important role as the nurturers of children, it seems that Equally Shared Parenting would be that way. The basic premise is that fathers and mothers share all family responsibilities equally: about half and half with childcare, household upkeep and employment. Families live within their means, love and nurture their children with little reliance on outside childcare, and find personal fulfillment and unity as parents and partners. In fact, it has recently been said that this concept of equally shared parenting is a close cousin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Likely, this concept appeals to feminists since both husband’s and wife’s all around needs are taken in account, with each helping the other in all aspects. Its a far cry from the feminist agenda of the 1960′s where feminists advocated for women to assimilate into the male workforce and keep the same rules expected of male employees while at the same time being the mothers their children needed (or never becoming mothers at all) and doing the majority of the housework and daily living responsibilities of a household and family. Feminists of the era have since admitted that their ideas caused a great disservice to women who heeded their call
Its not a matter of women being in or out of the workforce now, however. Just like Apostle Quinten L. Cook counseled members, “we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances.”(3)
In a time of economic downturn with husbands unemployed for long stretches at a time, many mothers find that they must work to meet the needs of their families. Stay at home dads are learning what many stay at home mothers have known: something vital is missing from a parent’s life when his/her education and skills are removed from the workplace. Betty Freidan called it “housewife’s syndrome” and perhaps now, many house husbands are feeling it too.
The Women’s Service Mission has covered this topic in a couple of different ways in the past. The review of Radical Homemaker’s found gospel principles in the idea of husband and wives sharing household responsibility by cutting consumerism and creating families that produce more than they consume–what the author called “units of production.” On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, WSM featured the book The War on Moms: On Life in a Family Un-Friendly Nation which called for national reforms to the employment system to create jobs that allow families to provide for their needs and contribute to their overall well-being rather than continue to enslave them to a workforce that stretches parents too thin and places children in the care of people other than their parents for the majority of the time. Another book on this topic, written by the advocacy organization MomsRising, entitled The Motherhood Manifesto, outlines the MomsRising platform that calls for flex time work options for men and women in additional to supplemental (not primary or full-time) child care for families who need to make use of it.
The book Equally Shared Parenting takes a step back from the policy debate and tells stories of families who are living the lifestyle they love without waiting for society to change for them. The authors interviewed 40 families most of whom have two parents working part-time to full-time, with little to no outside childcare needed. Many families are homeschooling their children. Fathers are just as capable of preparing lunches, soothing owies and teaching school lessons while mothers did their share of nurturing and homemaking and later being an integral part of their workplace. (4)
It sounds idealistic and it is, unabashedly so. Families across the country are making this work, even without the family friendly public policy advocated by feminists and apostles. (5) As more and more families embrace this way of living and enjoying life, these policies will be in greater demand and Mormons may learn exactly what “equal partners” really look like.
Have you heard of Equally Shared Parenting? Are you or any one you know living this arrangement? What does the phrase “equal partners” from the Proclamation mean to you? Please respond in the comments.
Are you involved in advocacy for family friendly policies? Tell us about your efforts by writing a guest post. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since this topic is focused women with children, the quoted was edited to leave out women who are do not marry or have children. If you are a single woman or are married but do not have children yet, would you consider the concept of equally shared parenting in your future family?
You can hear from the authors of Equally Shared Parenting in their interview with KRCL Salt Lake’s RadioActive.
In Quentin L. Cook’s address linked above, he counseled, ”I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.”