Equally Shared Parenting

| |
How can the church begin to help people explore creative ways of parenting?

In the past two years I’ve heard three stories from former students that have made me smile, laugh, and grimace in empathy. A firefighter told me that he had recently switched his schedule to two 24-hour shifts a week so that he would have more time in the “ordinary daily life” of his newborn son. A lawyer mother regaled a group of us with her internal struggle to hold herself back from rebraiding her daughter’s hair because it was “Daddy’s turn.” And one of Christianity Today’s “33 under 33” wrote a blog post called “Time Out” after returning to her position post-maternity leave. She spoke honestly of the pressure and difficulty of caring for a new baby while doing the work she is certain God has called her to do.

These young parents are all trying to figure out what it means to balance public and private life through the eyes of faith. This struggle often occurs with most intensity when advancement in a career competes for time with raising children. Some couples both have full-time professional pursuits, using different forms of child care. Some parents, mostly women but not always, take on the home responsibilities while the other parent pursues a career. But there is a third way.

Shared Parenting

I was raised in the 1970s Christian Reformed community of the Chicago suburbs. My friends and I would have said that our dads were involved in our lives, but the moms raised children. Some of the moms had other jobs that accommodated their families, but their main job was their children.

Times changed. And as mentors encouraged me to consider becoming a lawyer, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether I could balance being a mom and an attorney. When my son was born, I left the practice of law and became a college professor to have more flexible time. Not every lawyer mom makes that decision, but it was necessary for me.

Then my husband made a huge professional sacrifice to support my career. He quit his job as a historic preservation architect in Washington D.C. to come to the Netherlands with me. I did the work for a Fulbright while Charles vacuumed, shopped, and biked all over Leiden with our little boy. That year was transformational. Our work lives and relationship with our child were changed by this new pattern, which continued in different ways over time. Charles returned to work as an architect, but we both scaled back our jobs. Neither of us would achieve the professional success of our graduate school peers, but we shared being parents and running a home in a way that brought both of us fulfillment.
We didn’t know it then, but we were starting to practice something called “equally shared parenting” (ESP), described by Mark and Amy Vachon in their bookEqually Shared Parenting.

In ESP, both parents have paid employment, but it is unlikely to be full time. Both run the home, and they both are responsible for the daily lives of their children. In the home, children are equally likely to turn to either parent when they need comfort. In the public world, both parents have a chance to stay engaged in the tasks to which they feel called. Fathers experience the joys of knowing their children more fully, and mothers avoid having large gaps in their resume.

Some would say this is an inefficient life. Perhaps. But for Christians, a shared parenting model allows both parents to respond to God’s call in all different aspects of their lives.

The Role of the Church
When I talk to people about ESP, the response across gender, race, and age is the same: their faces light up. But then they say it would be impossible; their jobs would not allow for it. Clearly the work world must change to allow for this model—and it is here that the body of Christ could make a significant contribution.

The church is well suited to challenge employers to see their responsibility and culpability in creating a culture that limits the work of parents, both male and female. It can encourage business owners, hospital and university administrators, and everyone who shapes the work culture to rethink the structure of the jobs they create. Most of our current work model assumes that one parent takes responsibility for the family’s daily life, but that isn’t the only way to respond to God’s call.

So how can the church begin to help people explore other creative ways of parenting such as ESP?

First, the church can help by highlighting the success of creative work arrangements. Twenty years ago, husband and wife Mark and Karen Muyskens approached Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., with a unique proposal. They suggested that they share a faculty position in biology, allowing them to pursue a work/life balance that worked for them. They held this shared position while raising three children until Karen’s too-early death in 2008. Employers sometimes offer paid family leave or make room for a parent to take time off to attend soccer games and so forth. But this example shows that more radical creativity can be successful for everyone.

Second, churches can develop non-gendered ways to help us learn from other parents. Highlighting creativity here is important also. Furthermore, too often we have often ignored the gifts of single parents in our midst—many of whom have raised wonderful children, often making use of community in ways other families can learn from.

There are other ways for the church to emphasize how important it is for all parents to be directly involved in raising their children, whether or not they choose the ESP model of parenting. We can be more helpful to young parents by excusing them from certain church duties or by making sure that we structure programs and ministries in ways that recognize the challenges faced by employed parents. Involvement of retired church members in the lives of children through faith-based after-school care could also benefit everyone. Intergenerational programs demonstrate that through baptism we have all made a commitment to the children of our church and that we serve the church in different ways through the seasons of our lives.

There are many ways to raise children well. Single parenting, traditional parenting, and equally shared parenting are just some of the many ways parents faithfully live out their calling. But given the longing expressed by many people, both male and female, for more fully shared parenting, let’s encourage our churches to consider it as one way to help Christians answer God’s call to transform culture.


Digging Deeper

For more on shared parenting, check out the websiteequallysharedparenting.com.

About the Author

Julia K. Stronks holds the Edward B. Lindaman Chair at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. With her mother, Gloria Goris Stronks, she is the coauthor of the forthcoming book Teaching to Justice, Citizenship and Civic Virtue: The Character of a High School Through the Eyes of Faith (Wipf and Stock, 2015).

