Do kids of working mom’s miss out?

ImageEver since Marissa Mayer announced she would only be taking a few weeks for maternity and that she would be “working” during that time the Internet has lit up with women weighing in on her choice. A recent CNN article captures some of the discussion.

Now before I begin let me state that I am not a mother, but my opinion does come from personal experience.  You see, I am the daughter of a working women. I grew up with a mom who not only worked, but went to school, served at her church, and managed to raise three kids. Even now, as I approach my 40’s my mom hasn’t changed much. This weekend as I write this she’s off somewhere on a weekend course for her schooling.  It ends up her example is addictive, and while she’s off doing her courses I’m home doing my own.

How was my mom able to do this? I really think it comes down to the fact that she had a really great partner in my father.  A man who has never really cared about stereotypes and never thought twice about doing “womenly” chores – whatever those are. It ends up my parents were light years ahead in how they approached family life.  Sheryl Sandberg, who famously stated that “women should select a spouse that supports their ambitions” would approve of my mom’s choice in my father.

My opinion formed is that it is not whether or not a women can have it all – but can a family have it all? The idea that one person can balance everything is unrealistic. My parents set me an example of partnership that showed how it could be done.  It was my dad who braided my hair for school when my mom was already on shift for the day, bed time at night was with my mom (she instilled me with my love of reading), and somewhere in between we had camping trips, sleepovers, and school recitals.

I don’t remember ever feeling like I missed something.  In my teen years, I enjoyed long walks with my dad and when a boy broke my heart it was my mom’s comforting arms that received me.

Now here’s the challenge.  If you are a working mom you should be aware of this one thing.  You are setting an example for your daughter’s and expectations among your sons that this is normal – and for those who know no different…it is.  It may never occur to them that there is an option to “stay home” and only focus only on mothering.  There’s no doubt that being a mother is one of the highest callings in the world.  It is a privilege to be able to coach a little soul through the universe and help shape them.  But I also think this holds true for fathers – and that really is the question here.  Why is it that these debates seem to ignore the men altogether? Why are there never any articles that say “do kids of working dads miss out?”

I had a well meaning friend once try to tell me that kids need their moms more than their dads. Hmmmm. I have to say, that wasn’t really my experience and I found the comment hugely insulting on behalf of caring fathers everywhere.

For those in a family unit, it really should be figuring out the plan for what works for the entire family. I love that more men are open to taking paternity leave and in my circle of friends some have selected to split parental leave.

So what if you don’t have that supportive spouse? What if you married a dud? My closest friends who are dynamic women found themselves divorced and having to essentially do it all.  Their strength constantly  amazes me, but what I discovered is that they were successful because they developed a strong support network.  They weren’t afraid to say “I can’t do this by myself.” They prioritize their days around what has to get done, and their children’s needs.

At the end of the day, kids judge the world differently than adults.  They prioritize by their physical needs being met followed by “Am I loved? Am I important?” The African proverb that states “It takes a village to raise a child.”

If you’re still worried about whether or not your children are missing out if you work, consider a study that came out in 2011 showing that for young girls having both parents work is actually favourable! I guess that explains why I see my childhood experience as so positive.

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Why Sheryl Sandberg’s War Cry to “Lean In” Must Be Heard

Sheryl Sandberg‘s book “Lean In” was in the cross-fires this weekend by a contributor at Forbes with an article entitled “Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” More Aspirational than Inspirational“. I actually loved the different viewpoint of the author – but then again I am a huge fan of strong women.  What I found interesting was the essence that Sheryl is not an “attainable” role model.  Hmmm.  A quote comes to mind by Leo Burnett, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.

In other words, since when do we want our role models to be ordinary?

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The other interesting thing is that it’s easy to put Ms. Sandberg in the cross fires and whine “but she’s sooo successful”.  Yet, if she were a man proclaiming he goes home at 5:30 every day there would be almost unanimous respect.  People wouldn’t be arguing it’s because he has “help” etc etc.  They would compare him against his peers in the same role and say “Good for you!”

I started my career in tech, made a few side trips, and am now an executive in economic development. Working at Fortune 500 companies for the bulk of that career I did my time working the crazy hours. I’ve been strapped to a call desk where my hours are dictated. I know what it’s like to walk into the building at 7pm to spend the next 8 hours working to convert servers and data over. I’ve lead online projects – and been the only woman in the room.

Here’s the thing – those few women (and we NEED to be more) who work in our world are inspired by Sheryl and here’s why. Her message of a balanced life at the top is not heeded by all – especially the men. I had 1 male boss in my 18 year career who lectured his entire team about the importance of balance and actually lived it. I remember thinking “One day when I’m at his level, I want to do it his way.”

His commitment to balance actually made our team healthier. It made us perform stronger, and generally we were highly motivated. Compare that with other teams I watched where the leader was relentless in the 15+ hour work day and the request for time-in-lieu or vacation time was considered a faux pas. Guess how many people stuck around?

Here’s the thing about Sheryl. I want her as a role model just like I want my personal trainer to be in better shape than me. As for her call to lean in, I am FULLY on board. I look at it this way. I am helping keep the door open for the generation behind me. If we are so naive as to believe that if women don’t lean in that it will make no difference, than we are blinded. By leaning back, we are effectively making it more difficult for future generations to have the opportunities we currently have.

I often think back to the women’s suffrage movement where women actually did hunger strikes to get the right to vote.  I wonder what they would have thought if after all they did women simply decided that “voting” wasn’t important after all.

I think the same holds true for the women who forged ahead and broke some glass ceilings for us. What must they think of our generations willingness to just “give up” leadership.   The number of women in leadership is sliding, and to me that is a very alarming trend.  Alarming because women bring a different perspective to companies which makes them competitive. Alarming because less women in leadership now means it will be more difficult for women to break into positions in the future.

Sheryl’s message is a call to action for those who have the opportunities before them for leadership to step up!  Sadly, most people ask what’s the big deal? They think that for some reason equality is now practiced everywhere and they ask “What glass ceiling?” The fact is it is there, and I hope it will not be my generation that is noted in the history books for “undoing” all the work of the generations before.

Lean in Ladies! If not for yourself, do it for your daughters.