Leaning In And Looking Back

You could never pay me enough money to do for my child what I would do for free.

American women are better educated than they’ve ever been, better educated now than men, but they get distracted during their prime earning years by the urge to procreate. As they mature, they earn less than men and are granted fewer responsibilities at work.

Fifty years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, women represent only a tiny fraction of corporate and government leaders, and they still earn only 77 cents on the male dollar.


When I was just 15, no marriage no kids became my motto.  Perhaps, I sit on the other end of the spectrum than most women.  But, I had no fantasies of my wedding day nor did I think “prince charming” existed.  My goal was to be independent and strong and I didn’t need a man to do it.

I spent my days preparing for a C-level career to “rule the world”.  My mom was a CEO, perhaps not as powerful as Sheryl Sandberg in most people’s eyes but nonetheless the bar was set.

I put myself through college on scholarship, travelled the globe and worked along the way.

I eventually met my husband who was the wiser of the two of us, at the time, and he told me that I wasn’t thinking straight.  He spoke to me about family and Life, I fell in love; eventually I settled down and we had a child.  Nonetheless, I continued to work full time, like my mother did, trying to move up the corporate ladder all while navigating motherhood.

I recovered from my pregnancies within 6 weeks, returned to work and went back to school;  thinking I was juggling and balancing it all.

But, a life in business, combined with motherhood, meant leaving a lot of things undone I might have wanted to do.  There were books I wished I had read, courses I wished I had taken, community service I wished I had done, places I wished I had seen, friends I wished I had made — but time constraints made this impossible.

But, I was determined not to blink.

But as usual, Life got in the way. My first readjustments were practical, so I thought. Quickly, though, my choices became more philosophical. My second child was born while I was finishing grad school, working full time and caring for my husband and my first child. And, even though I was constantly conflicted inside I made sure to keep going.

My position was eventually eliminated (a blessing in disguise) and I was able to leave my full-time job for a more flexible freelance life writing from home, and I must admit that it was not a change I welcomed only because my children needed me. It’s more accurate to say I was no longer willing to work as hard — commuting, navigating office politics, having my schedule be at the whim of the news, balancing all that with the needs of my family — for a prize I was learning I didn’t really want.

I wish it had been possible to be the kind of parent I want to be and continue with my career but I wore myself out trying to do both jobs well.

There is nothing wrong with money or power. But they come at a high price. So when I speak about success I’m more likely to use words like satisfaction, balance and sanity.

If you haven’t heard of Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In by now, you’re probably living under a rock. But no matter how you may feel about her impassioned take on women in the workplace–and why they should “lean in” to the table rather than sit back–it’s important to at least understand the argument.

In the weeks leading up to Facebook COO book’s publication, critics have squabbled over Sandberg’s authority to administer that advice.

The problem with Sheryl Sandberg’s brand new book Lean In is not her “controversial” content, but the firestorm that’s risen around it.

Sandberg admits that navigating the double standards of the American workplace is as easy as “trying to cross a minefield backward in high heels.” But when she flips to memoir mode instead of feminist manifesto, the implication is that she tilted herself just-so and that other women can, too.

“Women are not less ambitious than men, they insist, but more enlightened with different and more meaningful goals. I do not dismiss or dispute this argument,” writes Sandberg. “There is far more to life than climbing a career ladder, including raising children, seeking personal fulfillment, contributing to society, and improving the lives of others.” And yet, having delivered that paragraph, the book then marches straight past it as if it never happened. In doing so, it takes one of the most important conversations we can have — that about building a career in the context of a life — and, for better or for worse, tips it upside down into a discussion about building a life in the context of a career.

However, the advice that Sandberg dispenses comes with serious costs. Those costs have traditionally been borne by men. But the book never considers that, rather than women not leaning in enough, that it actually might be men who have been leaning in too much. “Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family.” ”

When asked to choose between marriage and career, female college students are twice as likely to choose marriage as their male classmates.” The book takes the research, applies its judgment to it, and implores women to change their point of view — because the men have it right.

