Not Feeling Super Lean-y In-y? Me Neither

April 3, 2013

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[Note: The opening of this essay was edited on 4.6.13.]

I’ve never re-written a blog post after it had been live for days but I’m going to call this one a mea culpa. I think I had some extra snark in my coffee that day and it’s been bothering me ever since. I had not yet read Lean In  (yes, I have read most of it now and I found it to be well-written, interesting, and something I would recommend to others — that still doesn’t change any of my thoughts, below) and I should have been more careful to frame my post as my personal story and not just a reaction to any one person or idea.

The irony here is that what I really think is that all women, those who work and those who stay home, should have each others’ backs. I’m at home full-time now, but I have been a working mother and I will be again some day and I have the utmost respect for whichever one of these difficult choices women have made. Having said that…

I think we can all agree that Sandberg is a the real deal. She’s the COO of Facebook because of her expertise, intelligence, and hard work — and her decision to aggressively pursue her work through pregnancies and motherhood. She also seems to be well-liked and not a total ass-hat. I enjoyed her interview on The Daily Show. I admire her.

And I have no desire to get involved in anything that involves the words “mommy wars”; truly, if there is a more demeaning to women phrase, I don’t know what it is.

It took me a while to figure out what was bothering me about the whole concept of leaning in, and thus I was so relieved this morning when I read (yes, another — I can’t stop) article on the topic, this one on WBUR’s Cognoscenti web site , an article that finally and simply stated why I wasn’t feeling all “rah rah” and “lean-y in-y” this whole time. As written by WBUR’s Carey Goldberg:

[Sandberg’s] push for women to work full-time in high-powered jobs, even through motherhood, seems to willfully ignore this fact: A great many of us don’t want to, not when our children are young.

I would say that 80-90% of the time I truly love what I do. And even if my husband and I both had both managed to find high-powered jobs that were flexible enough for us to share housework and childcare equally  (kind of like saying “even if we found a magic unicorn that lived in our yard and pooped money”), there would still be no time left over for many things, both monumental and more mundane but important — things which, together,  have become my job over the past several years. To name a few:

  • We would not have adopted our amazing son, as the paperwork and logistics of the event were at least a part-time job for me for the better part of a year.
  • There is no way I would have been able to assist my dad in the care of my mother in the years leading up to her death from early-onset Alzheimer’s.
  • On a smaller scale, I would not currently be co-leading a Brownies troop, an activity that my daughter adores.

It’s easy to look at my trajectory and see when decisions were made that took me off that track. I completely understand why I have not been recruited by Facebook or, frankly, anyone. But with the exception of closing my retail business a few years back, which was a tough blow, none of these decisions seemed like failures at the time, nor do they in retrospect.

Do I sometimes wonder what might have been, if I had stayed in New York and become a movie producer or writer? Sure, I wonder. But I don’t wish it were so. Do I feel like I am less fulfilled as result of not have a high-powered career? On some day, yes! Just like I’m guessing the women who chose to work full time sometimes  have days where they yearn to be at home! But overall, no.

I may trip myself up from time to time, on those days when the mundane housework looms large, but it’s almost always an easy fix — a good book, my writing or book groups, or a new blog post keep me active in the brain department. Frankly, I have read more and am generally better informed in the past few years than I’ve been since college, because I have the luxury of listening to audiobooks while I walk my dog or reading some of the many articles that my smarty friends post on — where else? — Facebook.

I’ll tell you what I do wish, though. First, that corporate culture would accommodate part-time workers, and not in the, “Sure, if you want to come here part-time and be paid for part-time you can, but we’re still going to give you a full-time work load that’ll have you chained to your computer after your kids go to bed!” way. It’s too soon for me now, because I have a one-and-a-half-year-old, but at some point not too far down the road I would be interested in a part-time or project-based job and, although my resume does not show it, I believe I would be an asset to the right team.

Which brings me to my second wish: that businesses would not only consider, but actively recruit, women who have been home with kids for years. We may not be as out-of-it as they think — skills like keeping a family budget, planning and executing school events and fundraisers, researching and blogging about kids with food allergies or parenting in general, being the president of your CSA or food co-op, and organizing a whole family’s schedule of activities actually CAN translate into high-level job skills. And I think we get social media pretty well, huh?!

In the end, smart companies will hire the smart people, regardless of whether they’ve been tirelessly working their way up the ladder or home with kids, and I hope that women like Sandberg and others like her will help nurture this idea. As for me, I simply do not believe that my career has ended; I hope that it will continue to evolve and morph into something new. But first I want to keep doing this mama thing.

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