What matters most is that women have choices

With all the discussion about women “having it all” (or not), we (as a society) run the risk of getting caught up in which decisions we’re making rather than that we’re making decisions. It’s an easy switch from one word to another.

Marissa Meyer was named the newest CEO of Yahoo while pregnant with the board’s full knowledge and support. (Note: three different links in the previous sentence.) They hired her and expect her to jump right in despite having a newborn. This is the very definition of not discriminating against pregnant women and I’m thrilled for her. I’m also thrilled that the main story (she is the new CEO) doesn’t refer to her pregnancy much as we don’t talk about how the newest male CEO has a three-year old at home (or hell, that he has a nanny too).

All in all, a great story.

I want to comment on this line, though, as I’d imagine it’s likely to cause some people to scream and others to cheer:

As for maternity leave, Mayer, who recently joined the board of Walmart (WMT), expects it to be speedy. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she says, referring to the CEO job that she is starting tomorrow. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”

I took ten weeks off out of the twelve I could have and wish I had gone back sooner. I know, I know, this is like sacrilege to say… which is why I must. Before I had my son, when I suggested I might be back sooner than later, I got two responses. 1. You don’t have any idea how your world will change and thus can’t know anything with certainty now. 2. What a horrible thing to do to your child!

I’m now on the other side of motherhood and can confirm: I would have been a better mother in those early days if I’d gone back to work after four or six weeks. My vision of motherhood has always been more like my life now than in those first early months, and while I appreciate the option to shut out everything except caring for my son, it was detrimental to my well-being and personality, and thus, his.

When Ivanka Trump mentioned heading right back to work after having her child, the general consensus was that she was ignorant and didn’t know any better. I hate that. Sure, we all learn things as we go, and yes, some things are so incredibly different than we expected, but we’re still smart women who have lived with ourselves for a long time. Motherhood changes us, sure, but so does marriage and moving and careers and stubbing our toes. Change happens; we adjust.

If you have multiple children, nobody expects you to ship your other kids away while learning to bond with your new baby. From the minute you get home, you’re the mother of the whole brood and you make it work – with help. Good or bad (depending on your opinion, which you are certainly entitled to), her career is like another child, and if you are going to have to be responsible for them all, why not start as you mean to continue?

My point, then, is that regardless of what YOU would do in her situation, I am thrilled that she gets to choose much as I appreciate the choices I am given. We should be arguing in favor of many, many good options rather than focusing on someone who is seemingly not doing it right.

There are so many ways to do it right.

{Updated to add:

Marissa Meyer’s news and that Atlantic Monthly article and Sheryl Sandberg’s comments aren’t mutually exclusive. I am a mid-level corporate manager more akin to Office Space or Dilbert than these women, but I have been tapped while pregnant, learned I can’t “have it all” and remembered to “lean in” to my options all in the same career and once in the same day. I don’t see why this is a debate. It is fan-effing-tastic that women get promoted while pregnant. Nobody’s pretending we’re just like men anymore, and the higher up it happens, the better the opportunities for those of us below. Of course we can’t have it all at the same time; nobody, male or female, can. Nor can I be asleep and awake in the same moment, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sleeping well. And yes, we must be reminded not to count ourselves out of the race but rather, to lean in and thereby change the race. I have many female peers and bosses. The more we do our jobs well – and differently than our male peers – the greater the options for ourselves and our staff.}

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5 thoughts on “What matters most is that women have choices

  1. I am totally cheering for Marissa and the board at Yahoo! for hiring a pregnant CEO. I think it’s totally awesome. I’m sure she will go back to work quickly as she expects. I checked email while I was on maternity leave even though I wasn’t necessarily expected to do that. When my boss called me to ask an opinion on something while I was still out, I was actually really excited. I missed work and my role at the company. I did take 12 weeks (plus 2 more where I worked from home and took care of my daughter since she had surgery at 11 weeks) and I was happy to have that time. I was ITCHING to get back to work, but I have no idea how I’d have felt if I hadn’t gone through the additional stress of the health issue my daughter was dealing with. Maybe I would have been happily bonding with her? No idea.

    Anyway, I agree that it’s great to have choices. I don’t think you can do it ALL – meaning giving 100% to everything. I do think you have to make the choices that are best for you and your family. Giving 100% to my job and pushing hard for a promotion would mean I had to spend alot more time away from my family and I’m not willing to do that at this point in my daughter’s life. I’m ok with that for now. I had alot of time before this to work a bunch of hours and travel without worrying much. While I wish it wasn’t different for a woman, for most of us, it is. My husband does not think about these same decisions or feel guilty for tradeoffs like that!

  2. I agree with you that what matters most is that women have choices.

    I’m 21 weeks pregnant and the bar has already been set by other women to NOT take the full 12 weeks that we are entitled to. Phrases like “dedicated” and “team player” were thrown out when these women came back after 6 weeks. They said it was because of “finances” that they came back early, but I know one wanted to take longer but felt guilty. Luckily, I know my rights and plan on taking off the full 12 weeks no matter how many stupid comments are made. I do have a choice, but I definitely feel “pressured” into not taking off my full time that I’m allowed.

  3. I totally 100% get your view point, but as someone who wishes I had a longer maternity leave– I took just over 18 weeks total- but cut it short to take a promotion (totally my own choice)– I feel like she could be setting a standard that will limit our choices in the future. AKA limit the options of taking longer leave if we want to because if she can do it…. yada yada. It minimizes maternity leave. That it’s not important or not necessary.

    I always thought I was a ‘modern career driven women.’ When I was pregnant I really took time to realize what having it all meant to me. It meant- having a job flexible enough for me to put my family first. And while pregnant, it also meant turning down a higher paying job so I could have a longer leave. If I had taken that job, my leave would have been limited to 6 weeks, not even 12. So having it all to her probably means- having the perfect job- with the perfect family in the background. I just hope that her choice to have it all, doesn’t impact my choice to ‘have it all too.’ Does that make sense?

  4. I’m still processing a lot of this myself as I’m a mom & grad student (but working, actually 3 jobs this summer) but I have 2 thoughts:
    1) I love the idea of leaning-in – I’d never heard it articulated, so thanks for discussing/posting it.
    2) I returned to work and school from time to time just days after giving birth. I gave 2 big presentations before babe was 6 weeks old and it was nice to still be a part of the community. I almost wish that maternity leave could come later–the toughest times for us were when N was 6wks to 3 months!

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