Equally Shared Parenting

Did you know that the MMM family was actually somewhat famous, in an anonymous and obscure way, before Mr. Money Mustache even started typing this blog?

It all started back in 2008, when Mrs. M. was surfing around on her computer and came across this website about Equally Shared Parenting (ESP for short). If you’ve never heard of the concept, it’s an old-yet-new idea where two parents raise their children together, spending an equal amount of time with them and splitting as many roles as possible evenly between both parents.

To sum it up, ESP is the opposite of the old 1950s “Executive Father” situation, where the Mum stays home with the children and does ALL of the work. She feeds and changes the babies, gets them to and from school, is the shoulder to cry on when they need help, and does all the housework and cooking. The father just comes home from work each night and says, “How are my little munchkins today!?”, gives them a goodnight kiss, and relaxes with his pipe and a Scotch and a newspaper or television for most of his evenings and weekends.

From a Manly perspective, I must admit this sounds pretty nice on the surface. The only problem is he’s not really raising his kids. The Dad in this example is just a household appliance, who brings home a paycheck and does some superficial bonding with them. The Mom is the parent, and the one who has the real emotional connection with her children.

For some couples, this still seems fine. There might be one person who has a naturally career-oriented mind and one who has an unstoppable nurturing instinct. And because of genetic or cultural conditioning, take your pick, these roles sometimes end up being played by the Dude and the Chick, respectively.

But for people with more curious minds and a taste for experiencing more out of life, Equally Shared Parenting is the exciting alternative. Now you are both Moms. And Dads. And as it turns out, that’s the way Mr. and Mrs. M had always assumed we would raise our kid(s), even before discovering this popular ESP website. Our own biggest reason for saving for an early retirement was that we knew we wanted to both be not just equally sharing parents, but equally sharing stay-at home parents. Even with no first-hand knowledge of child-raising, we knew it would be tough, and worth giving our best combined effort. And we looked forward to the privileged sneaky feeling of doing stuff together as a family for years to come while the rest of the world was at work. This triggered “The Talk“, as described in an earlier article.

So when Mrs. M. found the Equally Shared Parenting website a few years into our experiment, she was quite excited. An online conversation between Colorado and Massachusetts (where the authors live) ensued:

Mrs M: “Hey! I love your blog! We’re doing equally shared parenting too, and we love it!”
ESP: “Oh Hi! Glad to hear it. Would you like to share your own story with us?”
Mrs M: “Sure, (….typity typity type… ) here it is.”
ESP: “Wow, this is a really interesting one. Can we interview you for the book we’re writing right now?”

So the guy from this couple, named Marc, happened to be in the Boulder area a short time later, and he made a stop at our house. Having heard about our frugal early retirement in advance, he expected to be visiting some sort of shack on the edge of town and talking to a couple of people clad in clothing of cut-out potato sacks. But instead he found good ol’ Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache, living a perfectly normal life, even a bit excessively nice compared to normal, made possible mainly by cutting waste. We talked about the joys of the combination of the ESP and MMM approaches late into the night, set him up in a guest room, and eventually appeared as example characters in the book called Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents.

This isn’t a parenting blog specifically, but I still thought it would be fun to share this little side story with you. Because becoming parents was the first catalyst for us realizing we wanted to be freed from mandatory work early on in our lives. Looking back, it was definitely the right choice, because the years of army-interrogation-level sleep deprivation that came with having a baby would have been hell on a person who wanted to be fully dedicated to their career, as we both did at the time.  And even now, in the years of tree-climbing, creek-playing and messy-science-experiment-inventing, I am glad to be an Equal part of the action. It is more difficult than being an Executive Father, but I still highly recommend it!

Update: based on a wise reader’s comment below, I’d like to add this link, an anthem encouraging Wimpy Dads to realize what it means to become a Real One:

  • jd June 15, 2011, 9:52 am

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog–my wife and I have been taking a similar approach to parenting and finance as your family. Our son is a few years younger than yours, so it is interesting to read about your experiences. Thanks for linking to the ESP website–I hadn’t come across it yet and it looks quite interesting.

  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 15, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Oh, I like that blog! I like ESP too. It’s basically what we are doing. I never realized that there is a name for it.

    Alas, we aren’t as successful at it as some – I mean, I read a story or two on that blog of folks who arrange to work 50% or 60% time. That is not our reality. But we are still doing equal parenting.

  • ND June 16, 2011, 10:07 pm

    Great entry – and thank you for contributing to the book.

    I’m just down the road from you in Denver. I am not married and don’t have children. My neighbors do ESP, though, and it’s pretty amazing to me how it seems to help their children with their development. Their adorable little boy is constantly chattering with his dad – and the cute little girl is confident and unafraid of things.

