I am disheartened by the female infighting that has cropped up around Sheryl Sandberg’s new book and website, Lean In. Unfortunately, conversations among women who have different perspectives have quickly broken down into women who mostly agree on many important issues calling each other bad feminists.
What is going on? Several things, I think:
* Pre-publication media puts out snippets of information which understandably leads people to make snap judgments before the whole book is even available to read. The media loves controversy so is also prone to publishing controversial excerpts (remember The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother excerpt in the WSJ, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”?) an then fanning the flames when strong feelings arise.
* Women are sensitive about work-life-success-balance-parenting issues, and judgments. I understand why. We live in a world where we are easily criticized for our “choices” (actions that may have been decided by free choice or necessity or circumstance) and we can become defensive or judgmental ourselves. I know that I get triggered by the ideas discussed in Sandberg’s book. There are two sides of the coin: it can be empowering to think that women can do more things that will help them lead and succeed. But at the same time, it can be exhausting to see how far we still have to come, and think that we have to do more, do more, do more….making ourselves acceptable through the magic of effortless perfection, an unattainable ideal that sets us all up to fail.
* Sandberg was frankly unlucky to have her book and website launch come at just the same time that Marissa Mayer ended telecommuting for Yahoo! employees. It is therefore easy to lump Sandberg and Mayer together as tough women CEOs who are giving more ordinary women a hard time, whether or not that is true.
* Is there a double standard? As high-powered privileged women, Sandberg and Mayer are being judged pretty harshly for not representing Everywoman, but would Jack Welch, Jeff Bezos, or male Silicon-Valley execs be expected to do so? In the case of Mayer, probably not, though it seems pretty unfair that she got to build a nursery for her baby right next to her office, while at the same time making a blanket proclamation that took away telecommuting from ordinary employees. In the case of Sandberg, who is consciously starting a social movement, she really needs to consider a wide variety of women’s needs and experiences. But we need to read Sandberg’s whole book to know whether she takes the whole system into account, rather than expecting women to solve everything themselves on an individual level, or just make themselves better to succeed in a man’s world.
As reported by Lisa Belkin on the Huffington Post, Sandberg acknowledges the need for both individual effort and systematic change:
“This is the ultimate chicken-and-egg situation. The chicken: Women will get rid of the external barriers once we achieve leadership roles. The egg: We need to eliminate the external barriers to get women into these roles in the first place. Both sides are right. They are equally important. I am encouraging women to address the chicken, but I fully support those who are focussing on the egg.”
So what does this have to do with my grandmother and the “Kidpower screen door”? I learned the hard way with my grandmother that if we have to agree 100% to be able to talk with one another, we are going to miss out on a lot of valuable communication. I loved my grandmother but I was really intimidated by her, particularly when I was young. She was not soft and cuddly, but flinty, dedicated, smart–and a product of an entirely different era than I was. Her mother was actually a women’s rights supporter from the early 1900′s, and I feel that I come from a long line of incredibly strong women, but my grandmother was a young married mother in Peoria, Illinois in the 1940′s and 50′s. She went to the same high school as Betty Friedan, but a few years earlier. So there she was in the crucible of the pre-feminist, pre-Feminine Mystique era, in may ways trapped in the Mystique, whether she would identify her life that way or not. She was very smart and college educated, but her husband (my grandfather) refused to let her get a paid job outside the home, even when her youngest child went to college, because that would make it look like he was not doing his job supporting her.
So fast-forward 40 years and imagine me talking to her about Hillary Rodham Clinton in the early 1990′s when I was fresh out of college, making my way in the world. I was impressed by Clinton and by the fact that she had her own work and identity. The one time I tried to discuss this with my grandmother though, I said something awkward about how it was inspiring to me that Hillary Rodham Clinton did more than just work inside the home and take care of her family, and my grandmother immediately teared up and said, “Why isn’t that enough?” I was so embarrassed for hurting her feelings like that. That pretty much closed the door on further conversation, but I really wish she was still here to talk to, because being older and more experienced myself I can appreciate where she was coming from: how smart she was, how hard she worked for her family, and how she operated in a world with very constraining options. But at the time, the differences in our perspectives were just too great to overcome. We would never say something hurtful to each other intentionally, but when we reached awkward territory, we didn’t have the skills to keep going without hurting each other. As a result, we were not able to talk honestly and to learn as much as we could have from each other.
