Thank You, Sheryl Sandberg

 

It was the other night at bedtime when my three-and-a-half year old daughter leaned in close and whispered, “Mommy, my family is my favorite.” That was the moment when the epiphany I had been waiting for all week finally came rushing over me. “My family is my favorite, too,” I whispered back as I kissed my beautiful girl on the forehead and tucked her in for the night. As I made my way downstairs and prepared for some “Me time,” the true impact of my daughter’s words and what they meant began to sink in. 

You see, I had spent the previous few days reading the endless media coverage of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, and quite frankly, her message had been sending me into in a mild depression. Sandberg’s primary thesis, her exhortation that had been gnawing at me all week, was this: women are not nearly as represented in high power business and government jobs as they should be and a big contributing factor to this inequity, on top of gender discrimination and a culture that doesn’t support the difficult choices women must make when balancing family and career, is that too many women are choosing not to “lean in” to their professional lives. They’re not realizing their fullest potential vocationally because they are thinking too much about their responsibilities as mothers and wives at home.

As a highly educated, stay-at-home mom by choice, these words stung, their bite all the more blistering because of their truth. All I have to do is look toward my own life to see Sandberg’s point validated. Here I am, an Ivy League graduate twice over, a driven person, conscientious to a fault, one of the hardest workers I know, and yet as I write these words I have a pot of homemade chicken soup boiling on the stove and my one-year old son nursing at my breast.

Before having children, I was a dedicated and respected teacher at two different elementary schools, earning leadership positions on curriculum committees and data teams, only to leave the first school to follow my husband from New York to Pennsylvania when we got married and the second when I had my daughter almost four years ago. No one twisted my arm to leave. I made my choice and I made it firmly and eagerly. Having a family was something I had looked forward to since as long as I could remember, and though at the time I was aware that I would miss the teacher I was and the classroom I created, that I was indeed making a sacrifice to walk away (albeit temporarily) from my professional life, it really wasn’t a difficult choice. In fact, it wasn’t even a choice at all. I never looked back.

Until now. Now, I see layoffs all around me. Hiring freezes. Job losses through attrition. I can’t help but worry if there will be a job there for me when I do choose to return to the classroom. Couple that with my growing restlessness with being a stay-at-home mom and the disconcerting feeling that I have thrown myself into motherhood with such fervor that I have lost a piece of myself. And then enter Sheryl Sandberg with her message that women are holding themselves back. As I read article after article and watched news segment after news segment–some praising her, some denigrating her– I couldn’t help but grapple with who I am as a mother, wife, former career woman, and person. Did I make the right choice to put on hold my teaching career? Never for a second did I consider anything else, but why did I never even entertain other options? A job-share? Part-time paid work? Any sort of day care? Why was I so eager to relinquish such an important part of who I was?

As I racked my brain for days, this question ate away at me from the inside out until my daughter in her magical way made it all so clear. Why did I not lean in to my career when my children were born? Because I didn’t want to. Because my family is my favorite. Though it is true that I do need to work harder at achieving a balance in my life, to reclaim the part of myself that has been lost in motherhood, when I think about who I am and what I truly want, the answers are quite simple. Making homemade baby purees makes me happy. Teaching my children how to enjoy fresh, nutritious, real food makes me happy. Nursing my baby boy into his second year of life makes me happy. And I’m not afraid to say it anymore, but what would make me the happiest woman on earth right now is if my husband came home tonight and said, “Let’s have another baby.” That is who I am. It comes from somewhere very deep. And socialization and forced gender roles don’t have anything to do with it. To miss out on this time would be to miss out on some of my most fervent life’s ambitions. I could pump breast milk at work, but it doesn’t compare to holding my sweet baby in my arms and nursing him at 2:00 in the afternoon until he falls asleep. And there is nothing like curling up on the couch for some Mommy-daughter book time or listening attentively while my little girl tells me the latest bit of preschool drama. That couch and my kitchen are where I want to be right now. I’m not going to apologize for that.

