I am just emerging from a months-long journey through diapers and burping and kissing babies, courtesy of my daughter’s new twins, Sophie and Sam. They joined now 4 year old Avery to make for a happy family of five, and one extremely delirious grandmother. I’m in another phase of “having it all.”
So, I have missed much of the debate over Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In and all of the alternative prescriptions for bettering the status of women, and in particular, mothers. I see, based on new Op-Eds in the NYTimes and elsewhere, that there is still a big appetite for figuring out this problem. Good. The worst thing we can do is let our attention be diverted.
During my “time out” I did get a call to guest on a talk show to talk about Lean In, and curious about how they got to me, discovered that a blogpost I’d written here way back in 2011, when Sandberg first posited her theory, had been found. In it, I offered up the notion that the point to be most noted was that Sandberg had been “excellently mentored”–by a powerful man. Or, in fact, many powerful men. I happily declined the talk show opportunity–and went back to my diapering.
I did read the book, and gave a copy to my daughter (a writer) and her partner (an advertising executive), two successful women in their mid-late 30’s, mid careers, parents to three children under 4. They perfectly fit the demographic that causes so much concern to all of us as we try to figure out how to keep smart women in the workforce. In my daughter’s case, Yale & Harvard bred, she reports that most of her women schoolmates are at home raising the babies.
That’s a notion anathema to women like me, single mothers who don’t have the choice. I raised three children on my own: one I birthed, one I adopted, and a third I shared with his biological mother, who was unable to care for all of her children. My mother, number 13 in a family of 15 Alabama farm children, thought I was crazy. She had a strict China policy: only one child per family. But…I thought I could have it all. As a television reporter, I had a good income. It was still a scramble. And then I went through the caring for ailing parents phase. Now that was really a scramble.
It occurred to me as I finished reading Lean In, that I had a sense of great relief: thank God and Medicare that the enormous striving that goes into building a life and career and family are behind me. Not that I don’t have goals, plans, dreams (the big book, a couple of smaller ones, half the year working in an orphanage in Africa) but that the raw focus and energy required to “make it” are in the rear view mirror of this particular Smart car.
So, I think about the twist on the advice given to working women: you can have it all, but probably not all at the same time. This year I got to burp and pace with my colicky babies. When I had my own, I had to hustle back to work to make sure I wasn’t replaced. I had a long spell of good income. Now that I self-identify as a writer (and rejoice in it) I’ve embraced the “less is more” philosophy. Sometimes it even works.
So, where do I fall on the Lean In continuum? Useful for a breath of the thin, rare air at the very top of the workforce pile. But I’m solidly on the side that the burden of change, the global resolution of our problems rests with employers and our government. While women are working their hardest, corporations and agencies need to mentor them by putting polices into place to ensure equal pay–just for starters. And then policies like paid leave that allow parents to actually raise our country’s children.
But–back to diapering for me. Big smile.