Reshaping Fatherhood: The Social Construction of Shared Parenting


Anna Dienhart

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  • Front Matter
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  • Part I: Background: Entering the Meaning-Making Loop

    Part II: Meaning-Making

    Part III: Reflexive Commentary

  • Understanding Families

    Series Editors: Bert N. Adams, University of Wisconsin

    David M. Klein, University of Notre Dame

    This book series examines a wide range of subjects relevant to studying families. Topics include, but are not limited to, theory and conceptual design, research methods on the family, racial/ethnic families, mate selection, marriage, family power dynamics, parenthood, divorce and remarriage, custody issues, and aging families.

    The series is aimed primarily at scholars working in family studies, sociology, psychology, social work, ethnic studies, gender studies, cultural studies, and related fields as they focus on the family. Volumes will also be useful for graduate and undergraduate courses in sociology of the family, family relations, family and consumer sciences, social work and the family, family psychology, family history, cultural perspectives on the family, and others.

    Books appearing in Understanding Families are either single- or multiple-authored volumes or concisely edited books of original chapters on focused topics within the broad interdisciplinary field of marriage and family.

    The books are reports of significant research, innovations in methodology, treatises on family theory, syntheses of current knowledge in a family subfield, or advanced textbooks. Each volume meets the highest academic standards and makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of marriages and families.

    The National Council on Family Relations cosponsors with Sage a book award for students and new professionals. Award-winning manuscripts are published as part of the Understanding Families series.

    • Multiracial Couples: Black and White Voices

      Paul C. Rosenblatt, Terri A. Karis, and Richard D. Powell

    • Understanding Latino Families: Scholarship, Policy, and Practice

      Edited by Ruth E. Zambrana

    • Current Widowhood: Myths & Realities

      Helena Znaniecka Lopata

    • Family Theories: An Introduction

      David M. Klein and James M. White

    • Understanding Differences Between Divorced and Intact Families

      Ronald L. Simons and Associates

    • Adolescents, Work, and Family: An Intergenerational Developmental Analysis

      Jeylan T. Mortimer and Michael D. Finch

    • Families and Time: Keeping Pace in a Hurried Culture

      Kerry J. Daly

    • No More Kin: Exploring Race, Class, and Gender in Family Networks

      Anne R. Roschelle

    • Contemporary Parenting: Challenges and Issues

      Edited by Terry Arendell

    • Families Making Sense of Death

      Janice Winchester Nadeau

    • Black Families in Corporate America

      Susan D. Toliver

    • Reshaping Fatherhood: The Social Construction of Shared Parenting

      Anna Dienhart


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    This book is dedicated to my young friends—Avery, Chandler, Gideon, and Teresa and Kathleen. May your generation of men and women reap the possibilities your parents envision for fatherhood and motherhood.


    What do men experience as the joys and challenges of taking active and full participatory presence in family life? What can men tell us about the benefits to themselves and their families when they are involved and active in the emotional, as well as instrumental, aspects of family life? How are women affected by having a partner who is deeply involved in child rearing? Questions like these intrigue me. The general absence of these questions from current conversations on women's and men's issues seems important. For some time, I have been concerned about the potential polarization between the general women's movement agenda and that of various men's interests, whether they be traditional bastions of power or grassroots men's groups. It strikes me that both sides may have political reasons for an apparent disinterest in asking such questions. Yet, men who actively participate in family life may have some interesting perspectives on such questions—perspectives that could offer an expansive view of gender equality and inequality.

    As a family science researcher and therapist working with individuals, couples, and families, I am fascinated by what I hear when I listen to stories located in the private lives of men and women. The private stories seem to be an intriguing conglomeration of what men and women have learned socially to expect of themselves and each other. Not surprisingly, it often sounds as if their socialization was more a process of osmosis than of intentional instruction. Yet, I also often hear men and women talk about trying to change those things they acquired through that osmosis, only to discover it is extremely difficult to hold on to the belief or behavior long enough to get a sense of what keeps it in place and makes change elusive.

    When I encounter men and women who seem to be doing family life differently than they experienced growing up, I indulge in exploring what has allowed them to be different. Often their accounts challenge me to reflect on ideas encountered in academic work. I am struck by the persistent pull of cultural stories about how men and women in families are supposed to “be,” how they are supposed to act and feel. At the same time, I am amazed at the myriad ways individuals do not conform to those cultural stories. Grand narratives, or our theories and research about families, seem simultaneously to reflect society and to influence individuals in society. For example, feminist-inspired social critique addressing the inequities between men and women has both reflected changes in society and contributed to changing the perceived and real possibilities for women in families, implying that men must change too.

    Although women have moved en masse into the “public domain” of work outside the home, recent literature suggests that little has changed for women regarding their responsibilities for the family. The question “why not?” could draw my interest toward further socio-political-economic analysis of a power-based impetus for men's resistance (Goode, 1982). Yet, after listening to men's and women's stories about trying to make changes in their individual lives, I found I was drawn more toward exploring what allowed some men to resist resisting.

    The opportunity to explore such questions formally and publicly came in the guise of a PhD thesis. Preparing for that endeavor, I needed to find some ways to combine my interest in the unique individual experience while valuing general tendencies found across a variety of people. I wanted to explore private narratives about the often inexplicable dance of men and women engaged in living together and raising the next generation, and my hunches about the intricate, reflexive loop people negotiate between their own life story and its fit with perceived cultural norms about men, women, and families.

    A social constructionist perspective on foundational questions of what is considered truth (or reality) and the process of knowledge creation underpin this entire project. Having adopted a social constructionist perspective, I have been influenced by some core values and beliefs. As a social constructionist researcher, I believe humans are constantly making meanings of their experiences: “Meaning-making is always imbued with language, whether or not we use words” (Weingarten, 1991, p. 295). We generate meanings verbally, nonverbally, and symbolically. Ultimately, meanings are interpretations constructed in social interaction, and as such they are “interpretable only in the light of specific cultural practices” (Weingarten, 1991, p. 295).

    I understand cultural practices to suggest several levels of the interpretive backdrop. There is the large cultural perspective associated with the dominant sociocultural group of the person's society or nation. There is the more local cultural perspective of the person's community or group identity. There is the even more local cultural perspective of the person and her or his unique experiential history, which serves as a multilayered interpretive filter in itself. Some argue that the personal culture (each individual) may very well contain all these layers. Thus, as one works to understand the personal perspective, one may uncover embedded specific cultural practices of a larger group.

    Each person constructs her or his meanings against the intricately woven meaning space of her or his personal, interpersonal, and sociocultural experience. I believe the personal construction of meanings is intersubjective. We construct formulations; in interaction, we check out our formulations for fit with the cultural milieu in which we live. Thus, we negotiate our individual meanings in a social context (Gergen, 1985). The intersubjective construction of meanings does not necessarily suggest that each person in the interactive interpretive exchange arrives at the same meaning. Our subjective meanings are complexly located in the social context of our existence. Intersubjectivity also suggests that our personal meanings may be influenced by the degree of connection we have to a particular person or social context. The more connection we feel or desire, the greater the potential to be influenced by the other.