Ms. Sandberg, I want to thank you for helping me redefine who I am and what is important to me. We all need these moments in our lives, and I applaud you for sparking this conversation that American women so need to have. I long for the day when our country’s leaders are half female and when the power players in boardrooms all across the United States are 50% women. I’m truly hoping that many women will heed your clarion call and lean into their professional lives. I’ll surely vote for them and cheer them on as they make their way to the top. And when the time is right, I’ll lean into my career once again, and I know I’ll do it with gusto. But right now, my family is my favorite. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
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31 thoughts on “Thank You, Sheryl Sandberg

  1. Hi Jenny!
    As someone who doesn’t even have children, I’m still loving your blog. That’s how universal the sentiments are and how captivating your writing is. It’s not even remotely about my life experience, but I love reading it and look forward to many more installments. BTW: My mom’s best friend’s best friend’s daughter is Cheryl. She’s been all involved with this lately. Hope to see you soon. Keep blogging!

  2. Wonderful post. We must be kindred spirits–what you’ve written about echoes my own words in many ways, and the thoughts in my head and feelings in my heart. Sounds like you are doing an amazing job raising human beings.

      • Jenny,
        Excellent article on various choices professional women make WRT careerpath or family-focus. Thank you for confirming that Leaning In to career is not the only choice. l went from 70-hour work weeks as a corporate lawyer to 15-hour work weeks and law professor (adjunct) when we moved to your old stomping ground of Hanover five years ago. Fortunately, I was able to make a choice re career / family, and I have maintained my legal practice but reduced my hours significantly. Now, I am SO certain I made the right choice for me…. The hours I spend each day with my growing son are priceless: I know his friends and swim coaches, we ski after school, we visit the library, do charity projects, etc. Had I opted to “lean in” at my FT corporate law role, a nanny would have been with my son afterschool and likley for most dinners and bedtimes too …. and, I could never have reclaimed those precious days. Leaning out for ones family is noble, rewarding and much more fun!
        Thank you for articulating the validity of this path.

  3. i was SO excited to see Sheryl forward your article tonight on Facebook. What a tremendous salute to what we do everyday and you captured it so beautifully. I’m honored to do both – work some and mostly be home with my girls. I too was a career girl and have times of scratching my head and wondering if I made the right choice. And whenever I search and wonder long enough – the answer for me is always yes. Congrats to you! And keep writing.

  4. You go, girl! My wife also willingly chose to temporarily set aside her career to raise our 2 wonderful daughters. We’d do it the same way all over again. Best investment we EVER made!

  5. Hi Jenny! I just have to say, Bravo! The attention Ms. Sandberg has gotten with her book and actions at Google really made me sad. I don’t begrudge any woman for leaning in to her career and being successful. I grieve for the little faces who I believe need a Mom just like you. Yes, you made the right choice. I hear it from your heart. My last children (twins) are graduating from high school next month. I am acutely aware of how fast they grow up and what an impact a Mom has! Blessings to you!

  6. Thanks so much for putting into words what I’ve been wrangling with in my own heart lately. I’m a biomedical science PhD, pregnant with my second child, and I’ve been longing to stay at home with my family. Reading your post (and Sandberg’s response) have helped validate my own feelings about the value of staying at home.

  7. Love, love, love your take on “Leaning In”! And I agree with everything you said. I don’t stay at home, but wish I had the choice to do so. I do find work helps me be me, as you can relate to the bits and pieces of ourselves we lose as Mothers. My whole life, all I wanted was to be a Mom, not knowing what it would be like, I still think it is just the best job. I find myself having to “lean in” at home sometimes, making sure my kids know how much I want to share in their accomplishments and stories. Mostly, I wanted to applaud your gracious response to Sheryl Sandberg. So often women turn on other women, and you didn’t. Nice going!

  8. I needed this today! Coming out of the Ivy League and straight into Law School ten years ago, I never even considered becoming a “stay at home” mom, until it happened to me! Now I wouldn’t have it any other way, but i struggle with so many of the same things you mentioned. Reading your blog was a great reminder that my choices and priorities are valid and meaningful and mine. Thanks.

