As tempting it may be to crusade against Sheryl Sandberg -- and to read the opinion pages and blogs, many have fallen to this temptation -- let's give fairness a try. Sandberg's message is far less heretical to the church of motherhood than it appears. If you lean in and listen, she's not advocating that women burn their Baby Bjorns.
Rather, Sandberg tells women to form a clear intention about their professional path: If you are in the game, she says, play like you mean it; if you want to retire to the car pool, then by all means, run out and buy your minivan, but know what you're doing. Drifting toward a mommy track -- and then leaving the workplace because a job lacks excitement and satisfaction -- is career death by ambivalence. This non-choosing is what Sandberg opposes.
OK -- fairness accomplished. Let's take a look at the Sandberg Track, the woman who takes a break between economic summits to whelp her young and then keeps going, and going, and going. If there were such a creature -- way at the end of the bell curve of human endurance- - what would be her Energizer battery?
The answer is simple: Her spouse. As a couples' therapist in the world capital of professional ambition (Manhattan), I am privy to the fallout of the motherhood vs. career conflict. Here's what I've learned. The nexus of a woman's emotional life is her relationship with her spouse -- and the need for his buy-in only increases after she has children, who make her vulnerable not only to guilt and self-doubt, but also to the expectations of the culture regarding motherhood. If a woman is to succeed on a Sandberg scale, she must leave for work each day trusting that her husband will do his fair share of childrearing, without her having to second guess or nag him -- both common energy drainers and roadblocks to success.
What does this mean on the ground? Dad has to man up and perform some of Mom's traditional duties: attending the school holiday show, remembering to pick up milk, or throwing in a few loads of laundry -- without resentment.
It's a rare man who will provide this level of collaboration and -- here is the key -- do so graciously and sincerely. Yet, his full participation gives a wife and kids a solid foundation, so that her drive to break the glass ceiling doesn't rain shards on her family.
Even if a working mother has a phalanx of domestic workers, from nannies to housekeepers, she still needs the full cooperation of her partner in life. When a woman receives grudging help -- often a sign of her husbands' ambivalence about his wife's success -- she starts to waffle. So, a mother can definitely claim a seat at the power table. But that journey to success begins with honesty about her ambitions -- with her husband and, most importantly, herself.
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