Friday, May 25, 2007

Feminism and Co-Parenting

AJ, who is one of my oldest friends and co-author, has been sending me post cards throughout my pregnancy, full of lucid, sane, and feminist advice. She has been using the "Women Who Dared" postcards, which I love (I used to have the dayplanner). In any case, the theme of the most recent postcard was "co-parenting" a phrase that most likely bears the mark of feminist critiques of the traditional family. AJ knows full well that I wouldn't have embarked on motherhood unless I had a real partner to do this with me. I will not be quitting my job, nor do I relish the idea of the "second shift."

When I read her postcard, I was pleased by the perspicacity of her advice (the reason why I always return to write and co-author projects with her):

Here's the simplest way to figure out if you have achieved co-parenting equality: when you leave the child with her/his father, do you also leave a set of directions?

Of course, if the notion of leaving the babe alone with Dad iself seems impossible--a situation that is true for an astounding percentage of families, it seems to me--then you already have your answer.

But instructions, or the need for them, demonstrates an unfamiliarity with the rhythms and patterns of the day--an unfamiliarity that can only be remedied with experience.

I have highlighted her last, important phrase here. What is insightful about this is the realization that if the father does not know the rhytmns of the day, it is not co-parenting to pin a list on him, monitor him, and thereby give him the message that he is wholly incapable of doing this without your constant monitoring. Rather, the goal is to ensure that the father has enough experience with your child to know these rhythms as well as you do (this will involve the same kind of trial and error that you had to endure).

I think this last step is really difficult for a lot of mothers. Perhaps the reason why is that we are socialized to see men as wholly incompetent in all matters of childcare and this motif is reinforced in popular culture all the time. But, as I have said before in this post, it is certainly not a feminist perspective to perpetuate this attitude toward men that inevitably results in leaving mothers with the majority of responsibility for raising children.

It is important, however, to distinguish between "leaving a set of instructions" and sharing insights about how your children are progressing day to day. AJ doesn't make this distinction, but it is implicit in her advice. Co-parenting equality occurs when the parents treat each other as equals, respect each other as adults, and can communicate and share their observations, thoughts, and ideas with each other. I imagine that the precondition for co-parenting, a healthy, mature relationship of adults who respect each other, is also woefully rare. I hope I am wrong, but the divorce rates seem to back up my hunch.