  9. Whenever women tried to take her own decision and starts to follow that , she has been either suppressed or demoralized by her own gender of people which later then cascaded by men !
    I am a highly educated , ambitiously hardworking women and climbing the ladder !
    But after marriage and having a wonderful boy , I still have those things but just switched the ladder with the foundation of love , happiness and thanking GOD for giving me the realization that only a MOM can make a good happy family ,a society and a Nation.
    Well lately, I again had feeling of going back to my Research field and started applying for jobs and its been a year and I am still hunting for jobs… I am not all tired of hunting but got little pulled back when I got nasty and odd responses from the women hiring managers , because of a brief 5 year gap in my Resume.
    Then I started rethinking about the decision which I took years before after my first scanning that, ” I want to live and cherish each an every moment of my pregnancy and being there for each an every moment for my family”….!
    All of sudden these sweet things started turning into a feeling of guilt and for not listening to others who advised wasting career is a biggest mistake of life… It’s a normal process of having few kids or one , they will grew up and move on only me and my in completed career would be left alone..UHhhh ….. I even heard , those who are not smart enough to handle both career and family choose to sit at home. I was fully strangled by my guilt and started hating myself.
    Then the revolution of Lean IN came , I didn’t get chance to read it.
    Well a big thanks to Sheryl Sandberg who posted your blog on Facebook .
    Thank you so much Jenny , you really helped me to put myself together and hope you won’t mind if I borrow your few words here and there, “yes I would be more happy and thrilled to have another baby, since my guilt was pushing me for my job and cruelly stopping me to have another baby…. For which my 4 year old son was longing for a while and my husband was eagerly waiting for my response”…!

  10. I loved what you had to say. I loved being a stay at home mother and I love and took alot of pride in being a good mother. I am a mother of 4 children. I got married at 20 and I have been married for 27 years. I am 47 years old and I did not further my education when a lot of my friends did. My husband and I both made the decesion that I would be a stay at home mother. For many years my husband worked two jobs so I could stay home and raise the children. It was the best decesion we made for our family and it was the best decesion I made for myself and my children. I truly believe that it is too hard for mothers to have it all…to juggle marriage, children and career is a lot of sacraficing, and unfortunetly no matter how hard we try to make it work someone pays a price. My children are now 23, 21, 18 and 16. Over the past few years I did take on a job as secretary at our local high school, this job allows me to have the same hours as my teenage son and daughter who are still in high school and I am home after school with them and on vacations. My two oldest are in college. When I hear my kids talk about their childhood (especially the two who are in college now) it fills my heart with joy knowing it was a happy childhood with security and love and I am so happy I did not miss a thing. I am so happy I saw their faces everyday after school and made snacks for them, drove them to their activiites and made supper every night. I absolutely love everything about being a mother, I embrace each stage of this journey, even when it is hard like when children move away from home and leave for college. Or when they are going thru a tough time and they are looking for you for guidance. As my children got older I fell in loving with running, for my 40th birthday present to myself I ran the Boston Marathon for Dana Farber. Now I am a part time student studying massage therapy. This is something I have always wanted to do and with a lot of support from my husband, I am now ready to have the career I wanted and because my children are older I can make this happen, and it is happening at the best time. My son will be leaving for college this Sept. So I will now have child number 3 move away. I have a plan for myself as I slowly become the empty nester. I also feel I have left a legacy to my children as a mother, and a woman, they know I loved being a mother and they know I was there for them. They also know you can achieve anything at anytime in your life. They know that raising them was my number one priority. I feel very blessed. There should be more support for woman who make this decesion, because it is the greatest gift you could ever give your children.

  11. My First Blog Response …
    As I sit here randomly surfing the net … I ran across your article. I loved my college years and my years earning my Masters and working professionally. I loved the privilege of being a stay at home mother … I have 3 sons now in college .. at the same time … and I tear up … thinking .. I must be the luckiest woman in the world. I remember looking forward to 3:30 each day …. for them to run in … drop their back packs .. grab a snack .. and run out to be with friends. Even thru their high school years … they would say .. Mom .. will you be here when I get home. Their is no greater gift .. no magazine cover … that will equal my life.
    All Blessings to You
    Ann

  12. I have never, EVER left a comment anywhere, about anything, I have read. (And I have read a lot). Almost certain that I never will again. But, your personal thanks to Sheryl Sandberg was very energizing and oh, so satisfying. I can’t wait for my high-education, high-achievement, stay-at-home wife to read it and then re-read it with relish! Quite sure that you are an incredible teacher and awesome mom to your two lovely children. Tell your husband I said you DESERVE that third baby!

