Having It All By Halving It All

June 11, 2019 by Don Hubin, Ph.D., Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

As any involved parent knows, parenting is both a great joy, and a burden. Fortunately, the joys outweigh the burdens but the burdens are real.

I am reminded of that when I see the commercial now airing for the University of Phoenix titled “Discover Your Wings.” It’s about an apparently single mother who finds it difficult to pursue her education in traditional ways because of her responsibilities to her child. It’s hard to watch this commercial without thinking, “wouldn’t it be good if she had help in raising her child—help that would allow her some time to get the education she needs to advance her career?”

The commercial doesn’t even hint that there is a father in the picture somewhere. But why not? Maybe the father is dead. Maybe he’s a ne’er-do-well who is shirking his responsibility to his child. These are possibilities. But a much more likely possibility is that he’s a sidelined dad, confined to seeing his children only every other weekend by a family court system that seems stuck in the 1950s.

It’s hard for a parent to pursue an education—even an on-line education—or advance in their career, when the only break they get from hands-on childcare is every other weekend. Wouldn’t it be great if the child care responsibilities of separated parents were typically shared much more equally? Wouldn’t it help mothers advance their education and careers—not to mention developing their adult relationships—if they had more time to do so?

It would! And it does!

Shared parenting, where separated parents divide the hands-on caretaking of their children equally benefits children. We know that; the evidence is now clear. And it’s good for fathers. But what about mothers? Do they benefit from shared parenting?

The good news is that this isn’t a zero-sum situation. The benefits for children and fathers don’t come at the expense of mothers. Shared parental responsibility frees mothers to get the education they need to pursue more challenging and rewarding careers and then to be successful in those careers. And, importantly, it allows them time to develop other adult relationships that can enhance their lives.

This isn’t just speculation. The latest evidence concerning the career benefits to women who share parenting responsibilities with the father of their children living apart comes from Spain. Professor Pilar Alvargonzalez Muñoz compared communities in Spain where shared physical custody of children was common with communities where it was rare. Professor Muñoz found that, in those communities “where legislation fostered shared parenting, [women] are more likely to be employed.”

This effect is not, of course, confined to Spain. And it’s an important lesson for those on this side of the Atlantic. Young American women have higher career ambitions than ever. In order for them to achieve those laudable ambitions, we need to change the cultural norm where, upon divorce, fathers are shuttled to the sidelines and mothers are overburdened with child care responsibilities. 

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