  • Dr. G June 16, 2011, 10:11 pm

    Hi! My husband and I were recently featured on ESP. We are the couple working 50% and 60% respectively and a lot of it was by not raising our expectations for “stuff” after we finished residency. I am enjoying your blog. My site is a parenting site, and most of what I strive to encourage parents to do is raise kids who are resilient and responsible. I will use a lot of your suggestions, thanks!

  • Jayadeep Purushothaman June 17, 2011, 4:30 am

    While I am totally involved myself in bringing up our daughter, the concept of ESP is unnatural for several reasons. A man cannot take the onus of giving birth however willing he may be nor can he breast feed the kid(oh yaa, you can buy plastic milk and feed). There is a natural role for mother and father and don’t break it – it is all for the good. A man is only the third party in the relationship between parents and the child. The primary relationship is between the mother and the child.and the fathers role is a supporting one. And both parents should understand that role and play their natural roles. Don’t try to create unnatural roles for both. Man and Woman are wired differently by nature and there is no reason to change it. And in any relationship, each partner needs to have complimentary skills to make the relationship work. ESP may sound very good in theory, but it is an unnatural recipe for disaster IMO.

    • MMM June 17, 2011, 7:21 am

      Uh-oh! Somebody might be getting some trouble from my fellow ESP supporters on this one! ;-)

      It sounds like you might not understand the details. Despite our lack of ability to birth and feed a newborn child, men are actually still perfectly useful parents. I don’t see any unnatural recipe for disaster in cooking food for my family and cleaning up my own house instead of leaving it all to my wife.. nor in teaching my son to read or giving him a hug when he is upset. That’s all there is to ESP in my own definition – it just means sharing the work equally, instead of sitting back to watch the football match while the lady makes everyone dinner, night after night.

      True, it is a bit unnatural from an evolutionary sense, since alpha males might traditionally father children with many women and abandon them to move on to the next conquest shortly thereafter. Even though that’s “natural” behavior, it’s not great for the kids.

    • Gamermomma June 17, 2011, 7:58 am

      I find it funny how so many people claim so many things are “un-natural”. There are examples in nature of all kinds of “un-natural” behavior. Who is to say that men didn’t help take care of their children a thousand years ago? I wasn’t there so I can’t really say if they did or not..

      Anyway, one of the first things I told Gamerdad was I was NOT going to do this by myself. It took two of us to make our kids, it will take two of us to raise them. I told him he was fully capable of taking care of our kids and not to let anyone tell him otherwise.

      He got up with them in the middle of the night in the beginning so I could sleep some, even though he had to go to work the next day. He lets me sleep in one day of the weekend and gets up with the kids to make breakfast, change diapers, whatever needs to be done. He kisses boo-boos and massages egos when things don’t go well at school.
      We are a team. He does the dishes or makes dinner when I just don’t feel like it and need 5 minutes. I take the kids out of the house when he needs a breather. The only thing we don’t share is taking out the trash…we live in an apartment and I can’t get the bag into the compactor here…just too short.

      I think that the idea that it is the mother’s job to raise children and the father’s job to “support” is dangerous. It does a disservice and insult to all those dad’s out there that are stay-at-home dads as well as single fathers struggling to make ends meet and be there for their children. It also perpetuates the idea that men are pretty useless in regards to anything other than making money.

      If you don’t want a more active role in raising your kids, fine. Just say so. Don’t insult the other men out there who feel differently. I will say one last thing…when you are on your death bed you aren’t going to be wishing you spent more time working or “supporting” your wife. You are going to be wishing you spend more time with your children.

    • Greg November 3, 2015, 1:15 pm

      Oh I am YEARS late to this one but Holy Shit! This attitude is sad and ridiculous.”A man is only the third party”? What a excuse for being detached – and that’s what I think it is, an excuse, and rationalization.
      YOU ARE THE PARENT! Jayadeep, get a clue, man. Sheesh….
      I had never heard of ESP until now but my wife and I basically did that with our two and everyone’s lives are richer for it.

  • Jenny June 21, 2011, 9:41 am

    This is great! Of course, I know how wonderful this is for you guys! Then I started thinking – because my husband is a teacher, he is home all summer and on all school breaks, and during those times, he is home with the kids. He loves it, and they do too – they do all kinds of things together, and my husband spends lots of quality time with all the kids during this time as well. And during the school year, he is home early, and we still get a lot of time in th evenings together. Of course, I whine sometimes, but it really is more equal and we share the load tremendously – we just each do it differently.

  • jDeppen June 22, 2011, 12:27 am

    You guys might like this, my wife emailed it to me this morning and thanked me (that was awesome):
    A father’s day wish: Dads, wake the hell up!