  13. Beautiful! I struggle with these same thoughts as well since I have left teaching to stay home with my son. My parents forwarded your article, and your words were just what I needed to hear. Thank you. I look forward to reading more of your blog entries.

  14. It’s so tiresome that we mothers have to justify and attempt to validate our choices over and over–even to ourselves. Yes, many women don’t lean in (despite being in a position to), but isn’t a big reason for fewer women at the top of the corporate ladder that many women, including you, are just not that interested in being there? If the couch and the kitchen are the primary places you want to be, you have nothing to apologize for. It’s simply what you want. Needing to explain it means wanting it isn’t a good enough reason. If you were a GenX/Y dad, everyone would be high-fiving you for the same choice. I wish we moms could just own it, whatever it is, without angst…because there’s surely nothing wrong with it. One choice is only better or worse than the other inasmuch as it plays out in our own lives. But no, we are pitted against each other and ourselves with the pervasive and thinly-veiled snark that stay-home moms aren’t really as psyched about their set-up as they claim, and the cruel, undermining knock that moms who prefer to work inside *and* outside the home inherently love their families less than moms who prefers to work *only* within the home. Truly these are slights not suffered by men, whose similar, individual choices are rarely challenged or impugned.

    I bet you and I have so much in common. My family is also my favorite–in the same way you mean it. I love teaching my child to cook, and making complex dishes a few times per week and simpler homemade meals the rest of the time. I love that my daughter chooses the taste of nutritious over junk. We container-garden on a high rise balcony. It’s an adventure each spring and summer! I love my her tales from school each evening, listening to her read to me, watching all her soccer practices and the funny skits she puts on with her playmates, skiing together every winter Saturday, hearing her progress at each piano lesson, teaching her to vacuum and dust and fold clothes…and even eating breakfast together in the pitch-black, winter morning of New England because we both have to hit the road by 6:45–her for early school; me for the job that I couldn’t ever possibly love as much as I love my family (who could?!), but which I just want. I also think you’d have little in common beyond the moniker “stay home mom” with several of my friends, who also love their kids as much as you and I do, but who aren’t very concerned with food choices, rarely do more than heat up a convenience meal, keep the TV on most of the day, don’t do music, arts or sports with their kids, have yards but don’t garden, don’t maintain their own health via diet or exercise, don’t keep the house tidy, and are perfectly happy in this mode.

    It shouldn’t be about where you work, how you split your time, proving how much you love your children. But maybe it should be about being free as a fully-fledged, responsible, adult human being to make your own path and discover your own destiny, to be respected in that, and not to know the nagging burden that you must justify yourself.

    -With best regards from one mom to another

  15. I loved your post, Jenny. I too am a SAHM who made that choice (and I am so thankful that my husband is behind it 100%).
    I will say that, while many women are thrilled to be at home with their kids, I needed something more. For a couple of years I filled that need-to-learn with gardening knowledge… now I am doing direct sales (in addition to raising my kids, gardening, volunteering, etc.). For me, it’s a great way to stay at home, BE at home, make cookies for my kids, be there for everything they need (including some homeschooling…!), continue to cart them to activities & appointments… and still have some intellectual stimulation and professional growth. 🙂 It’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

    Blessings to you and your family. Enjoy those hugs and sloppy kisses while they last. (Once they reach 13, like my older one, they won’t give them out so readily any more.) 🙂

  16. Thank you, Jenny! I fight the same struggle every day as an attorney turned SAHM, and there are days I feel as if my identity is flowing out of the soles of my feet with each step I take. I began a blog this year, as well, to combat that feeling, to reclaim some parts of myself and find my “happiness” button. Your words are like a salve; thank you for sharing your insights. You’ve got a new follower in me! 🙂

