This chapter is a perfect example of the incredible tension I felt reading this book, very much a clash of the worldviews.
Here is part of the introduction to Chapter 7:
From an early age, girls get the message that they will have to choose between succeeding at work and being a good mother. By the time they are in college, women are already thinking about the trade-offs they will make between professional and personal goals. When asked to choose between marriage and career, female college students are twice as likely to choose marriage as their male classmates. And this concern can start even younger. And this concern can start even younger. Peggy Orenstein, the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, related the story of a fiver-year-old girl who came home distraught from her after-school program and told her mother that both she and the boy she had a crush on wanted to be astronauts. When her mother asked why that was a problem, the little girl replied “When we go into space together, who will watch our kids?” At five, she thought the most challenging aspect of space travel would be dependable child care.
She shares several other stories about women and how , long before they ever become pregnant, let alone married, they will slowly make decisions that will inevitably end up with them passing up opportunities for success and advancement, or ultimately leaving the workforce altogether.
Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave.
Sheryl says that from an early age girls get the message of having to choose between either success at work or success at motherhood, but I would argue there is more to it than just a ‘message’ received or society being stacked against them (although these things are real, too)
I can recall moments in recent years of absolutely, completely BEGRUDGING my husband because he didn’t ‘have to choose’ between a calling outside the home, and one within the home. It wasn’t because we are so traditional that we were stuck in him going off to bring home the bacon and me staying at home or enslaved by societal expectations.
Quite the opposite, actually. My husband was constantly re-working his schedule and taking on more hours as the stay at home parent so that I could work more. He is also extremely hands on and does his share of chores. On top of that I was working for an organization that valued my role as a mother and was giving me lots of flexibility and chances to ‘opt out’ when needed.
So when I say ‘he didn’t have to choose’ and I did, it wasn’t about logistics. It wasn’t about society. It was about how God made me.
It was about a freedom in his heart. And a lack of freedom in mine.
It was just as a dear friend once told me: there are lots of people who can do your work, Kir. But there is no one else in the world who can be mother to Evangeline and Zachary.
Flexibility, support, and a great husband were priceless. But those things didn’t change my heart. I was the five year old girl fretting and distraught about “When we go into space together, who will watch the kids?”. Not because my husband didn’t value me or our family, but because it was my very heartbeat to nurture, provide and be thinking constantly about their needs.
And in my opinion, Sheryl misses that.
I believe that God created women in a very special way. I believe that he created us to be mothers, even if how that is expressed varies from woman to woman. He created us to be mothers, in a way that has less to do with having a uterus and biological children than you would think. I know this because my daughter is only 5 years old and she is already a mother. I know this because I know women who don’t have children, or can’t have children, yet in their own way they are mothers. It is in their very heartbeat to nurture and provide and meet the needs of others.
So if women are considering this when making choices, because they value and recognize this component of God’s creation, it might just lead to them leaving the work place or passing up opportunities and I want to APPLAUD that, not try and force women to be something they aren’t.
But here is the kicker, here comes the real tension I would experience, not just in this chapter, but almost every chapter, while reading Lean In. I would start off the chapter more or less clashing with Sandberg’s worldview, but as she dug deeper into the details I found myself agreeing with her points. Oh the complexity!
The ideas that develop as the chapter goes on make sense, and those are:
1. Born with a uterus ≠ I’m going to have a baby! Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. James 4: 13- 16.
Okay, so Sandberg doesn’t quote the New Testament, but this is essentially her point. I know two women, one who started a savings account with her boyfriend and one who registered for wedding gifts with their boyfriend, both assuming they were going to get married (guess what didn’t happen?). I have met women who chose to become school teachers because it would be a good career for when they were mothers, not because they were passionate about education. These kinds of decisions can lead a woman in a direction that is unsatisfying at best and harmful at worst.
We don’t know what will unfold in our lives. Making decisions that glorify God is very important, but assuming that our lives will work out a certain way can be folly and so those dreams should be held lightly.
2) Career and family choices are highly personal and vary greatly from woman to woman. Some women are higher capacity women. Some women have awful, bed rest, pregnancies. Some women are bored and depressed being at home full time. Some women don’t have a choice because of financial reasons. Some women are extremely happy working more hours and are at peace with their childcare choices. Some women are determined to be back at work and love their careers, but once they hold their new baby they change their minds.
3) We don’t have to choose between career and family in such a black and white way. As I have shared in previous posts, my own work schedule and hours have varied greatly each year since having children, and remember careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder. Many work places today are flexible, offer choices to work from home, and are offering more maternity leave. More husbands these days are more hands on and willing to share the work and parenting duties.
4) Women need better cheerleaders. Consider one of the last paragraphs in the chapter:
Imagine a career is like a marathon, where both men and women arrive at the starting line equally fit and trained. The gun goes off. The men and women run side by side. The male marathoners are routinely cheered on: “Lookin’ strong! On your way!” But the female runners hear a different message “You know you don’t have to do this!” the crowd shouts. Or “Good start- but you probably won’t want to finish” The farther the marathoners run, the louder the cries grow for the men: “Keep going! You’ve got this!” But the women hear more and more doubts about their efforts. External voices, and often their own internal voice, repeatedly question their decision to keep running. The voices can even grow hostile.
I have heard plenty of those voices in my own life, but in making the best choices for our children and lives ultimately we need to listen to God, listen to the voices we trust most, and ignore the rest.
Each year, each season, I need to evaluate and discern where my hours are spent, and how that affects my family, because like it or not any choice I make for myself affects the other three people on my team. Most women wrestle very seriously with these questions, and when they come out the other end deciding to be at home full time, or part time, or to be a ‘career-loving parent’, they deserve our support, respect and kindness.
5. Don’t leave before you leave. Wait a minute, didn’t I start off this blog saying I didn’t agree with Sandberg in this chapter? Darn you Sheryl and your feminist logic! But really, life is complicated and while my views on family, motherhood, womanhood and God differ, sometimes in stark contrast, from those presented in Lean In, leaving before we leave is sort of silly!
Whether your passion is to become a CEO or a homemaker, take each day, one at a time, and live it in such a way that honors God. It is ultimately a question of trusting Him, so Lean In to the One who authors, saves, guides, convicts and makes all things beautiful, because He transcends these choices.