Experiement shows benefits of switching roles

I’ve been following a series of blog entries on Slate.com by a married couple who decided to switch roles for a few weeks. He’s an editor at Slate, she’s an at-home mom who does freelance writing. They have two young children.

This type of stunt is always good for readership (it certainly caught my attention), but typically sheds little light on the subject of parenting roles. Nevertheless, the experiment (if it could be called that) is fascinating in part because the two participants have been so candid about their experiences and impressions.

The dad had a lot of trouble adjusting to the home world, where the only schedule is the one he chooses to impose but he must be constantly alert to the moods and needs of his children. The mom loved the orderly world of the office but found she thought less about the children than when she was away from home in her own neighborhood (they live in Brooklyn and the office is in Manhattan) because she was too far away to be of any practical help.

The dad complained that mom missed being home for dinner for several nights in a row. Mom decided it was easier to be at the office than at home. When they returned to their usual roles, both felt the experience made it possible to consider a true job switch at some point in the future.

Not exactly controlled social science, but interesting anyway because it revealed how important our roles are to our visions of ourselves. The switch also illustrated how important it is for us to try to understand the challenges faced by our spouses. Whatever jobs parents have, whether one works and the other stays at home, we’re all doing our best most of the time. The rest of the time we’re just tired.