So I honestly wish that my grandmother and I had more genuine common ground, and I also wish we had the technique of the “Kidpower screen door” to help us. I am excited to share this because my Mojo Mom and Kidpower worlds have finally intersected! Kidpower founder Irene van der Zande and I are collaborating on the new research project (and soon to be book), Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.
But the “screen door” idea is directly from Kidpower. Screen doors let in air sunshine and keep out bugs. The Kidpower screen door is a mental technique for filtering out hurtful language while collecting important information being conveyed by someone who might be harsh or insulting. If a teacher says to her student, “Your work is late! You are so lazy and you need to turn in all the work that is due,” that is a combination of insulting language and important information. The kids should not throw out all that information into the trash (as they would do with a purely insulting comment). They need to filter out the insult, being called lazy, but take in the information that they need to complete their work.
I am not saying that Sheryl Sandberg’s work is insulting, but it might trigger strong emotions in readers about differences of opinion or approach. The Kidpower screen door can still help. The Lean In book and website, might contain a lot of great information. It’s almost certain that I won’t agree with all of it, but I should not just throw the whole book into the trash the first time she says something I disagree with. I watched one of the videos on the Lean In website, the training on “Power & Influence” by Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld. The video teaches us about different ways to present ourselves, “playing high” or “playing low” status, and how both techniques can be useful. I definitely had a mixed reaction to the presentation, but I did learn something from it. It is odd in part because Gruenfeld brings to the forefront things we don’t think about consciously very often, body language, power and influence. It was frustrating and depressing to be reminded that women have to walk a very narrow path of safety–a combination of authoritative, yet also approachable, that is difficult to navigate. Too approachable and you aren’t taken seriously. Too authoritative and you are too uppity, or bitchy, or “who does she think she is?” But Gruenfeld is not necessarily trying to say that is how things should be; she is describing where we are now.
Lot of material to put into the hopper, and filter out using the screen door when necessary. I have ordered Sandberg’s book and I plan to post a full review after I have read it.
I have many thoughts about Sheryl Sandberg’s new “Lean In” project, but before I get into the heart of that discussion, I just wanted to give a shout-out to women’s circles. Whether you call it a support group, a consciousness-raising group, a sewing circle or a Mojo Mom Circle, women have been gathering to talk and plan since they first sat around a campfire–which is to say, forever. Doing it in a thoughtful way with a group of women whom you trust can change your life! I am part of an Advisory Circle of about a dozen women. We have been together in an evolving form for about six years now. We’ve provided support, inspiration, guidance, advice, and collaborative career opportunities for each other. Our circle has intentionally focused on career development as well as personal support, and we have generated well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars of business opportunities for one another. So it’s not all banana bread and a shoulder to cry on, though we are good at that too!
Women’s Circle resources include:
The free Mojo Mom Party Kit that I offer though this site is a good way to get started, particularly if you are looking to gather a group of new mothers. You can receive the party kit by instant download by signing up on my home page, www.AmyTiemann.com or www.MojoMom.com The party kit goes along well with my book, Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family.
The Millionth Circle: How to Change Ourselves and The World–The Essential Guide to Women’s Circles A classic book by Jean Shinoda Bolen.
Books by Renee Trudeau: I got to know Renee well when we worked together on the collaborative book, Courageous Parents, Confident Kids: Letting Go So You Both Can Grow. I appreciate her wisdom and compassion as she guides mothers. I highly recommend her books, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and her brand new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. Renee offers Personal Renewal Groups for mothers, organized through her website.
As parents we know that it’s up to us to talk to our kids about the safety rules about touch and boundaries. This can be an intimidating process for parents, but it doesn’t have to be scary. This conversation can be difficult because often parents don’t know what to say. Child safety expert and Kidpower founder Irene van der Zande and I are working on providing resources to help guide you through this process.