    Weingarten (1991) argues that intersubjective meaning-making in any particular social interaction is sensitive to the stance each individual takes to the exchange. An open, curious stance void of efforts to impose meanings, restrict meanings, withhold meanings, or otherwise withdraw from a constructive meaning-making exchange is more likely to result in a co-construction of meaning. That is, a co-construction, or the process of arriving at shared meanings, more likely results from an open exchange of possible interpretations. It was this type of stance that I wanted to take to my research conversations. This stance has several implications for interpreting this research.

    Essential to a social constructionist perspective is the belief that the observer cannot be objectively detached from that which is being observed: The mere activity of observing may influence the observation. Hence, it is imperative that I provide personal and professional contextual information underpinning my interpretive frame. My current status as a single, middle-aged woman with no children could give the impression that I have few connections to the research topic. My personal history, however, contributed to the original framing of my research interest. In short, I am not an objective observer of some distant phenomenon.

    My interpretive lens has been influenced by having grown up in the 1950s and 1960s with a “stay-at-home mother” and a “provider father.” The family life of my childhood both fits and does not fit with central themes identified in a critical feminist analysis of such a traditional family experience. Our family made several moves dictated by my father's advancing career because he strongly felt the economic imperative to provide well for his family. He spent his after-work hours relating with his children, sometimes through games, at other times through help with school work, letting us assist him with his chores, and many times just being there as we drifted off to sleep. I implicitly knew my mother had a great deal of influence and decision-making power in the family, and her constancy of presence at home was a great source of assurance and trust.

    My mother and my father both lived out aspects of what we have come to call traditional family roles for women and men. Yet, they also each expressed individuality in parenting not adequately captured by the caricatures of the traditional mother or father. This awareness led me to want to explore the complexities behind today's caricatures of men and women in families.

    Disappointment at the ending of my marriage, in which both my partner and myself worked outside the home, had equally high incomes, and managed to divide up responsibilities of family life and care for his daughter, initially led me to feminist literature for an understanding of family experiences. Exposure to that literature helped me appreciate aspects of socialized gender roles that can constrain both men and women. Yet, a feminist focus on patriarchal power, male privilege, and control did not fully capture the subtleties of my own marriage. I began to wonder if analysis of culturally embedded male privilege loses some of its power in the uniquely intimate interpersonal relationships of family. I now take a more curious stance about the subtle dynamics between men and women as they live and negotiate family partnerships.

    Another important influence leading me to study men in families was a privileged experience of listening to men talk about themselves and their families in my career as a consulting economist to large international corporations and financial institutions. My colleagues, mostly males, often shared stories of their lives over lunch or while traveling on business. Remembering those men and their stories, I noticed a predominant strain of men feeling pulled out of their families by their work and struggling to create space in their lives to experience the deep meaningful connections with their children, as well as providing for them. From those men, I learned there was more to the traditional image of “father as provider” than met the eye.

    Adopting a social constructionist perspective raised my awareness of and respect for the interpretive process of any research endeavor. I appreciated that my interpretive lens would need checking for where and how my focus was clear, where it remained fuzzy or notably distorted, and where I needed to find another lens to add perspective and understanding. I came to recognize the importance of having a consultant group serve as an external monitor on my interpretations. Thus, I asked several couples actively engaged in living the intricacies of family life and partnership to act as consultants to this research. These consultants asked me difficult questions; pointed out potential biases; provided inspiration through sharing the intricacies of their own experiences; and reviewed many of my ideas, then pushed me to go farther in my thinking.

    Because a social constructionist perspective on research highlights the subjective and interpretive quality of any research endeavor, I chose to present this research in a style that I see as congruent with that approach. For the most part, this book is organized along traditional academic lines, with some notable exceptions. The primary departure from mainstream academic practices is found in style and language. I do not use strictly objective, third-person language. In keeping with a social constructionist stance, I generally adopt a first-person, narrative style.

    Furthermore, the interpretative nature of this research is highlighted throughout. In doing so, I adopt two practices: First, I introduce the language of meaning-making. The chapters traditionally called results or findings are included in a six-chapter section labeled “Meaning-Making.” This heading stresses the socially constructed nature of this research and the centrality of the researcher's subjective presence in the interpretive process that shaped the research narrative (this book). I include a description of my methodological approach (Appendix A) to substantiate the research practices that guided my interpretative process. Second, the writing style stresses the distinction between narrative “accounts of experiences” and “experience” in the sense of a “reality.” Narrative accounts of experience include the narrator's meaning-making.

    As I came to the conclusion of this book, I realized I could go back to the beginning and search deeper into the phenomena discussed—such is the excitement of research. I have paused here, just long enough to go public in the form of this book. I offer these ideas for you to ponder. As you construct your own interpretations of my research interpretations, see where you take these ideas from where I have left off, at least for now.


    A book is prepared with the support and contributions of many people. I wish to give special recognition and thanks to the men and women in the 18 couples who so generously shared their time, stories of their family life, and ideas with me, and whose faith and resourcefulness in making sharing parenting work are reflected in the results of this study. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting each one of you and still carry around images of your families and memories of our conversations. You, individually and collectively, made this research possible, and share in whatever contribution it makes to our field.

    Special recognition also goes to the men and women in the four consultant families. You were the initial inspiration for my research, and later gave generously of your time, ideas, and reflections on my ideas. Beyond your direct contributions, your images and family stories often served as my touchstones. Watching from the sidelines as you co-create parenthood's sharing potentials always helped me regain energy, confidence, and courage to keep going with this project.

    I was fortunate to meet Dr. Kerry Daly several years ago when I returned to university in search of a new career. For me, he modeled a different way to express consummate professionalism, with humor and humanity. Kerry shared his skills in qualitative research, an interest in men's stories of fatherhood, and supported my journey into the realm of social constructionism. I appreciated his choices to privilege his parenting over our appointed meeting occasionally when family life veered off its predictable course, because it suggested to me that he personally knew something about living shared parenthood. His questions and challenges invited me to look at ideas I had not considered, and thus moved this research along. Kerry gave of his time graciously; he welcomed me as a colleague and encouraged me to value my own ideas. For all this, I am ever grateful.

    Several other colleagues at the University of Guelph contributed valued critical perspectives: Drs. Jean Turner, Claude Guldner, and Michael Sobol each brought unique interpretive perspectives and raised challenging questions while supporting my developing ideas. Dr. Theodore F. Cohen of Ohio Wesleyan University challenged and affirmed my ideas about alternatives to traditional models of family life. Tara Curtis provided skillful and thoughtful transcription, capturing the rich texture of people's narratives and adding insights to my reflections. My colleague Dr. Dalia Restrepo Ramirez helped sustain me with encouragement, intellectual challenge, diversions, laughter, faith, and most important, friendship.

    My family of friends in Guelph—Susan, Fred, Nancy, Patsy, Stepanie, Peter, Sharon, Paul, Jean, Janet, Kim, and Dave—stood patiently by me through many months and shared the sustenance of close families—encouragement, acceptance, conversations, food, flowers, fun, dancing, and a loving faith in me; these connections pulled me out of the isolation of writing and gave me energy to continue. My parents—John and Barbara—and siblings—Janice (and family), Lucy, and John (and sons)—though they are all geographically distant, helped me find the courage to set out on this journey and the fortitude to finish with a new beginning. I trust your loving.