I’m not so sure.

”We thought there would be a woman president by now,” says Marie Wilson, director of the Ms. Foundation for Women and president of the White House Project, who has been fighting to increase the representation of women in work and politics since 1975. ”We expected that women would be leading half the companies in this country, that there would be parity on boards.” Instead, Wilson has just finished a book that includes an examination, in her words, of ”how far we haven’t come,” titled ”Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World.”

Measured against the way things once were, this is certainly progress. But measured against the way things were expected to be, this is a revolution stalled.

We’ve gotten so used to the sight that we’ve lost track of the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to be. Women — specifically, educated professional women — were supposed to achieve like men. Once the barriers came down, once the playing field was leveled, they were supposed to march toward the future and take rightful ownership of the universe, or at the very least, ownership of their half. The women’s movement was largely about grabbing a fair share of power — making equal money, standing at the helm in the macho realms of business and government and law. It was about running the world.

But what if all the fighting was just too much? That is, what if a woman isn’t earning Facebook money but the salary of a social worker? Or what if her husband works 80 hours a week, and her kid is acting out at school, and she’s sick of the perpetual disarray in the closets and the endless battles over who’s going to buy the milk and oversee the homework? Maybe most important, what if a woman doesn’t have Sandberg-Slaughter-Mayer-level ambition but a more modest amount that neither drives nor defines her?

The trade-offs now between working and not working have become more and more unsustainable.

“Lean In” has unleashed multiple conversations. For me, the most interesting is the one about the nature of the world women are leaning into. This is a great moment for all of us—women and men—to acknowledge that the current male-dominated model of success isn’t working for women, and it’s not working for men, either.

You don’t have to look very far to find evidence that thinking about life like this can come with serious costs.

High-flying MBAs and executives suffer from this problem: Bronnie Ware, who for many years worked in palliative care, articulately speaks to the same issue. She asked her patients about their regrets as they neared the end of their lives. Five themes emerged; I encourage you to go and read them. I want to quote just one: “‘I wish I didn’t work so hard.’

This came from every male patient that she nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

Lean In almost always prefaces its advice by first identifying areas where, relative to their male counterparts, women are (for want of a better term) “under-performing.” They aren’t as confident. They aren’t as ambitious. Men are more comfortable taking credit for their achievements, and there’s less cost to them individually when they do so. And so on. The assertions are often backed up with a big body of research.

Despite spending so much time citing research about the benefits of having women in leadership positions, a lot of its recommendations focus on, to put it bluntly, making women more like men, without proper consideration of whether that would actually be a good thing.

Any parent can tell you that children are hard-wired from birth: this one is shy, this one is outgoing; this one is laid-back; this one is intense. They were born that way. And any student of the animal kingdom will tell you that males and females of a species act differently.

Male baboons leave their mothers; female baboons stay close for life. The female kangaroo is oblivious to her young; the male seahorse carries fertilized eggs to term. Susan Allport, a naturalist, writes in her book ”A Natural History of Parenting,” ”Males provide direct childcare in less than 5 percent of mammalian species, but in over 90 percent of bird species both male and female tend to their young.”

In other words, we accept that humans are born with certain traits, and we accept that other species have innate differences between the sexes. What we are loath to do is extend that acceptance to humans.

Partly that’s because absolute scientific evidence one way or the other is impossible to collect. But mostly it is because so much of recent history (the civil rights movement, the women’s movement) is an attempt to prove that biology is not destiny. To suggest otherwise is to resurrect an argument that can be — and has been — dangerously misused.

When primates compete, they do so in ways that increase the survival chances of their offspring. In other words, they do it for their children. ‘At this moment in Western civilization seeking clout in a male world does not correlate with child well-being.

Today, striving for status usually means leaving your children with an au pair who’s just there for a year, or in inadequate day care. So it’s not that women aren’t competitive; it’s just that they don’t want to compete along the lines that are not compatible with their other goals.

