Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Guilt of the Working Mother

I've spent the last few weeks dipping in and out of the notorious Sheryl Sandberg book: Lean In. It courted controversy when it was published and divided opinionShe was criticised for not breaking any new ground, and leaving out issues such as how to overcome patriarchy, race and finances.

You were either for her, or against her. And a lot of people were against her. 

I'll be honest, I'd kind of made my mind up about it before I started and I was in the 'against' camp. What could a billionaire tell me, an ordinary working mother, about how best to run my life, my career? How was Sheryl, with access to the best and most comprehensive support, childcare and even wardrobe, going to relate to the woman on the street?

Well I've finished the book and I'll give you my opinion. 

I was pleasantly surprised. I'm just going to say it: I loved the book. Her style is self-deprecating and her prose is peppered with personal anecdotes which reveal her to be disarmingly human.

She admits that she feels like a fraud. She feels fear. She is unsure. She credits her husband with being crucial to her success. One of my favourite quotes is this:

“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” 

She also speaks of being wracked with guilt when leaving her children each day. Now this is where my ears pricked up. 

Real maths that I have done in my head, on the way to work in the morning:

  • 8 hours - Total time I'm out of the house on a typical day
  • 2.5 hours - Total time Baby Britney is asleep during this time
  • 5.5 hours - Total time she is awake during this time, and thus with the nanny 
  • 4 hours - Total waking time she spends with me
Which means that the nanny is 90 minutes in credit versus me. I have tortured myself over those 90 minutes. Hoping that the 48 hours at the weekend when the nanny is off-duty make up for it.

Now, I'll take a wild guess here, but I think it's fair to say that no man has ever attempted these mental calculations. And that's not because they don't care, or don't love their children. They just don't feel the guilt that women do. And why should they? Why do we women do it to ouselves? 

Sheryl actually quotes research that confrms our guilt is unfounded: 

"Exclusive maternal care is not related to better or worse outcomes for children.  There is no reason for mothers to feel as though they are harming their children if they decide to work. Parents who work outside the home are still capable of giving their children a loving and secure childhood. 
Some data even suggests that having two parents working outside the home can be advantageous to a child's development, particularly for girls.” 

So should you read this book? Yes. Yes you should. Even if you're a man.

As Sheryl herself said, she wrote the book: "For any man who wants to understand what a woman - a colleague, wife, mother, or daughter - is up against so that he can do his part to build a more equal world.” 

Amen to that.


Anonymous said...

Please change your background. It sucks.

Britney of Arabia said...

Thanks for that feedback. The background is actually a beautiful and hidden desert oasis. Where I happened to get engaged. What background would you suggest?