    Finally, an award cosponsored by the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) and Sage Publications, Inc., brought life to a once-distant hope, giving me the chance to make public what had been an exciting journey into research. This annual award—the Sage/NCFR New Professional Book Prize—acknowledges the contribution of new authors and supports them as they learn to edit, refine, clarify, and transform ideas. For me, those ideas were often so close I could not know what others might interpret. Dr. Bert Adams (University of Wisconsin) and Dr. David Klein (Notre Dame), editors for the Understanding Families Series, helped me see ways to convey what I really thought so that others might gain new appreciation for diverse possibilities in the private lives of families. This has been rich journey into ideas I thought I already knew well, and will remain a touchstone through my academic career.

  • Appendix A: Methodology

    Recent research has begun to focus on the deep texture of men's experience in families. The research to date does not directly yield a grounded understanding of the why or how of fathers' full participation in sharing parenting, however. I was interested in bringing men's own stories of their experience to our understanding of men's participation in parenting. I was particularly interested in the lived experience and meaning-making of men who are actively sharing the parenting of their children with their partners.

    I used the processes of qualitative inquiry to tap into complex constructions of the participants' worlds. Qualitative methodology opens the research inquiry to an explication of how people make sense of their life experiences (Denzin, 1994; Marshall & Rossman, 1989; McCracken, 1988; Moustakas, 1990; Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Denzin's (1994) review of qualitative methodologies highlights the range in researchers' recognition of intersubjectivity in the research endeavor. He urges researchers to address explicitly the interactive exchange of ideas and meanings between researcher and coresearcher (research participant). Research conversations with participants are meaning-making exchanges (Denzin, 1994). This meaning-making exchange involves a process of the researcher listening to participants' narratives and clarifying with participants so that the subjective understanding the researcher is formulating captures the participants' experiences. This means the researcher needs to practice transparency—or the practice of clarifying how the meanings presented in the research product were constructed intersubjectively between the researcher and the participant. It also means the researcher clarifies whose meanings are being privileged in the research story. These central ideas and practices match the tenets of my social constructionist paradigm.

    Qualitative Research Design
    The Foundation of the Research Design: Grounded Theory

    My search for a qualitative research process appropriate to study men and women who are fully sharing parenting began with the open and emergent design of grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) and the long qualitative interview (Marshall & Rossman, 1989; McCracken, 1988). Grounded theory approaches are particularly appropriate for the study of phenomena, action/process, and interactional questions, as well as biographical questions (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The use of a long, qualitative interview offers the power to reach “into the life-world of the individual, [and] to see the content and pattern of daily experience” (McCracken, 1988, p. 9), while enriching our understanding of how human action is mediated by culture. In this research, I was asking men and women to share biographical stories. In hearing their stories, I was also listening for the meaning they made from their interactions and experiences of sharing parenting. I was interested in their individual and family histories, as well as their experiences and processes that allowed sharing parenting to work for them.

    Incorporating Social Constructionist Ideas in a Grounded Theory Study

    As I began interviewing couples, as well as the individual men and women in these families, I began to recognize more fully some postpositivist strains in the interpretive claims of Strauss and associates' grounded theory (Denzin, 1994). Most notably, I recognized the tendency to suggest that interpretations may approximate reality when different researchers, employing a similar set of conditions, the same theoretical perspective, and the same research protocol, are “able to reproduce the same theoretical explanations of a given phenomenon” (Denzin, 1994, p. 508). Wanting an updated research practice, I turned to the constructionist ideas and practices of Lincoln and Guba (1985) and Denzin (1989a, 1989b). Lincoln and Guba tend to be more explicit about the value-laden nature of all research. They emphasize the interpretive process that underpins research results or constructed theory. Further, they explicitly acknowledge the interactive relationship that exists between the researcher and research participants (or the observer and the observed). Their constructionist approach maintains a serious “commitment to methods and procedures that will increase a text's credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability” (Denzin, 1994, p. 508). In this, they adhere to the “canons of good science” (Denzin, 1994, p. 508), while allowing for an open and emergent design.

    In working with the emergent design of this study, I eventually incorporated ideas and analytical approaches from life story narratives (Riessman, 1993), interpretive interactionism (Denzin, 1989a, 1989b, 1994), and heuristic research (Moustakas, 1990). All these approaches are positioned in a constructionist paradigm and offer perspectives to sharpen the interpretive process. The ideas and practices outlined by Denzin (1989a, 1989b, 1994) enable the researcher to be more explicit about a central role in the interpretive process.

    Modifying my approach by incorporating ideas and practices found in naturalistic inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) and interpretive biography (Denzin, 1994), I created what Charmaz (1993) suggests is a sound social constructionist approach for a grounded theory study. In the meaning-making endeavor of a grounded theory study, the social constructionist researcher presents constructed concepts thought to be located in and generated from the narrative accounts of people's lives as they live day in and day out (Denzin, 1994; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Within the framework of qualitative research, all these approaches share several central practices, in particular, the reflexive process of induction, deduction, and verification of concepts; the aim to identify, develop, and relate concepts; and ongoing and evolving data collection and data analysis (Charmaz, 1993; Denzin, 1989a, 1989b, 1994; Moustakas, 1990; Riessman, 1993; Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

    Methodological Practices
    Theoretical Sampling

    The long qualitative interview was the primary approach to data collection (Denzin, 1989a, 1989b; Marshall & Rossman, 1989; McCracken, 1988; Moustakas, 1990; Riessman, 1993). Data analysis involves “successively evolving interpretations” (Strauss, 1987, p. 10) and the practice of theoretical sampling (Denzin, 1994; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Theoretical sampling is the practice of identifying themes (hypothesized patterns) and concepts in the data, asking where instances of these phenomena may be found, and then collecting further data for verification (or not) of their relevance (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

    Theoretical saturation is an important research concept associated with theoretical sampling practices. Saturation refers to the notion that interviewing participants has reached the point where further interviews will not generate significantly different views or information relevant to the theoretical category being explored. When a researcher determines that saturation has been reached, he or she is convinced that concept development is already dense, and the relationships between concepts are established and confirmed (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). In this research, I tracked several themes across all couples. The rules of thumb I used to decide if I had sufficient data for a particular category were 1) a majority of the participants' narratives contained coded text in the category, and 2) the most recent interviews did not add or clarify nuances in any particular category.

    Criteria for Participant Selection

    Theoretical sampling involves sampling incidents, not persons (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). But it is in the lives of people that these incidents are grounded (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), so the issue of which people are studied becomes central to the qualitative endeavor. Theoretical sampling also requires that a diversity of perspectives be brought to the research question (Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Thus, strategic selection of research participants is important (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

    The selection criteria for research participants involved a deliberate search for families in which men have an identifiable investment in being fully involved and active in the day-in and day-out responsibilities and activities of family life and child care. I was interested in the experiences of both men and women in these families, thus I sought only participant families in which both partners would be willing to talk with me about their individual and collective experiences.

    In selecting families for this research, I identified three selection criteria and imposed certain limitations on sample diversity. 1) Both the man and the woman agreed that he was an active and fully participating father in everyday family life. The determination of what “active and fully participating father” meant was left to each couple. In the initial conversations, I asked questions about the extent of the man's participation in common everyday family routines (e.g., meal preparation, the child's hygiene, time spent in directly handling the child's daily care and development, and in-house maintenance) to satisfy my general sense of the extent of his involvement. 2) They had at least one child between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. 3) They were a first family of these biological children. These three selection criteria were designed to draw on some common experiences thought to be associated with families of young children.

