Emma Johnson Talks to Evan About the Benefits of 50/50 Parenting on the Schein On Podcast
Research shows that kids benefit when both of their parents are actively and fully engaged in parenting. As it turns out, parents – especially single mothers – also benefit from a truly equal split. On episode 11 of the Schein On podcast, I sat down with Emma Johnson – journalist, author, advocate, and creator of WealthySingleMommy.com – to discuss the results of her “Single Mom Income and Time-Sharing Survey.”
A high-level overview of shared parenting
In New York, there are two types of child custody: legal, and residential. When parents share responsibilities in one or both types of scenarios, it is called joint custody. While many parents do their best to spend equal amounts of time with their children, there is no presumption of a 50/50 shared arrangement, which means one parent often ends up bearing a heavier load when it comes to responsibility for the children.
True shared custody presumes a 50/50 split of parenting time, and all the responsibilities which come with it.
The sexist myth of the disposable dad is deeply ingrained in our society
As Emma Johnson explains, for years, courts – and people in general – have followed some version of a “tender years doctrine,” which states that children bond more deeply with their mothers in their early development years. As such, many courts throughout the country award mothers primary custody assuming that mothers are somehow inherently better at parenting. This idea is sexist, Johnson says, but it has been ingrained in our society for decades and is believed by both men and women:
[T]here’s all kinds of polls and studies that show that collectively, as people in the United States, we do believe that. We believe that mothers are the better parents and dads are disposable.
We know that dads are good – like, intellectually know “Yeah, it’s great to have a dad around, but we don’t really need the dad, right?” The dads are like the bumbling Homer Simpson character; they’re okay, but they’re not critical.
[Now] we are looking at decades and decades of really great science that shows that’s absolutely wrong. Children can and do bond with their dads, and they fare best when they have an opportunity to bond equally with their dads from birth….
It’s a lot of misunderstanding and, again, I empathize with everybody. And men hold these ideas too. I mean, we’re talking about good men, progressive men, feminist men that are committed to being fathers, but they still buy into this idea."
The “Single Mom Income and Time-Sharing Survey”
When Johnson described standard parenting time agreements as sexist, she was not just talking about the myth of the disposable dad; she was also describing the very real, very well-documented effect that these agreements have on mothers’ abilities to grow and thrive. In an article for Elle, Johnson wrote that when she divorced and became the primary residential parent, she and her circle agreed that she had gotten a good deal. Yet it only took a few months for Johnson to realize that this was not a good deal at all.
"Like the majority of the 16 million single mothers in the U.S., I soon became the sole provider for my household, and carried the overwhelming brunt of the logistical, emotional, and time labor required of childrearing. Building a career, finding time to exercise, relax, hang out with friends or date is exponentially harder when childcare is disproportionately on one parent’s shoulders….
Single moms who share parenting 50-50 with their kids’ dads seemed to fare better financially, personally, and had better co-parenting relationships than moms with unequal parenting schedules. It makes sense: The more co-parenting equality a mother has, the more time she has to invest in her career, the more time she has for self-care, and the less rage she (and when I say she, I really mean me) has towards an ex who is not doing his share."
That is why she issued the Single Mom Income and Time-Sharing Survey, which surveyed “2,279 single moms in the United States, [and] sought to understand the connection between single mothers’ income and their time sharing with their children’ fathers.”
Her findings were significant. Highlights include:
Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are 54% more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad).
Moms with a 50/50 parenting schedule are more than three times (325%) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100% time with their kids.
Moms with 50/50 parenting schedules are more than twice as likely to earn $65,000+ than those with majority time, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100% parenting time.
9 in 10 single moms say they could earn more money if they had more equality in their parenting time.
In short, when parents share equally in all responsibilities for parenting, it is easier for single mothers to invest in themselves and their careers, which in turns leads to better financial opportunities.
Why 50/50 parenting may be a hard sell
Even when people overcome years of social conditioning about who makes the “best” parents, they must also contend with their fears of what a 50/50 split actually means. When talking to people about equal parenting time, Johnson said she often heard mothers ask questions like, “What about my case, where my kid’s dad moved across the country? What about my case where there was a very severe abuse?”
All of these factors, Johnson explains, can be addressed in the laws themselves. For example, Kentucky passed a law with a presumption of 50/50 parenting, but within the statute are 15 different points of potential deviation for the judge. Therefore, if one parent lived out of state, or was struggling with addiction, or had any other viable reason for not being able to be a true equal, then the judge could change the presumption. He or she must have a specific reason, Johnson said, for the deviation; it could not be “because I said so.”
Finally – and this is critical – parents who share custody must also share responsibility equally for their parenting time. This means accepting full responsibility for the children during one’s time with them, even when that time is inconvenient. “It’s not just 50% time,” Johnson said. “It’s 50% responsibility. It means, okay, you got a big business trip coming up, but it’s your week with the kids. You have to make some hard decisions like women have been making since the dawn of time.”
Children and parents benefit from shared parenting. It will be better for everyone when, as Johnson says, “people start at 50/50, instead of starting at zero and clawing your way to whatever percent you can get.”