June 14, 2014 at 1:26 PM
I had an interesting book group the other night. Well, it would have been interesting if I had made it. The book we read was Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I guess I should say, the book they read, because I didn’t read it. Why? Because as open-minded as I am, I really didn’t care what Sandberg had to say on the subject, and besides, I had read enough about the book to know what she had to say. For those of you who don't know, Sheryl Sandberg believes that women should not leave the workforce when they have children; instead they should "lean in." Granted, this is an oversimplification of her views, but I'm summing up a movement in one sentence. You’ve probably guessed that I didn’t choose the book.
Although, I have slogged through novels over the years that were not worthy of my time, I felt that if I read Sandberg’s book, it would be stealing time from me if I read it. This sounds harsh, I know, but life’s too short to do something I don’t need to do. And this was truly something I didn’t need to do.
One could argue that I would learn something from the book. But my position was it was already too late for me. I went to college and graduated with the full intention of working throughout my children’s childhoods. I got married at twenty-three and began working while my husband went to law school. After a brief magical year where we were both employed at the same time, we switched roles and I went to law school while he worked. Finally, in my last year of law school, we had our first daughter. And then, the magic truly began.
She was prone to ear infections and at 2:00 am I would go to her crib, take her temperature and come back to our room to announce that she had a fever. Because she was in daycare, this meant that one of us would be staying home the next day. There is no more special moment as a parent then when you argue with your spouse in the middle of the night about whose job is more important, while your baby is crying in the next room. I’m sure not everyone has played out this scenario, but for those of you who have, I’m sure you remember it as heartwarming. It is also most likely not faced by COOs of Facebook, who tend to have nannies at their disposal.
My next problem in a series of dilemmas was an encounter with a partner at my law firm who didn’t think much of my “leaning in.” Now, I know that Sandberg believes that people like me should stay the course when the partner told me that he didn’t need to know that I had a daughter. He was referencing the fact that I had been in his office talking to him and I looked at my watch and realized that I needed to leave to pick up said daughter. If I didn’t leave, I would be late and there would be repercussions at the daycare center. So, I told him I had to leave to pick her up. He later said that he knew that “so-and-so (another woman) also had a child, but she never talked about it.” I told him that in the future I would realize how important my personal situation was in his life and I wouldn’t mention why I was leaving, but if he were in mid-sentence and I had to go, I would just walk out. Wouldn’t want to burden him with the pesky daughter. I stayed because I had to, not because I wanted to. What would you have done?
Fast forward several years, and we now had two daughters – two times more illnesses, school events to attend, daycare to pick up from – you get the picture. It was always so exhausting. We eventually moved from daycare to Au Pairs and that had its own host of issues. The women who stayed with the girls were all great and we still have fantastic relationships with almost all of them. They provided unparalleled cultural exposure for our daughters. But, English was not their first language. So when my older daughter’s homework began to get more complicated, she began faxing it to me at my office and then calling me to do it with her over the phone. Here I was, sitting in my office, doing homework with my daughter while she was at home. Something seemed wrong to me.
Finally, it all just got to be more than I wanted. So I reclined, as one woman put it, in response to Sandberg’s book. I chose to “Lean Out.” Have I let down womankind? I don’t know. Have I let down my girls? Well, the other night, when I told my daughter that I wasn’t going to the book group because I hadn’t read the book, she asked me what it was about. When I told her, she asked, “Does the author have kids?” I said “yes.” She then said, “maybe all of the work that she’s done all these years has been great, but she hasn’t gotten a chance to spend as much time with her kids, as you have.” Do my daughters think that my spending this time with them has been a good thing? Most of the time, yes. In any event, I know that I do.
What does all of this mean for you then, or for Sheryl Sandberg? Well, I guess my point is that I did what worked for me and my family and Sheryl Sandberg did what worked for her and her family. You? Well, you should do what works for you and your family, whether you’re a man or a woman. There shouldn’t be one best answer that is right for everyone, and we as parents shouldn’t feel that by making decisions for our families, we are letting down an entire gender’s advancement in the workplace. My message is lean in whatever direction works for you and your family at the time that you’re making the decisions. Life’s too short to carry the weight of the world.
Nancy Klingeman is married to Henry and the mom of two teenage daughters. She is a writer, a lawyer, and an observer of life's daily pageantry.
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