    Carter and McGoldrick (1988) identify “accepting new members into the system” (p. 15) as the primary task for families with young children. In attempting to include families that were likely to be experiencing generally similar developmental tasks, I chose both an upper limit (up to but not including children who have entered adolescence) and a lower limit (including children who have reached their second birthday). Preadolescent and younger children still require after-school care and significant adult supervision and involvement in daily routines. I chose a lower limit of 2 years after considering the importance of allowing some time for the parents to have established a basic pattern of sharing the high demands of caring for young children. If either (or both) the mother or father took parental leave following the birth of their child, they would likely have returned to work by the time the child was 2 years old and would have likely established routines of child care.

    Convenience Referrals for Participant Selection

    Eighteen families participated in this research. The men and women in these 18 couples shared their family life stories from their individual and couple perspectives. Their narratives, told in unfolding, interactive conversations with me (as researcher), became the grounding data for research interpretation.

    The men and women in an additional four families agreed to act as consultants to me in the interpretive process. These men and women are people in my network of colleagues and friends. They were the initial source of my interest in sharing parenting couples. They are people who opened their homes and their family lives to me as a friend. They are people with whom I had many opportunities to observe interactions before I began to contact couples for this research. As I created initial questions and designed the early parameters for this study of sharing parenting couples, these people listened to my ideas and offered their perspectives, which helped refine my questions and selection criteria. For the most part, these four couples meet the selection criteria I eventually adopted. As well, they resemble the general characteristics, both demographic and in their self-descriptions of family life characteristics. For reasons of respecting the boundaries of friendship, we eventually decided they would not formally participate as primary informants. I did not formally interview these couples, nor did I analyze their stories. They agreed to continue their participation by acting as consultants throughout the formulation of interpretative conceptualizations. They agreed to listen to my ideas, to help me challenge my assumptions, and to offer their perspectives on what I thought I was hearing from the participant couples.

    As consultants, these families were also the source of the first referrals to primary participants. Three of the four consultant couples contacted at least one other family they knew and gave them my project description. The referred family then made its own choice to participate or not; contacting me by telephone if they chose to self-refer. Four participant families came into the study via this route.

    After initial contact with these first referrals, I asked couples if they would pass along the project description to another family. Two self-referrals resulted from this snowball procedure. At the same time, I circulated project descriptions to several people in my extended network of colleagues and friends. They in turn passed them along to other families. Six self-referrals resulted from this process. Another six families came into the study in response to a notice included in a parents' newsletter of a local preschool program.

    Strategic Participant Selection and Theoretical Saturation

    Several other families were suggested for participation. The decision not to contact these additional couples was based on the purposive element of the selection process. I was purposefully looking for a selection of participant couples representing different ways of combining family responsibilities with work outside the home. After talking to the referral source, I thought the combination of the man and woman sharing work and family responsibilities represented by these additional couples was already well represented in my sample.

    Furthermore, I determined that my conversations with these 18 families had already given me access to a significant depth and breadth of experience to reach theoretical saturation. McCracken (1988) justifies the potential appropriateness of a small number of informants by noting the purpose of qualitative research as being to look into the “complicated character, organization, and logic of [local] culture” (p. 17), rather than to generalize to the larger population or to determine distribution and frequency of some phenomena.

    Data Collection and Interview Process

    Marshall and Rossman (1989) argue that the long qualitative interview is typically more like a conversation than an interrogation. Accordingly, I adopted an informal conversational style, using a general interview guide as a prompt to cover the same areas of interest with each person (Marshall & Rossman, 1989; McCracken, 1988; Moustakas, 1990; Patton, 1990).

    Obtaining High-Quality Data

    McCracken (1988) notes that the key to obtaining high-quality data is adopting a stance as an unobtrusive researcher. Being unobtrusive means that the researcher allows the informant to tell his or her own story. Thus, the researcher must create an atmosphere of trust and openness. Both trust and openness are thought to facilitate the full development of the person's narrative account of her or his experiences. Obtaining a fully developed narrative account, rich with detail, explanations, and meanings, is the initial basis for establishing a credible research product.

    Establishing Trust and Openness: Interview Practices

    I believed I could demonstrate my trustworthiness to the parents by interacting with their children in a respectful, interested, playful manner that involved them in my research and provided a relatively nonthreatening introduction to the recording equipment. I usually arranged my meeting with each couple during a part of their day when their children would be present. When I entered their home, I made a point of getting down to the children's level (physically crouching so they could speak to me face to face), and engaged each child in some talk about himself or herself. I then proceeded to show the children my recording equipment and let them talk into the tape, then rewound it so they could hear themselves as recorded. In deciding to begin with this procedure, I was aware the parents would be watching my interaction, and likely making initial judgments about my trustworthiness. I took as long as seemed necessary for the children to satisfy their curiosity and move to looking to their parents for direction as to what was next.

    In outlining what I thought might be the process, I described how I would conduct myself in the conversation. I let them know that I would be asking them as a couple to describe what their routines were and how they came to organize their family life in this way. I would follow their descriptions and ask clarifying questions to develop some detail in the picture I was capturing of their experience. I would then ask to speak with each of them individually; they could decide who would go first. I also invited them to feel comfortable with directing the conversation to areas they thought I should know about. Each person was assured that she or he need not answer any questions that did not feel appropriate or comfortable.

    The Interview Process

    I used two orienting questions. First, I asked people to describe a day and a week in the life of their family. In this way, I heard about who does what and how routine and nonroutine situations are handled. Second, I asked them to help me understand how they, individually and as a couple, came to organize their family life in this way. Typically, I followed the first orienting question with some general clarifying questions. After a general answer to the second question, I began to follow the weave of their story more closely. I asked them to expand on points, to help me make connections to things they had already said, or to tell me how the described situations affected them, their partner, and their children. These conversations became a guided co-construction, wherein I both followed their lead and led in certain directions of primary interest to this study.

    I conducted these guided conversations in the spirit of being informed by their expertise. Recognizing the power and privilege of my position as the researcher, I endeavored to establish, as far as possible, a spirit of egalitarian rapport between myself and informants. I recognized that their sharing could entail risks in terms of being time-consuming, endangering privacy, and demanding intellectual and emotional energy (McCracken, 1988). I viewed the sharing of their lives with me as a privilege of my being in the researcher role. I tried to convey these sentiments both directly in my introductory description and by my conduct throughout the interview conversation. To this end, I was keenly aware of trying to establish rapport, especially in the early segments of all my conversations with the couples and the individuals. I purposely positioned myself to convey my sincere interest in their experience and my respect for their unique story. To accomplish this, I used joining skills learned in my clinical practice to paraphrase and reflect back to them what I was beginning to understand about their experience before I would ask a question of clarification or redirection. Also, I would frequently pause and check out what meaning I was making by reflecting back what I was thinking and asking them if I was capturing their experience. I purposely used open language—such as “I wonder about …” or “I am curious about…”—that I hoped would encourage them to feel my attentiveness to their experience and meaning.