See comments (6)


"But as for you, teach what accords with 'sound' doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers...They are to teach what is good, and train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self- controlled, pure, working at home, kind, submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled." (Titus 2:1-5)

"She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her chidren rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a women who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates." (Proverbs 31:27-31)


How is this article worthy of publication in an (ostensibly) Christian magazine?  Is there anything in this article that is distinctly Christian?  Does the author even attempt to ground her pleas in Scripture?  I was unable to see even a hint of appeal to Scripture or any Scriptural principle of servant leadership, mutual submission, love, service, or any understanding of marriage as a picture of Christ and His Church.  

To top it off, we are directed to a website that has more of the same: a mix of feminism and the clear desire to flatten any gender distinctives.  I challenge anyone to find a hint of Christianity at that website.  Rage as they might against God's created order, the world will never be able to wipe away the fact that God created us male and female.  

It is not within the purview of the church to pressure employers to create work arrangements that cater to an individual's particular tastes.  Nor is it the job of the church to "help people explore creative ways of parenting."  

What might it mean for the church to "develop non-gendered ways to help us learn from other parents"?  What possible Biblical reason is there for the church to flatten or deny gender distinctives?  Anticipating a reference to Galations 3:28, make note that we must read and understand that passage in context.  That passage is not denying gender distinctives any more than it is denying the existence of differences in nationalities.  Rather, that passage is wiping away any notion of preference in salvation based on gender, class, or nationality.

Do the editors at The Banner expect that this is the sort of article that will help Christians in their discipleship and sanctification?  How, exactly, are Christian marriages helped by an article that is void of any Scriptural framework?

Thank you so much for this post.  Genesis 1 tells us that God created them, "male and female" in his own image. "God blessed them and said to them, 'be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature ...' God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." The command to "be fruitful" (have children) and to "rule" was given to both together. From the beginning, before the fall ruined relationships, it was a partnership. God designed us, male and female for partnership. That looks different for different people - God has also gifted us with various gifts (as different parts of one body). Yet the principle of partnership remains.

In my own traditional marriage (no surprises, I knew  how it was going in) I took on much of the home and child rearing responsibilities. I left my job for a few years, then worked part time while my husband pursued his career. Looking back, we both have sensed losses from taking that path. My children had less nurturing from my husband, he missed out on so much of their young lives. And I was not making optimal use of the gifts and skills that the Lord has given me in doing meaningful work outside the home; because I carried so much of the home child care burden. It's so rewarding for me now to see my son and daughter in law working out how they raise their daughter. Both have made career sacrifices for their daughter, both share in her care. They share together many of the home responsibilities as well. There is not only one way to do this - it's healthy, and so great to see them working it out together, both with an equal voice in the process. It makes me happy for them and for my granddaughter! Yes, churches need to think about how to be more supportive to parents as they work out plans for parenting that will honor the Lord, and honor the whole person that He has created them to be.

The red headline in this article makes me wonder: how many questions can we ask by inserting the words "how can the church....."?  The CRCNA is struggling to keep members, its Leadership and governance mechanisims are "under construction", we have ministries that duplicate local laws and assume churches can not follow local rules, our foreign missions are spread over two large Ministries and have duplication of managment. I suspect that more than 50% of married couples are both working outside the home for money. Many churches have an abundance of grandparents (both married, single or widowed) who could be ordained as "elders supporting young couples".

Articles like this simple burden churches with more "stuff". The CRCNA has largely abandoned home visitation where elders, overtime, could get a "sense" of the congregation and provide leadership or support to families and singles.

Seems to me the church should be transforming the culture by getting back to basics.  Urging folks to live more stewardly (within their means) or migrate to places where the cost of living allows one parent to stay home to look after (for sure) young children. Let's work harder in our church communities to reduce divorce, single motherhood. Encourage procreational sex (within marriage) rather than recreational sex anytime. Let's as churches sign a community covenant like TWU and many Christian schools (in Canada).

We are a decade away from a time when no overt  Christian (or Jew, Muslim or others with committed religious views) will be able to work in government. If the opponents of TWU have their way, no Christian will be able to practice law. (Where have seen this before......?)

My vote is to urge churches to proclaim the gospel, instruct our youth, support Christian schools, Colleges and Universities. Support people to join organizations that can intelligently speak to governments and business. Create scholarships so young people can obtain a university education and occupy leadership positions in society. Improve relations with neighboring Christian churches.

Thanks so much for sharing this thought-provoking piece! Growing up in a more tradiitonal Christian Reformed community, I had certain expectations for what parenting would look like. I am so grateful for those who challenged me to look more carefully at how God is calling my husband and I to serve each other and our children as we raise them to be people after God's own heart. I am also very thankful to have a husband who is willing to share parenting duties like taking the kids  to dentist appointments during the work week. We both work full time to afford Christian education so equally shared parenting makes a lot of sense! 

I have two main problems with this article. First, Professor Stronks takes what I'd consider a strong egalitarian view of gender. Some Christians have made biblical/theological arguments along these lines, but she doesn't seem to attempt to do this, instead the view is simply assumed. There are a wide variety of perspectives in the CRCNA on this.

Next, while her personal story could be an admonishment for any and all of us to consider our children more than our careers, the fact is that she and her husband were both employed in "elite" professions. Not that there is anything wrong with two highly educated people pursuing upper income jobs but I daresay 98% of CRC members I know would not relate to her life circumstances.

In short, I question why this was published, given the apparent lack of any biblical/theological framework and the fact that almost all of her examples are simply not applicable to most middle class people.