    • Mrs. Money Mustache June 22, 2011, 9:28 am

      Thanks for the link! Excellent article! I’m happy to be one of those few lucky ladies myself.

      • MMM June 22, 2011, 9:56 am

        Yeah! I agree. That is a well written article in support of becoming a Real Dad. I will update the article itself to include a link to it. Someday I will copy that idea and write a similarly bossy list of commandments.

        I also read some of the reader comments on CNN.com. They were pretty interesting. One commenter seems to be a bit of a dorkyface guy who likes to quote from psychology textbooks to explain everyone’s motivations. Yes, we all have motivations for our actions, but they are sometimes more complicated than you can explain with a Psych 101 summary.

        For example, am I promoting Equally shared parenting because I’m a Beta male hoping to gain favor with the ladies while the alphas are away as dorkyface suggests? Or am I promoting it because I care about the kids in our society growing up happier and creating a better world? My own situation is just fine – I don’t need any more. But I still want to change aspects of our shared world to make it better, because it is a fun project to work on, just like making a nice piece of software or a rocking chair. Improving human society is a nice hobby for all of us to take up.

        • Steve June 22, 2011, 10:46 am

          As an involved dad, it is always an ego boost when these attractive and lonely women come on to you. I can’t go to a playground with our daughter for more than a few minutes before they come around, “Where’s your wife at? I can’t get my husband to do anything but play golf etc.” amirite?

          • MMM June 22, 2011, 11:43 am

            Wow, Steve. I am impressed.. maybe even a bit jealous. I have been to playgrounds and other play spots several times a week since January 2006 and have probably had less than ten real conversations with the moms there over the years. And maybe only one or two of those ladies seemed unusually interested in the Unusual Single Dad.

            This goes right along with my lack of interaction in the gym that I mentioned earlier. Maybe I’m just really non-perceptive and socially clueless.. or maybe you are just really handsome :-)

            • Locus415 September 10, 2013, 10:25 pm

              I have experienced a very similar response when I take my son out to the play grounds. I was able to take off 5 1/2 months when he was 5 months old. The best I would get from other moms was a little approval nod as the pram parade passed. I thought, “Why do all the moms get to hang out all after noon watching a baby mosh pit while glugging down Chardonnay and use guys are like lone wolfs with cubs and no pack?”

              I tried to start a Babies and Beers guys only Papa club by passing out flyers to any Dads I could find. A couple of takes but nothing really came of it. A shame really.

              Equal parenting a wicked fun and as good for the children as it is for the parents. Fro sho.

  • CG February 24, 2012, 10:06 am

    Ugh, my hubby and I had this “conversation” for the 700th time last night. I love him so much but it’s one of those areas in our lives together that we were 100% agreed on before kids but didn’t actually happen when the kids came along. We were both raised in Executive Father homes so there’s a reason why he pulls back and I pick up the slack.
    I forwarded the article to him in hopes that my opinion about equal parenting will be clearer to him if it’s not actually me doing the talking.

  • KO March 7, 2012, 8:41 am

    The craziest thing I heard friends say recently is that their husbands “babysit” the kids so that they could have time for themselves. I think you mean they’re “parenting”?!??!

    Way to go on the ESP thing. I can only imagine the fun family bonding time you experience daily. We have no kids yet but I look forward to the same experience with my fully committed husband.

  • Jeff September 13, 2012, 1:10 pm

    This is precisely the reason I’m working toward early retirement. I’ve always known I didn’t want to work, but two weeks ago a new and even more important reason arrived: my daughter, Vienna. I’ve had two weeks off with a little telecommuting, and the experience has strengthened my resolve to be financially independent in the next 5 years.

  • Bruce December 2, 2013, 12:03 am

    Hey MMM,

    That anthem nearly made me cry. I’m a dad to two little girls and I can’t imagine not being an equal parent with my wife. I don’t work from home and I haven’t retired (yet!), but I do have the advantage of lots of stay-at-home daddy/daughters time on my teacher’s schedule. My oldest just turned four and it seems like just yesterday we were bringing her home from the hospital. So dads, take advantage of all the amazing time you get. It really is flying by!

    Also, I wanted to say thanks for the awesome blog! I’ve been making my way through it from the beginning and it’s already got me riding my bike more, plowing even more money into the s & p, and cutting costs like crazy (I’m typing this on my new Republic Wireless Moto X). So thanks for the wealth of advice and here’s to fatherhood!


  • Red January 1, 2014, 9:47 pm

    I love this article!!!

  • Kelli January 2, 2014, 6:28 pm

    Just finished the book, and it’s the first book about parenting that didn’t scare the crap out of me. DH is on board, and going to read the book as well. I’m sure it’s not all roses but it feels like the first thing I’ve read about parenting that feels “right” for us and how we are together and how we want to be in the future.