    For each of the 18 families in the informant pool, I had the opportunity to speak with the couple and with each partner individually about their experiences. Following my initial conversations with these families, I selected 6 families for a second conversation. I selected these 6 families on the basis of initial analysis that they could be representative exemplars of some key themes. In these second conversations, the couple was asked to speak with me further about collective and individual experiences of phenomena they spoke about in my first meetings with them. Conversations lasted 2 to 3 hours, and allowed me the opportunity to have a more substantial experience of co-constructions and their understandings as a couple. These second conversations enriched the data, allowing my analysis to penetrate deeper into the intricacies of interaction and meanings these men and women created by sharing parenting fully.

    Documentation of the Conversations

    All my conversations with the research participants were audiotaped. A professional transcriber provided verbatim transcripts. Her transcriptions were conversational, and captured various tones and obvious idioms of speech. These annotations added, in many cases, subtle meaning to the spoken words. Annotations include conversational pauses, obvious affective tones (e.g., laughter, tears), and flow (especially when transcribing couple conversations). I proofed all transcriptions against the tapes and, where obvious, added my own interpretative notation of accompanying affective tone. These annotated texts became the data I analyzed for themes.

    At the end of the initial conversations, all informants agreed to share basic demographic descriptions of their families. Basic demographic data include family income; education level; age; age at marriage (or beginning this bonded relationship); length of marriage (relationship); number, ages, and sex of children; and current family form. These data were included as background information and were not used for any quantitative analysis.

    Participant Characteristics

    The people who volunteered to participate in this research seemed to be highly motivated to share their personal and family stories. They were a self-selected group of couples who responded to the project description after being contacted by someone in their network of family, friends, colleagues, child care providers, and neighbors. The project description explicitly mentioned my interest in men's experience of creating highly involved roles for themselves in family life. It also explicitly stated that I was looking to them to make a contribution toward building a clearer understanding of the joys and challenges men and women face in creating new possibilities for men in families. When they contacted me to find out more about the research, I asked them what interest they had in participation. I often heard statements suggesting that they felt they had a sense that their family was somewhat different from the general population. I also heard people suggest that they felt motivated to share their generally positive experiences of sharing parenting with others.

    Table A.1 summarizes some socioeconomic characteristics of the informant families. Fifteen informant families live in various communities in southwestern Ontario (Canada); three informant families live in southern California. The thematic analysis of similarities and differences across participant families did not reveal significant differences based on different geographical contexts.

    TABLE A.1 Research Participant Characteristics

    The 18 couples who shared their stories could be considered a fairly homogeneous group. On the most general level, they share the characteristics of educated, white, middle-class North Americans. Most couples owned their home, and did not talk about serious threats to their economic viability, such as underemployment, unemployment, or poverty. Their narratives are rich with the sense of choice about their lifestyle. They also share characteristics of having been together as a couple for a fairly long time, as well as having established their couple relationship over several years before having children. Generally, their narrative accounts place them as having lived in their current community for many years, with several couples living close to at least one set of their children's grandparents. With the exception of one man, these couples are in their first marital relationship. (Although several couples reported having lived together previously, at the time of my research, all the couples reported being married.) The 18 couples represented several different configurations of family structure: 3 couples were dual earners, 3 couples job shared, in 4 families the woman worked part-time and the man worked full-time, in 2 families the man worked part-time and the woman worked full-time, there were 3 stay-at-home fathers and 3 stay-at-home mothers.

    Data Analysis: The Meaning-Making Process

    The qualitative long interview generates textual data that are later subjected to analytical scrutiny by the researcher. The analytical process in a social constructionist study is interpretive. I used two approaches in the meaning-making process—the bottom-up analytical strategy of social constructionist grounded theory (Charmaz, 1993; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) and the reflexive holistic strategy of heuristic research (Moustakas, 1990).

    The first analytical steps were located in the tradition of social constructionist grounded theory. After each interview, I reviewed the text by listening to the audiotape while reading the transcript, underlining emphasized words and making initial coding notes in the margins. The initial data analysis involved highlighting words in the text and identifying what I took to be the main theme (or themes) in the text segment. With each informant text, the data analysis involved both “successively evolving interpretations” (Strauss, 1987, p. 10) and theoretical sampling (Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

    Theoretical Sampling Practices

    I practiced a modified method of theoretical sampling. The modification entailed how I positioned my follow-up and continuing articulation of developing themes. As I interpreted each text, I kept a running list of interpretive themes and evolving hypotheses. Then, in my interview conversation with the next informant family, rather than starting with questions around themes already developed (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), I started with an open invitation to listen to their unique narrative. I proceeded with my approach to follow their unique narrative closely. I also kept an ear tuned to notes of the themes I had already developed. If I heard similar themes, I would seek further clarification and understanding. If I did not hear notes of similar themes, I continued to follow the unique story of the particular people I was interviewing. Although allowing their story to take a shape that reflected their unique experience, I would at some point near the end of the interview take the opportunity to ask a question about other themes I was developing. I would introduce these areas by noting that there were some ideas I had heard about in conversations with other families, and I wondered if they would be willing to give me their perspective. If the hypothesized pattern (theme) did not resonate with their experience and meaning-making, I would not pursue it further. By using this approach, I believe I was both open to searching each text for unique themes in the informant's constructed worlds and employing constant comparative analysis of themes across a diversity of individual texts (Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin 1990).

    Heuristic Inquiry Practices

    The process Moustakas (1990) calls heuristic inquiry describes my second analytical approach. This analytical strategy was both concurrent with and sequential to the selective coding and open axial coding of constructionist grounded theory (Charmaz, 1993; Strauss, 1987). Moustakas outlines six intertwined aspects of an interpretive research process: initial engagement, immersion, incubation, illumination, explication, and creative synthesis. In this process, Moustakas is explicit about the crucial place of tacit knowledge and the contribution intuition makes to the interpretive endeavor. His six layers of interpretive process recognize the ongoing presence of intuition in bridging tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge. I am aware of my reliance on both tacit knowledge and intuition in the meaning-making process. In the interview, I would follow people's story bits (partial stories), trusting my intuition to guide me in pursuing the current direction further, checking out the meanings shaped as I listened, and leading the conversation in new directions. Both knowledges were also operating as I approached the bottom-up analytical work of open and axial coding the textual data for meaning.

    It was in the reflexive holistic analytical work—or the heuristic process—that I was most aware of using myself—my tacit knowledge and intuition—as an interpretive instrument. The heuristic approach to meaning-making values the portrayal of “wholes,” not only the descriptive analytical bits of thematic analysis (Moustakas, 1990). As I listened, and listened again, to the audiotapes, and read, and reread several times, the transcribed texts of the story bits, I began to shape, in an intricate weave, a larger story of these people's experiences of sharing parenting.

    Legitimation Practices

    Qualitative researchers often refer to legitimation practices rather than the concepts of reliability and validity commonly associated with quantitative studies. Strategically designing and employing legitimation practices adds to the credibility of the qualitative methodology (Denzin, 1989a, 1989b; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Such practices are meant to substantiate the legitimacy of the research. Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggest that qualitative research meet the criteria of trustworthiness that includes credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. Verisimilitude (Denzin, 1989a, 1989b) is the notion that because all narratives are constructed fictions, the “truth” of the story is based on whether or not the story is believable to the listener or reader. The following research practices served to create trustworthiness and verisimilitude. All these practices are suggested in qualitative methodology texts (Denzin, 1989a, 1989b; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Strauss, 1987; Strauss & Corbin, 1990) as important ways to create trustworthiness.