  17. Jenny, amazing blog post! I am a male and I wonder if Sheryl Sandberg’s book is doing more damage than good to women. Especially, to women who are doing the most important work of all: dedicating themselves to being a mother and raising their kids during their most vulnerable age. No one can do it better than you. A hired nanny is not a mom! All of that “I need to get back to work” talk frequently seems to be a cheap attempt to dump their kids on someone else’s shoulders and to do something much easier. For example, just get a white-collar job and keep telling everyone nice stories about how hard one works. One can also add some sentiment how much one also grows career-wise. This seems to be a great excuse for shirking kids needs and for NOT growing their “career”. It is really great to know that there are women like you and Gailyc Sonia! Keep up the great job! Your kids really need YOU at this age, not some “rented mom”.

  18. I wanted to thank you for your post and yet I feel that words really can not describe my gratitude. I myself have struggled with my decision to not chase my career (even if momentarily). The weekend I graduated with my masters my husband and I conceived our son. Yes, he was unexpected but a true gift nonetheless. I worked very hard through both of my degrees and maintained a 4.0 through grad school. I even turned down my dream job because of my pregnancy. These facts of course has made the internal struggle even more difficult. However, my son looking up and smiling at me while simultaneously making new discoveries everyday has made it worth it. I still have days where the career woman inside me really bullies my stay at home mom side; anywho, long story short it’s comforting to know that I am not alone in my feelings and for that again I thank you.

  19. Another stay-at-home mom by choice here! Loved your story! I was 1/2 way through my Masters in Education when I had my first child. Although I struggled to make the decision to stay home, I’ve never looked back since then. I am now the mother of 8 beautiful children and have been married almost 24 years. You will never regret having another child, speaking from experience (wink)! Your heart just gets bigger every time. We have also chosen to homeschool, which has been tremendously rewarding.

  20. Thank you for this post! As a young mother to two little girls, I have often felt overwhelmed by outside pressure to get my career underway and a feeling of inadequacy because I made the decision to stay home and raise my girls. Being someone with big dreams and ambitions, it has been difficult to put into words why it feels so important to me to stay home! I love Sheryl Sandberg, but her words stung while also motivated me to be more, and reminded me of my own ambitions and my capability to fulfill them. I am so tired of feeling a need to apologize for putting my family before my own “personal achievements”, while in my mind they are the biggest and best achievement ever! My family is my favorite too! I posted your post on my facebook in hopes of helping others understand how I feel.
    Thanks again!
    -Katja

  21. Hello, I am glad to hear people talking about this in this type of perspective. I am a sahm of one but I didn’t give up a career to do it and love staying at home. I think that these days things are just crazy in our world. Our environment and infrastructure and government are just in shambles. I could go on and on but suffice to say we are raising our kids in much different times than other generations. Also the financial infrastructure is in shambles so that working families are very much struggling to get their bills paid. As a result people feel a little unsafe and stressed in general as a whole. People are struggling to have enough time to balance all the things they need in their lives.
    And so this question of finding balance as a working mom or as a stay at home mom must be seen in the context that there is lot we are dealing with in the world that is already unbalanced.

    My other thought is that when people get really stressed out about losing yourself too much into motherhood, I think that they are only this little for such a short time. They need us so much right now. Other things do feel frivolous and it is right for our children to be our main focus. It is right for them to eat up all our attention. And it is right for us to give ourselves to them and to know that pretty soon they will need less and it will balance more.
    It is a difficult generation to raise children in as we watch our panet being destroyed and all sorts of challenges all over. It is our jobs as parents to keep our kids safe and well in this new generation and that can take a lot of work!

  22. Pingback: Thank You, Sheryl Sandberg | Gender Watch

  23. Jenny,

    I’m not in your position yet, but I’m struggling with the same thoughts (being an educated woman who also wants to be able to spend time with her family, yet maintain her identity). I wrote about it and mentioned you today on my blog.

    • Hi Andrea, thanks for mentioning me on your blog. I took a look at yours and am very impressed. It sounds like you are an amazing teacher, and will be an amazing mother. It is comforting to know that other women like yourself experience similar thoughts and feelings surrounding work-life balance. Best of luck to you. 🙂

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