    Our biggest challenge will be equal breadwinning. I don’t know if we can cope with a two-fulltime-earner arrangement but DH’s position is difficult to scale back and he’s not sure he wants to change employers or fields. So we shall see. He’s open to thinking about it, so that’s a good thing. I’m just afraid that if my more flexible job is the one to be downsized, that then the dominoes start to fall and all the typical gender stuff starts to take over.

    AND I had forgotten about this post, but totally recognized you in the book, and then someone on the forums reminded me that you had already revealed as much in the blog! Fun times.

  • Katie July 8, 2014, 3:19 pm

    New reader and stumbled across this post as I was browsing. I have not heard of that book (and I don’t yet have children) but sounds like an interesting read.

    Quite possibly my #1 Pet Peeve of All Time is when you hear a man say, “No, I can’t do that thing (go to the game, hang out at the bar, etc), I have to babysit my kid(s) today.” If you created said child, or were part of the parental unit that adopted / surrogated / etc said child, you are NOT BABYSITTING. You are parenting.

  • Raven January 4, 2015, 7:31 pm

    Do you or Mrs. MM have a brother that would be interested in a 26 yo female electrical engineer? I was reading Forbes, saw your interview, followed the link to your website, and have been obsessively blog binging ever since. This form of living, child-rearing, saving, eating, and consuming responsibly really resounded with me. Thanks for blazing a trail! And seriously… get on that Mr & Mrs. Money Mustache Match Making forum (MMMMMM?!) -Raven

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 5, 2015, 11:42 am

      Haha.. send me an email Raven! There are a few ways Mustachians can meet.

  • Ethan March 20, 2015, 1:40 pm

    I’m reading this many years after the fact. I grew up in a ESP household – my parents were both college professors, so though they worked a lot, their schedules were also kind of flexible. Honestly, my dad probably did a smidge more cooking and cleaning than my mom. They were totally ahead of their time. Anyway, now I’m married and have two step kids and my wife has been pointing out this executive parenting of other guys and how they can get away with it more than the ladies. I grew up naively thinking that the expectation of most households was the ESP, and was shocked when I realized I was wrong. On a serious note, it speaks to male privilege a little bit that dudes can get away with this more than the ladies. ESP for the win!

  • Dobby July 22, 2015, 7:11 pm

    If both parents are retired, ESP is 100% spot on. But as a stay at home dad, if my wife gets back after working a 10 hour day doing a bunch of stupid shit she doesn’t want to be doing, I’m sure as hell not going to say “welcome home honey. Now here’s a list of chores and stuff you need to do to be equal with me.”. Doing things around the house IS my job, just as doing the corporate routine is hers while we try to save enough money to retire early. We both do parenting duties but i dont fool myself – I’m responsible for a lions share of it. Trying to guilt trip the working parent into pulling double duty is hardly “equal” and I see more and more (mostly men) getting beaten up over it.

  • b wayne March 26, 2017, 2:23 pm

    I made a decision before I was 10 years old that I would treat my kids better than my parents treated me. That doesnt mean giving them phones and TVs and cars. It means tell them that you love them, act like you love them, enjoy being around them. My parents didnt do those things. The woman I married left when the boys were 3 and 5. At that point things got easier. There was no one to cause problems and I was able to enjoy my kids until they left home. One is an Electrical Engineer,one is a Certified Jeweler. Life with children is Great! When they were little I told them they better bring my grandkids over every day to stay with me while their parents are at work.

  • nf405 August 18, 2017, 3:54 am

    We are doing equally shared parenting! (I didn’t realise it had an official name) We split our 9 months of maternity/paternity leave 50/50 (you can do this in the UK) and now we both work part time. It’s working for us (also I managed to breastfeed my baby till she was 14 months old so the comment that you can’t make this work with breastfeeding is a load of rubbish!) I was really surprised when I became a parent that more parents don’t do it this way as I just assumed that it would be the default in this day and age but apparently not yet.

  • Simon January 18, 2018, 2:29 am

    I didn’t know this term but I’m very much an ESP and I love it – my oldest is nine and already I’m kind of sad that his childhood is halfway over…. I struggled with babies (long story, another time) but overall kids are the best thing I ever did. Our schedule allows it (more by luck than judgement), we’re not near early retirement but both work flexible 25~30 hours a week so we get plenty of time to play with the kids, need to work on the ‘stash tho.

  • Adam Arold May 25, 2018, 4:17 am

    What can I do if I want to be in an ESP but we just started the MMM ™ method and the first child is already coming?

  • TunafishTuesdays February 20, 2020, 1:27 pm

    My dad used to say: “Parenting isn’t 50-50; it’s 60-60”.

    Great lens to look through to change your perspective for the better!


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