Working Families

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, caused a stir recently promoting her new book “Lean In”, which advocates for women’s success in the workplace. Many women misconstrued her message as anti-motherhood. My take is different:   If you lean in and listen, she’s not advocating that women burn their Baby Bjorns.

Rather, Sandberg encourages women to form a clear intention about their professional path: If you are in the game, she says, play like you mean it. But, if women want to claim a seat at the power table, they should begin by claiming a seat at the kitchen table. This means being honest and up-front with their partners about career ambitions and finding a workable parenting arrangement. Ambivalence just won’t cut it.

As a couples’ therapist in Manhattan,  I am privy to fallout of the parenting v. career conflict.  Here’s what I’ve learned. The nexus of a family’s emotional life is the marital relationship—and it calls for mutual understanding about each parent’s role in the upbringing of their children. Couples who argue about parental responsibility come into my office upset, depleted of energy and short on intimacy. Worse, this type of conflict can have a lasting impact on childhood development.

What does this mean on the ground? It means that parents have to pick up each other’s slack and think outside the box of traditional gender roles. Cultural expectations work against this level of collaboration, often leaving women vulnerable to feelings of guilt and self-doubt and fathers vulnerable to uncertainty and frustration. For children, their parent’s collaboration gives them a solid foundation, so that mother’s drive to break the glass ceiling doesn’t rain shards on the family nest.

Even if a working family can hire a phalanx of domestic workers, from nannies to housekeepers, they still need each other’s full cooperation. They are each other’s  partners in life. Let each one reach for the starts, but first a mutual agreement on who is tending the nest. A successful work-life balance can be achieved when both are honest with each other–and themselves–about their ambitions.

More posts about parenting:
Advice for Parents of Millennials (July 19, 2013)
Does A College Rejection Letter Mean You’re a “Loser”? (March 20, 2013)
Divorce and Parenting (February 7, 2013)
Bye Bye Baby — Seeing a Child Off to College (July 30, 2012)
Boomerang Kids (June 29, 2012)

More posts about relationships:
Learning from Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin: The Post-Scandal Playbook (April 24, 2013)
New Year, New Sex (January 10, 2013)
Till Tweet Do Us Part (December 10, 2013)
Me and My Smartphone–A Love Affair (August 7, 2012)
Does Couples Therapy Work? (March 21, 2012)
Marital Pre Nup (February 8, 2012)
What makes a marriage viable—or not? In a word: trust. (February 6, 2012)