Okay, so I’m a little obsessed with high-powered women in the corporate world who are balancing (or not) their professions and parenthood. Maybe I’m looking for answers, inspiration … validation?
In any case, the latest news about working mothers is this: Yahoo hired a new CEO, Marissa Mayer, and she is pregnant with her first child due in October. Mayer is quoted as saying, “They showed their evolved thinking” when they hired a pregnant woman without blinking. And she’s absolutely right. Yay, Yahoo!
Of course, there is much speculation and talk about her pregnancy, and wonder at how she will balance it. And frankly, that’s not fair. After all, no man would face the same scrutiny if he were at the helm of a company and his wife was due with their first child. But when Mayer followed her above statement with the proclamation that her maternity leave will be “a few weeks long” and she will “work throughout it,” I gasped.
And then did a quick gut-check. Why this reaction? I’m not usually one to judge the way someone else parents her child; it’s a horrible thing to do. So, why was I so bothered by her statement?
I thought about it as I rode into the city with my neighbor and her toddler early this morning, commiserating as we often do on the long commute, about how hard it can be at times to balance work and motherhood. And then it hit me. I’m not bothered by the fact that some woman I don’t know who is gestating a child I have no vested interest in plans on taking a very short maternity leave. Rather, I am bothered by the fact that someone who is not yet a parent has the audacity to speak on such a profound and public platform as if she knows what it will be like.
I say this with all due respect: Marissa, you have no idea.
I do not doubt for a minute her commitment or her conviction. And I recognize that she has the resources many don’t that could allow her to achieve her objectives. But when she makes statements like that, she perpetuates this myth that balance is easy, and that committed professionals will and can and should tip the scales to the side of the corporation.
Anyone who has children, and is remotely involved in raising them, can see this statement for what it is. An anomaly. Not right, not wrong. Just – not typical. But what of the bosses and heads of companies who aren’t parents? What perspective and expectations does someone have who, like Ms. Mayer, has no first-hand experience from which to judge – either the complexities of life, or the motivations of his or her employees?
My absolute favorite bit of parenting advice is this: everyone’s the best parent they know … until they have their own children. Meaning, don’t judge. Don’t talk about what you’d do if that was your kid when you’ve never been in the position of raising one. And don’t make proclamations of what you’ll do or how you’ll make it work until you’re there, slogging it out and speaking from the reality of it all. Because there’s theory, and there’s reality. In theory, my kids would never talk back, or be bullied, or get strep, or take 20 minutes to put on their shoes. But I don’t live in theory. (I’ve heard it’s a nice place, though. I’d like to visit.)
Twelve years and one month ago, I sat around a conference table and made the same statement as Ms. Mayer. My due date was imminent and my clients were asking who would oversee their business in my absence. “Oh, don’t worry,” I smiled at them. “I’ll just be gone two weeks.” The difference was, I was joking. And after their initial “zoinks!” at my supposed total disregard of Life and Reality, we all laughed. In truth, I was trying to diffuse their legitimate worry that as of my 8th month, my company had not thought about who might cover for me. Perhaps my bosses were living in theory, too.
So, I gasp. Not because Ms. Mayer will be a bad mother if she has the means to employ a team to attend to her and her infant’s needs round the clock. (Sleeping through the night 2 weeks after delivery? What a dream!) She’ll have someone else to do the laundry. A pediatrician on call for the inevitable barrage of neurotic questions. Perhaps she’ll hire a live-in therapist who can talk her down from the ledge when, after growing and expelling a human, that roller coaster of hormones rages through her body. God bless her. We all should be so lucky.
I gasp because her statement is disingenuous, albeit unknowingly, and sets the rest of us, those of us who parent without the same resources or desires, up for failure in the corporate world. Because what head of a company wouldn’t look at her and say, “That mother isn’t asking for time off, and her job is even more demanding! Why should I have to provide flexibility and understanding just because my employee has kids?”
Blessing – The National Park Service. And hiking through the treasures that they safeguard.