Before they marry, college students of both genders almost universally tell social scientists that they want marriages in which housework, child care, professional ambition, and moneymaking will be respectfully negotiated and fully shared.

Despite their stated position, men still do far less housework than their spouses. In 2011, only 19 percent spent any time during the average day cleaning or doing laundry; among couples with kids younger than 6, men spent just 26 minutes a day doing what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “physical care,” which is to say bathing, feeding, or dressing children. (Women did more than twice as much.)

Families and Work Institute conducted study for Real Simple magazine. Women said they yearned for more free time and that they hated doing most housework. But when they got free time, they used it to do housework—convinced that no one else could do it as well.

If women and men are at odds with themselves over what they value most, if a woman says she wants a big job but also needs to be home by 5:30 to oversee homework, and her husband promises to pick up the kids from chess club but goes instead to the meeting with the boss, how can marriages with two working parents not wind up conflict-ridden?

Women’s entrance into the labor market in large numbers has exacerbated incompatibilities between employer and family interests. Research reveals that conflict between paid work and family responsibilities has been linked to decreased employee productivity as well as decreased family functioning.

There is both a relational and an institutional context for gendered transitions into parenthood; these contexts exist within, and extend beyond, the relationships of individual couples.

In their routine, daily interactions with each other and with other people, as well as in their encounters with social strictures and institutions, new parents are channeled in the direction of experiencing motherhood and fatherhood as different from one another.

There is a work/family conflict that particularly affecting working women. It is extended work hours.  There is research that suggests that a child’s well being suffers as a result of lack of time with parents.  Specifically, the lack of sensitive, responsive, and consistent care from overworked parents or substitute providers can lead to decreased cognitive and social. And can promote attachment insecurity in children.

Women globally belonging to any class or creed have progressed and reached a new paradigm. They have established their freedom, self- autonomy and personal growth, are better able to express themselves, and are striving hard to achieve their objectives. These new roles are the additional to traditional roles and responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and management of domestic and household. In the dual career families, where both husband and wife are earning, a different situation emerges.

Women have to balance identity, power and status with family roles and responsibilities often in conflict and psychological distancing from the spouse resulting in tension, stress and strain. There is a clash between the domestic roles and the job roles for both- working couples. The man is trying to share some domestic chores with his spouse. It is obvious that without man’s sharing in domestic chores, no family harmony and peace can be retained in dual-career families.

Stress is viewed as a result of imbalance between the person’s perceptions of the demand made on him and his ability to cope with it.

An imbalance of such type gives rise to the experience of stress.  Stress is also perceived as an individual phenomenon and is subjective in nature.  Role characteristics have been one of the most widely investigated organizational qualities in Stress Research. Role ambiguity, role conflict, role overload, role under load has been found associated with stress.

Traditionally, sociologists and psychologists focused on the problematic nature of multiple roles, arguing that more complex role sets produce stress.  Recently, there has been a shift in focus away from the stressful and towards the beneficial effects of occupying different roles.

The instability of family structure has become an increasingly salient part of children’s lives in the United States over the past half-century. During this period, as is well-known, divorce rates increased, as did the prevalence of nonmarital cohabitation, which is less stable than marriage. Moreover, cohabitation and marriage appear to be more unstable in the United States than in most other developed countries; and a relatively high percentage of American children experience transitions into single-parent families and stepfamilies.

A growing body of literature suggests that children who experience multiple transitions in family structure may fare worse developmentally than children raised in stable two-parent families and perhaps even than children raised in stable, single-parent families. This body of research presents what we call the instability hypothesis, the prediction that children are affected by disruption and changes in family structure as much as (or even more than) by the type of family structures they experience.

If this hypothesis were true, it would suggest that a significant reinterpretation of the effects of family structure on children’s well-being may be warranted. For example, it would imply that a child born to a single parent might be as well off, or perhaps even better off, if the parent did not cohabit or remarry.