    Persistent Observation

    I introduced a practice of persistent observation (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 304) by conducting all the interviews myself and maintaining the same objectives and manner of interviewing. I intentionally asked each research participant questions in the same general areas in an attempt to develop a depth of understanding and an appreciation for the salience of the pervasive qualities involved. These areas included their accounts of their family-of-origin history, the creation of their current sharing parenting practices, their individual perception of how sharing parenting affects them individually and their partner, their perception of what makes their sharing arrangement work for their family, and their perception of cultural practices that either facilitate or hamper working out sharing parenting in their family.

    Strategic Selection of Referrals

    Although using a convenience referral process to gain access to researcher participants, I endeavored to access families representing a diversity of family experiences and structure. For example, I purposely selected referred families where both parents worked full-time, one parent worked full-time or the other worked part-time, and families with stay-at-home mothers and stay-at-home fathers. Families came from both large urban centers and smaller communities. To increase further the number of perspectives accessed, I interviewed individual men and women, the couple at least briefly, and, for a subset, I also had an extensive interview with the couple together.

    Field Notes and Analytic Memos

    After interviews and when coding transcripts, I kept notes about ideas that caught my attention. I kept a running list of meaning bits and themes I was developing in my coding of the transcripts. When I clustered ideas into themes, I developed descriptive detail of the overarching meaning and speculations of the interconnections and interactive dynamics. My analytical process here was concurrent with further interviewing in which I would purposefully ask questions to check out my hypotheses and the analytic meanings I was developing. I also had frequent conversations with couples in my consultant group, where I asked them to reflect on the ideas and meanings I was piecing together.

    Member Checking

    I imported a practice learned in my clinical work to my research interviews. It is a technique for in-the-moment hypothesis testing that involves reflecting back to the speaker what I think I am hearing, commenting on the meaning I am making in the process, and asking the speaker to comment on the accuracy of the meanings I have made. This is an informal member checking practice. I also practiced member checking (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) formally when I submitted my constructions of interpretative biographical material to each of the five couples featured as exemplars. I asked these participants to comment on the congruence of my meaning-making with their self-perceptions—or their local knowledges. Each of the exemplar couples found my interpretive account of their stories to be good reflections of their narratives. I also widened the lens on the analytic frame by including other academic colleagues in the credibility checking process. I intentionally checked the credibility of the themes emerging in the meaning-making process with colleagues in a qualitative research support group (Lincoln & Guba, 1985).

    Discussing analytic themes and conceptualizations with the consultant group was another form of member checking. At times, I took formulating ideas to couples in the consultant group. I met with each couple (separately, not as a group) for a discussion of what they thought about these interpretative constructions. I found their reflections helped clarify ideas in four areas in particular: 1) my initial research focus and orienting questions, 2) the ideas that came together in Chapter 4, “A Diversity of Paths,” 3) the “special”/“not special” cultural bind for men and women, and 4) the acculturation influences impinging on women's desire to share parenting's responsibilities (Chapter 8, “Sharing Parenting and the Reciprocal Revisioning of Fatherhood and Motherhood”).

    Implications of These Legitimation Practices

    Any one of these legitimation practices alone would not likely be sufficient to warrant a claim of trustworthiness or believability (verisimilitude). In combination, these four practices (persistent observation, strategic selection of referrals, filed notes and analytic memos, and member checking), along with extensive external review by academic colleagues not associated with the project, contributed to my confidence in the trustworthiness of the research story. These practices (especially member checking) and the feedback from the external reviewers suggest that the research story offered is believable, at least to the extent that it is told here. Though details are likely missing that would enhance the deep textured connection with other men and women endeavoring to practice sharing parenting, the basic outline of the patterns and dynamics capture some possibilities shared by these 18 families.

    Some Limitations of the Research Design

    I was most interested in taking a fresh look at men who are highly involved in the day-in and day-out parenting of their children in active partnership with women. A qualitative research design was well suited to this end, because it opened the inquiry to a peek at the deep texture of men's and women's experiences. The focus on a relatively small number of couples who are collaborating to share parenting actively does limit wholesale generalizations. What may be more important to consider, however, are some subtle constraints embedded in the meaning-making process.

    The long qualitative interview challenges the researcher to remain connected to his or her initial research curiosities, while remaining open to the nuances of interest and focus of the research participants. My open-ended conversations often remained focused on the cognitive domain of experience, perhaps losing rich detail of the behavioral patterns and responses embedded in the interactive working out of parenting repertoires. In the future, I might incorporate more questions that specifically explore behavioral examples of sharing parenting and then invite explication of their meanings.

    I discovered, in the process of interviewing and analyzing, that people often found it difficult to focus, retrospectively, on specific examples of times when they may have experienced conflict (differences between her way and his way) that disrupted their sense of ease in sharing parenting. To elicit these aspects, I might have created some prompting vignettes and asked people to reflect on similar experiences in their family lives. Alternatively, designing the study to include observational data in the natural environment of their home life could enrich the data by providing in situ examples that the couple could then reflect on and interpret with the researcher.

    I purposely decided to allow research participants to self-define the level and pattern of the man's participation in the responsibilities and activities of parenting that they considered fully and actively involved. In choosing not to impose researcher-determined definitions of full and active involvement, I limited my ability to comment on the extent to which “equality” between the man and the woman has been attained in some sense that may satisfy feminist scholars. Taking the diversity of sharing patterns revealed in this study into consideration, further study might generate lists of routine and nonroutine parenting activities, and explicitly document the involvement of both women and men in each area. Then the couple could be asked to reflect on its particular patterns and to comment on the sense of equality or inequality, as well as on what factors may mediate what seem to the researcher as apparent inequalities. Such a design modification could enhance understanding of men's and women's experience of equity in family life.

    Upon finishing this piece of research, I am filled with further curiosities. I am excited to make some of these refinements in research design. I look forward to going back into the field, engaging men and women in further inquiry into the intricacies of sharing child care and child rearing. I will need to be both more focused and more limiting in my research questions if I hope to explore deeper the texture of negotiation, conflict, resolution styles, and patterns that underlie the collaborative success of couples sharing parenting. I can see the benefit of taking a proactive focus on this area of research, and will likely continue to invite men and women to share their expertise as well as their successes. Creative approaches are required to engage people in sharing their experiences of the successes, while inviting them to share the personal and interpersonal challenges they face as they share parenting in its many frustrating, exhausting, and exhilarating moments.

    Appendix B: Research Informants: Descriptive Biographical Snapshots

    Interchangeable Parenting Partners
    Dan and Liz

    Dan and Liz are in their late 30s, with three children 8,5, and 3 years old. Both Dan and Liz work in the human services field. They have worked together closely over most of their 15-year marriage. Until recently, Dan and Liz job shared, both working half-time in the same job and shifting their paid work hours to handle all the child care and housework within the confines of their family (i.e., they did not “hire out” any of this family work). Recently, Dan shifted to a part-time job, and Liz took full responsibility for the job they had been sharing. Dan is now home with the children about 60% of the time; Liz uses some flex-time to cover 1 afternoon and 1 morning at home with the children. They now have their youngest child in day care 2 mornings a week. They both participate in household maintenance, though Dan has been doing more of these tasks lately.

