Leaning In, Opting Out and Holding On

Once again, a debate rages in the US between working women and stay at home mothers

Lean In bookcover

Lean In bookcover

This latest discussion was set off by the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In, in which the COO of Facebook and billionaire, argues that women should do what it takes to become leaders in the work force. Don’t let the boys push you out, be assertive and get as much help as you need to juggle competing demands on your time.   Lean in and get stuck in, effectively.

The Retro Wife

The Retro Wife

The latest New York magazine, however, features an alternative viewpoint in an article entitled The Feminist Housewife. Lots of highly educated, successful women with promising careers are choosing to be homemakers and just opting out of trying to balance family and work. Labelled a “Retro Wife” because they hark back to 1950’s values, these women claim to be the new feminists because they choose to be stay at home mothers.

I can’t say I identify with Mrs Makino who is featured in the New York magazine article.  Mr. N does not get treated half as well as Mr Makino supposedly does.  I tell Mr. N he is lucky to have me take care of all the domestic drudgery, after school activities, etc and still have a home cooked meal upon his return from work.  If anyone gets a “therapeutic massage” in our relationship, it’s me because I’ve sat on the floor for hours helping them with their latest homework project.

balancing rocks

I’ve opted out but now I’m (barely) holding on.

Yet, I love being a stay at home mother.  We had difficulties having children and it took us 5 years to have the twins.  During that time, I realised I really wanted to be a mother.  After the children were born, I wasn’t going to give up the chance to spend time with them.  Sometimes, of course, I do think it’s easier being at work.  Mr. N has a definite preference for work. He says at least at work people pretend to listen to him.

On the other hand, its not as easy as Sheryl Sandberg says.  She says to get a mentor to help you navigate your way to the top.  I did have such a woman mentor. She was a partner at the Wall Street law firm I worked at which did have a reputation as kinder, gentler place. Frankly, as terrific as she was, just thinking about her life made me exhausted.  She’d run from business meetings to sports days at school and bake her son’s birthday cake while on a conference call from home at midnight. After working with her for 2 years, I came to the rapid conclusion that having it all meant doing it all.

Burn out

There are certainly fields in which you can scale back the hours and still get ahead.  My friend is a government lawyer who is allowed to telecommute on occasion and has good hours. That sort of flexibility is not yet common in traditionally male-dominated environments such as big law firm jobs or investment banking.  In my experience, even asking about such arrangements would have lead to being mentally black-listed at the firm for showing lack of career commitment.

My parents told me I could have it all, a career and a family.  I’m going to be more specific with my daughter.  A career and a family are not mutually exclusive but she needs to examine how family-friendly her life will be when she is choosing her career.

What do you think?  What are your work/life balance stories?


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