Past research suggests that children who experience multiple transitions in family structure may face worse developmental outcomes than children raised in stable two-parent families and perhaps even children raised in stable, single-parent families. However, multiple transitions and negative child outcomes may be associated because of common causal factors such as parents’ antecedent behaviors and attributes.

We need to recognize that our relationships to our children and to other people who need us are an ongoing part of our lives that are not finished after temporary leave.  People who are available to babies should not have to bear negative consequences for the rest of their occupational trajectories.

It is in everyone’s  interest especially the children’s to work to change the social construction of father as more peripheral to children than mothers are.  Fathers’ commitment to children should not require harmony between themselves and their children’s mothers; it should be expected.

At the same time it is in our children’s interest for us to take more responsibility as a whole society for their well-being.  We need to confront the belief that children cannot be cared for by more than one adult (the mother). This assumption has consequences for the availability and quality of nonparental care; and for babies living in poverty, it has consequences for whether they are cared for adequately at all.

Caring is not something to get out of.  Social transformation is the responsibility of everyone – mothers and non-mothers men and women.

All it takes is a desire to preserve a partnership which is worth trying to do for ourselves and our children.

It is apparent that the stresses on individuals and marriages wreaked by transitions into parenthood are too widespread to be explained simply by the personality of individuals or their choice of marital partners.

It has not been examined in empirical studies about men’s and women’s transitions into parenthood, despite speculation that women’s greater difficulty with the transition may have something to do with differences in social expectations.

Rather than disempowering fathers per se, what we need is to address gender inequality in the labor market both in its concrete and symbolic forms. Concretely, women should be pain equitably, both in male –dominated fields and in jobs that are perceived as “women’s work.”

At the same time there should be a greater acknowledgement of family and other personal responsibilities in our public social organization. It does not necessarily help parents to be offered extra hours in order to make a decent wage. What they need is to be able to support their families both financially and with their presence. They do not need more hours; they need fewer.

Segregation and differential pay within occupations, which reflect the institutionalization of gender difference, constrain the ability of some new parents to stray from traditional divisions of baby care. Mothers and fathers also participate in undermining women’s economic power because of their accountability to the notion that mothers must “always be there” for their children.

Ambivalence about maternal employment is apparent in attitudes about nonparental child-care, which is conceptualized as replacing the mother in particular.  Mothers are accountable to the image of worrying about their children when they are not with them, whether they actually are worried or not:, which is an essential feature of differences in parental consciousness between mothers and fathers.

Being more courageous in the workplace can help women succeed. Workplace courage is defined as taking a stand or a risk. Courageous women take responsibility for their lives. “They design their lives rather than letting outside influences dictate who they are or what they should be.”

But, the maternal instinct is a real thing.  The world needs women to redefine success beyond money and power. We need a third metric, based on our well-being, our health, our ability to unplug and recharge and renew ourselves, and to find joy in both our job and the rest of our life. Ultimately, success is not about money or position, but about living the life you want, not just the life you settle for.

Women started this conversation about life and work — a conversation that is slowly coming to include men. Sanity, balance and a new definition of success, it seems, just might be contagious.

And instead of women being forced to act like men, maybe men are being freed to act like women.

I definitely want my daughter to be able to do anything she wants. But I also want to say, have a career that you can walk away from at the drop of a hat.

Look at this way, this is not the failure of a revolution, but the start of a new one. It is about a crack in a door opened by women that could usher in a new environment for us all.

So, why don’t women run the world yet?

In a way, we already do.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

Thanks for reading. Please share 🙂

Please don’t forget to leave a comment.

About julia29

Hi. My name is Julia El-Haj. I am a Hall of Fame Athlete, an MBA, Professional Certified Marketer, Certified Youth Fitness Trainer, a Specialist in Sports Nutrition and a licensed Real Estate agent. I gave up my "seat at the table" to be home with my 3 children because that's where I was needed most. I blog about everything with Wellness in mind.
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