    Steve and Carol

    Steve and Carol are in their mid-30s, with two children 8 and 6 years old. They have been married for 19 years. Steve works freelance in the computer industry, and Carol works in the medical field. Over the 19 years of their marriage, they have both worked full-time and combinations of full-time and part-time. They juggle their work commitments to eliminate the need to have their children in day care. When Steve has a contract job, Carol cuts back to part-time or casual relief work. When Steve is between contracts, Carol increases her hours to full-time. Steve typically works out of an office in their home, so even when he is working on a contract, he is able to stay very involved with the daily child care routine. When he is between contracts, he takes over more of the daily living and household care routines.

    Rob and Donna

    Rob and Donna are in their early 40s, with two children 5 and 3 years old. Rob and Donna have been together for 15 years, and they co-own a service industry business in a busy downtown location. Rob previously worked long hours in the financial industry, and Donna ran their business. Before their second child was born, Rob left his job to have more freedom to be involved in family life. Rob spoke of being ready to leave the fast-paced job to have more time for his family, and the change was precipitated by complications in Donna's second pregnancy. In the first couple of years after leaving the financial industry, Rob was the at-home parent more often than Donna. This has shifted, to where they were quite evenly shifting between the business and home, to more recently, where Donna has had a preference to be home more. Both Rob and Donna are involved in the daily living and home care tasks and responsibilities.

    Parenting Partners with Reserved Specialties
    Rodney and Kate

    Rodney and Kate are in their early 30s, with two children 7 and 5 years old. They have been married for 11 years. Rodney and Kate both work in the social services field, and have recently begun to work in different departments for the same employer. When their children were younger, Kate moved between full-time work and periods of staying at home with the children. Rodney's work schedule is less flexible than Kate's during the 10 months when their children are in school, but he has the summer months off with the children. Kate's work schedule is flexible throughout the year. The flexibility often means she works evenings, plus she has contracts for extra work that is all evening work. Rodney and Kate prefer to minimize their use of day care for the children, and use their different work flexibilities to manage this. Rodney does the household cleaning and maintenance routines. Kate does the cooking when she is home; Rodney does it on those nights she is working. Kate reserves the children's health and medical care as her domain.

    Phil and Kelly

    Phil is in his early 40s and Kelly is in her mid-30s, with one child 3 years old. They have been married for 8 years. Phil is an executive in a service company. Kelly is a mid-level manager in a social services agency. Both currently work full-time, and both have some flexibility scheduling their work. Phil is able to work at home occasionally, including putting in a couple of hours in the mornings before their daughter gets up, and he covers the morning routine daily. Kelly works some evenings and weekends, with the freedom to take other “in-lieu” time off. Phil does all the cooking, and Kelly does more of the daily and weekly house cleaning. They have their child in private home day care and preschool, with Kelly doing most of the shuttling between home and day care. Kelly currently prefers to manage her career as secondary to Phil's. She made this decision considering relative earning power at this point in her career, but more important, she wishes to have a second child and wants a flexible, temporary job. They decided that earning power is an area of family life he would specialize in, at least at this point in their careers.

    George and Teresa

    Both George and Teresa are in their mid-30s, with two children, 8 and 2 years old, and a third expected soon. They have been married for 11 years. George works in the trades, and Teresa is a teacher. George's work is variable, depending heavily on the economic swings in the construction industry. Teresa's work is stable. She has used her summers off to upgrade her credentials. Because George's work is unpredictable, they maintain their day care arrangement even when George is off work. This is so they do not lose the spots at their preferred sitters. George is more involved with the children and household responsibilities when his work is minimal to intermittent, which has been most of the time in recent years. He has used this flexibility in the past several summers to take over most of the daily child care in support of Teresa's return to school for special training. When his work demand is high, George maintains his involvement with the children by taking the evening bath and bedtime rituals. He especially enjoys reading with their elder son. George is also very involved in teaching through daily living opportunities and having hobbies and learning adventures with their children, especially with their older son. Teresa reserves her specialty in the area of preparing family meals. George is less talented in this area than he is in child care, so she trades this for an evening break when he puts the kids to bed.

    Accounting Equity Parenting Partners
    Jason and Hillary

    Jason and Hillary are both in their early 40s, with two children 12 and 4 years old. Married for 20 years, they have been through a couple of configurations of working out their family life. Jason is an owner-executive of a successful business, and Hillary is finishing her doctoral education and works a few hours a week in her professional practice. Before their second child was born, Jason and Hillary renegotiated their parenting arrangement to allow Hillary to go back to school and to reinvolve Jason in the daily family routines. They also employed a housekeeper to relieve them of most of the household maintenance and provide some child care. Jason and Hillary negotiate their schedules on a weekly or biweekly basis to juggle both their work and caring for the children. Hillary has a more fluid schedule than Jason, but Jason has found that he can build in flexibility if he plans well. Both Jason and Hillary alternate cooking and have agreed-on tasks they do on a routine basis (e.g., making school lunches; driving children to school; taking children to lessons; evening child care, including dinner, bath, and bedtime routines). Often, Jason and Hillary negotiate their weekend schedules to allow Hillary to spend extra time on her studies. Jason and Hillary use this ongoing negotiating to keep an eye on “fairness,” with both aware of keeping track of what each is doing on a routine and nonroutine basis.

    Patrick and Daphne

    Patrick and Daphne are both 40, have been married for 15 years, and have two children 9 and 6 years old. Patrick has been working toward his doctoral degree for the past few years, and has worked part-time contracts occasionally during this time. Daphne works full-time on a flex-time schedule as a medical technician. She also has returned to school in the past year to upgrade her credentials. Since Patrick has been in school, he has been available to be at home before and after school for their two children. He does the cooking on evenings when Daphne works, and does more of the routine household cleaning and tidying than his partner. Daphne's work schedule consists of 4 long days and 3 days off. On her off days, she does the cooking, and clears time for Patrick to concentrate on his studies. Although Daphne clears time for Patrick's studies, she also keeps on eye on not losing him to his studies. She often reminds him to come out and be with the family.

    Everett and Jenny

    Everett is in his late 30s and Jenny is in her mid-30s, with two children 6 and 4 years old. They have been married for 9 years. Everett is in middle management in the financial industry. Jenny is a case manager in the social services field. Both Everett and Jenny work full-time, which means they have their children in private home day care at a neighbor's house before and after school. Jenny recently returned to school part-time on weekends to upgrade her credentials. Historically, Everett and Jenny shared the evening routines of child care and cooking, as well as the weekend home maintenance routines. Since Jenny has gone back to school at a university out of town, Everett has begun to carry all the child care and home maintenance on weekends, as well as do more of the food preparation and evening routines on weekdays. Jenny usually monitors how things are done when Everett does the household maintenance chores. Everett seems to maintain an awareness of what he is doing that he didn't have to do before.

