Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is at it again. Bloomberg’s Emily Chang interviewed Sandberg along with Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson. Sandberg quickly asks Branson, “Do you ever get asked if you can have it all?”
Richard (male, of course) quickly answers that he spent as much time with his kids as his wife did and details how he “moved out of the office” and worked from home, where his kids would crawl around him during meetings. Sandberg chimes in later that not only can women have it all, but they must.
I find this type of dialogue extremely dangerous, because Sandberg and Branson both live in worlds about which most of us only dream. Most of us operate in circumstances in which two salaries are required to make ends meet. (I’m sure Sandberg’s family could live quite well off her salary alone.) Not everyone can afford nannies and housekeepers and expensive daycares. Most people do not have the type of workplace flexibility that allows them to work from home.
When I had my son in September 2014, I felt pressured to return to work as quickly as possible to show my dedication, to ensure future opportunities and, frankly, just to keep my position. And so I did return, at least in a part-time capacity, after only six weeks off, despite facing several potentially life-threatening complications following giving birth. Not allowing myself time to heal led to not really being able to fully dedicate myself to work and then taking more medical leave just a couple months later.
I can’t speak for all women, but for me, hearing this type of dialogue for at least a decade (since I graduated from undergraduate school, at least) was especially harmful. I constantly compared myself to other women like Sandberg. I thought to myself “If she can work a job like that and raise children and look all put together, why do I seem to barely even be able to take care of ONE child and manage to get a shower daily?”
All this led to feelings of guilt, anxiety and eventually full-on depression. For weeks, I could barely get out of bed because of the overwhelming pressure I felt to “have it all.” Constantly overwhelmed with caring for a new baby, caring for my own health issues, trying to manage a house and then trying to add to it working (which required a 1.5- to 2-hour commute one way), I felt like I was falling apart at least once a day. And then I felt guilty thinking about anyone’s needs but my son’s – even my own!
So, I say to women like Sheryl Sandberg, with all due respect, stop speaking for all women. I do not want to have it all. I want to have what God desires for me and what is good for me and my family. If that means being a working mom, then I will find a satisfactory work environment in which I can put my family first. If that means staying at home, then I will proudly wear the stay-at-home-mom badge.
Some women may have the energy, the drive and the resources to achieve high-powered careers while being mothers. (I question what kind of parent they truly can be in a job that requires being on call 24/7, but that’s for another post on another day.)
But don’t push your values and your beliefs of what women can or must do on me. I’m done with feeling pressured to live up to the expectations of women like Sandberg. I hope that other women who may have felt as I did – overwhelmed, guilty, anxious or depressed – will figure out what is best for them and their families and be happy within those circumstances.