As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to "lean in" and seek leadership roles, she points out one reason the tug between work and family affects men and women differently. No one can be present everywhere all the time, and men traditionally haven't tried to be. Sandberg tells overextended women to let go and practice "guilt management."
Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, learned this lesson a few years ago after she fainted from exhaustion. When she started setting personal limits, she found she had more room for creativity and taking on new challenges.
"Women need to define success differently than men," she told Businessweek last week. "If you don’t learn to unplug and recharge, you’re not going to be as good a leader. Look at the price we’re paying. Look at the increase in heart disease and diabetes for career women."
While female leaders such as Huffington and Sandberg help shape the national conversation about "work-life balance," a growing number of working mothers want to work full-time, according to a Pew Social Trends survey released last week. The report found that 37 percent of working mothers think working full-time is ideal, up from 21 percent in 2007. Half of working moms would like to work part-time, and just 11 percent say they'd rather not work at all.
Reasons for the shift may be largely economic, as women in families with tight budgets were most likely to prefer full-time work. It now takes two spouses to earn the equivalent of what one could bring home a few decades ago, and the recession has hit the men's labor market disproportionately hard. Whichever way couples choose to divvy the work inside and outside the home, the "ideal" situation may be less personal preference than economic reality — and it tends to leave working moms feeling tired and stressed.
Women report needing more sleep than men do to function and are more likely to suffer serious physical and psychological problems when they don't get it, which may be one reason three out of 10 American women take sleeping pills several times a week. And according to one study by the University of Michigan, working moms are more than twice as likely as working dads to get out of bed to take care of sleepless kids.
Before pointing the finger at lazy dads, working moms may need to stop trying to do it all, according to Sandberg.
"Let him put the diaper on the baby any way he wants as long as he is doing it himself," she writes in her new book.