    Rick and Karen

    Rick is 40 and Karen is in her mid-30s. They have been married for 13 years and have three children, 7, 5, and 3 years old. Rick works in manufacturing. Karen works part-time, some evenings and Saturdays, in the retail sector. Karen worked full-time until the birth of their second child; she then chose to stay home with the children until they were older. Rick's commuting has him out of the house in the early morning, but he is home in time for Karen to go to work 2 or 3 evenings a week. Karen does most of the house cleaning during the week. Rick and Karen both cook; Rick does the dinners on nights when Karen works, as well as sharing and often solo preparation of meals on nights when she does not work. Rick is very involved with the children in the evenings—even when Karen is not working—playing; doing homework, sports, and lessons; and handling the bath and bedtime routines. Karen keeps an eye on how much Rick is involved, and requests further involvement when she feels she is doing too much.

    Man as the Designated Stay-at-Home Parent
    Jack and Denise

    Jack is in his mid-40s and Denise is in her late 20s. Together for 5 years, they have one child, 2 years old, and are expecting their second child. Jack is primarily engaged at home with their child, while Denise finishes her education in a medical specialty. Jack also runs a co-owned business from their home. Jack has taken over most of the daily living and household maintenance routines, as well as the daily child care since their first child was born. Denise has continued to be involved in the child care in the evenings and on weekends, especially on Saturdays, when Jack is more engaged with the business. Denise has identified a couple of home maintenance tasks that she does routinely. She also prefers to do the bath and bedtime routine after having playtime and involvement with feeding their daughter dinner, but when demands at school are high, she lets Jack cover these responsibilities.

    Bill and Helen

    Both Bill and Helen are in their mid-40s. They have been together for 12 years and have two children, 6 and 4 years old. Bill left his commercial sales job when their second child was 3 months old and Helen returned to her middle-management service industry job. Bill is the parent at home most of the time, though he recently began to work part-time a few evenings a week and on some Saturdays. Bill does most of the cooking and keeps the house clean and tidy on a daily basis. Helen does some household jobs on the weekends, if she is not doing other things with the children.

    Tom and Sabine

    Tom and Sabine are in their early 40s and have three children, 7 years, 3 years, and 1 month old. They have been together for almost 15 years. Tom decided to leave his management job in the leisure industry and stay home with the children just before their second child was born. Sabine recently finished school and opened a professional practice, after deciding to change careers several years ago. Tom does the major child care and household maintenance tasks on a routine basis. He also participates in their eldest child's school programs and coordinates the services that come in for their special-needs child (second born). Tom and Sabine decided to bottle-feed their newborn so Tom could continue to be the primary care giver on a daily basis. Sabine is involved with the children when she is home in the evenings and on weekends.

    Woman as the Designated Stay-at-Home Parent
    Todd and Collette

    Todd and Collette are in their early 30s. Married for 7 years, they have three children, 6, 4, and 2 years old. Todd works in the trades; Collette describes herself as a “domestic goddess” who chose to remain at home with their young children. Collette covers most of the caring for the children and coordinating their activities during the day. Todd is involved in both the morning and the evening routines. He gets the children up and feeds them breakfast while Collette gets dressed in the morning. He is involved in the evenings at dinner, family time after dinner, and getting the children bathed and put to bed. They both participate in bedtime stories. Collette handles most of the household maintenance tasks and the routine cooking of meals, but Todd often assists with meals and does the vacuuming weekly. His involvement in the evenings has increased recently, partly as a result of Collette letting him know she needed his participation and his kids needed him around. Collette also notes that Todd makes sure she has some hours to herself on weekends, when he takes over with the children.

    Sam and Meg

    Together for 9 years, Sam is in his early 40s and Meg is in her early 30s. They have two children, 3½ and 2 years old, and are expecting their third. Sam commutes to his job as a management trainee in a financial services company. Meg chose to stay home with their young children after working at various creative jobs. Sam leaves for work before the children are up and returns at dinner time. Both Sam and Meg notes that he is the better cook, but his recent job change meant they changed their patterns of meal preparation. Sam enjoys reconnecting with his children when he comes home, and often takes over the bedtime routines so Meg can get a break. Meg and Sam do family shopping together on weekends, and Meg may plan some activity that takes her out of the family for a time on weekends; Sam takes over the kids' routines then. Meg also leaves the children with Sam when she has weekends away with women friends. Sam and Meg mention that the current situation is not ideal; Sam is looking for work closer to home so he can get reinvolved in the family routines. He doesn't like being away from the children for so many hours a day.

    Charles and Janice

    Both in their mid-30s, Charles and Janice have been together for 11 years. They have two children, 5 and 3 years old. When their second child was born, they decided that it was not ideal, or financially feasible, to have Janice return to her job. She had not been particularly invested in the job, and knew she could remain engaged in some volunteer work she enjoyed. Charles is co-owner of a consultant business, and has considerable flexibility in his work schedule. When his work is particularly demanding, he insists on coming home for a couple of hours in the evening to be with the family before he puts in extra hours at the office. Charles has regular weekend routines with the children, often taking them out of the house for several hours. Janice uses this time for herself or to finish some household tasks that are too difficult to accomplish when the children are with her. Charles is involved with the children in the evenings, often spending several hours with them in activities they enjoy before bedtime. Janice is out several evenings a month with volunteer commitments; Charles takes over the kids' routines happily on these nights. Charles does some of the cooking, often making several meals on weekends that they freeze and eat later. Janice comments how this makes her week easier.

    Shawn and Betsy

    Shawn and Betsy have been married for 12 years. They have three children, 8, 4, and 2 years old. Betsy notes how privileged she feels to be able to chose to be home while their children are young. She maintains a casual, part-time clerical job. She often spends 8 to 10 hours a week working at home, and delivers the finished work to her employer. Shawn works in industry as a middle manager in the operations end of the business. Shawn shifts his work hours, leaving early before the children are up so he can be home earlier in the evenings to maximize his time with the children before bed. Shawn is active with the children's evening play and putting them to bed. He takes over the evening responsibilities so Betsy can get her contract work done without interruption. Betsy covers most of the meal preparation and indoor household maintenance tasks. They both enjoy the family time they have on weekends.

    Erik and Cheryl

    Married 10 years, Erik and Cheryl have three children, 6½, 5, and 2½ years old. Erik is in his mid-30s and Cheryl is in her early 30s. Cheryl left her clerical job when their first child was born; she provides private home day care before and after school for a neighborhood family, and has recently taken on a part-time retail sales job out of her home. Erik works full-time on a self-determined, flexible schedule in the human service field. Erik manages his work schedule to be home for an extended time in the mornings o help get the children up, fed, and ready for their day. He is out a couple of evenings each week, and has the children alone one or two nights a week when Cheryl is out with her new business. Erik and Cheryl share in meal preparation; Cheryl takes most of the responsibility for indoor household maintenance.


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    About the Author

    Anna Dienhart received a PhD in Family Relations and Human Development from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She also holds master's degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy (University of Guelph) and Management Sciences (University of California at Los Angeles). Her research focuses on questions about gender relations in the family, especially exploring these issues from both cultural and individual perspectives. She has research interests in the clinical area, where she explores gender awareness and how it is applied in therapy with couples and families. Recent publications include articles on how family therapy practices may effectively engage men in family change, using narrative family therapy to engage fathers in responsible parenting of their children, a critique of cultural practices that may limit men's involvement in fathering their children, and collaborative parenting partnerships. She is an active couple and family therapist with clinical and approved clinical supervisor standing with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She came to this new profession after spending 15 years working as a consultant/advisor on international economic trends for multinational corporations.

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