On our Doing Right by Our Kids website, we just released a free “Talking about Touch and Boundaries” starter kit, with safety rules spelled out clearly, discussion & practice coaching tips for parents, and a free Kidpower coloring book and pages from the Kidpower Safety Comics for you to share directly with your kids.
Just sign up on the www.DoingRightByOurKids.com home page and you’ll receive instant access to our Digital Library of free resources.
and, this time next week, on Tuesday April 17th at 1 pm ET, Irene and I will be leading a live Q&A session on “Keeping Our Kids Safe” on TheMotherhood.com
We’ll hope you’ll join us and bring your top questions about child safety to be answered in the chat.
Sign up on TheMotherhood.com to participate in this free chat. We hope you’ll join us!
The media are abuzz with news of second-grader Brittney Baxter successfully fighting off her would-be kidnapper by kicking and screaming until he let her go. What are the ongoing lessons of this incident? Irene van der Zande and I share our thoughts as seen through the lens of Kidpower teaching:
Girl’s Escape from Kidnapper Shows the Power of “One Strong Move” to Stop Assault
Self-defense organization Kidpower teaches real-world safety skills for kids
Feb 10, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — When seven-year old Brittney Baxter was grabbed in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart by a stranger who attempted to carry her away, she kicked and screamed until he let her go and fled the scene. This petite second-grader saved herself from the grip of a convicted killer, Thomas Woods, who was later caught and arrested. The security-camera video of Brittney’s escape has captivated and worried parents across the nation. It is of course terrible news that someone would try to abduct a child, but a powerful example to see that even a small child can put up a powerful physical resistance to an attack.
What can parents and families learn from this experience? Self-defense organization Kidpower teaches children many ways to protect themselves from safety problems that range from stranger abduction to the more common occurrence of being bothered by people we know. In a case such as Brittney’s, Kidpower teaches that “one strong move” can create an opening that will allow a child to run to safety and get help, escaping even high-stakes situations such as this attempted abduction.”
Kidpower founder and executive director Irene van der Zande says, “Brittney’s courage, instant reaction, and fighting spirit show that a kid doesn’t have to be able to beat up an adult in a street fight or spend years studying kung fu in order to fight back effectively. Her escape shows the importance of preparing young people to take charge of their safety so that they know what to do if someone tries to harm them.
Van der Zande shares three lessons from the attempted kidnapping incident:
– Physical self-defense can be powerful and effective, but must be taught in a safe and structured setting. Kidpower offers workshops that teach physical self-defense by guiding children through targeted skills and teaching them to use these skills only in case of emergency, when they do not have the choice to leave a dangerous situation. If they can leave or escape, they should do that without getting into a physical fight.
– There is a powerful tool that you carry with you at all times–your voice. Parents can practice strong voices with their kids. Practice saying a short, sharp “No” that comes from the belly rather than up in the throat. You can make this a fun practice with kids, going back and forth taking turns saying “No,” starting out softly then getting louder. Kids can be surprised to see how powerful their voices really are. In an emergency situation, kids can yell, “No! I need help! This is not my father!” as they also put up physical resistance. Attackers are looking for situations where they can operate without drawing attention to themselves, so in many cases, a strong vocal resistance will be enough to get an attacker to flee.
– Brittney’s mother was not very far away from her in the store, but when kids are out of sight of their adult in charge, they are “on their own” for that moment. They should be taught to “check first” with their grownups before talking to a stranger or taking anything from a stranger, in addition to the emergency skills of physical and verbal resistance.
Irene van der Zande has been through this experience herself. She founded Kidpower in 1989 after she protected a group of children, including her own, from a man threatening to kidnap them. She was able to stop the attack by shouting at the man and enlisting bystanders to help her. Through her work at Kidpower, more than two million people worldwide have learned self-defense skills.
Amy Tiemann, Ph. D. is a Senior Program Leader for Kidpower and van der Zande’s writing partner for their new collaboration, Doing Right By Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society. Tiemann says, “Every child deserves to grow up feeling safe and valued. Talking to kids about safety doesn’t have to be scary. If done right, it’s both fun and empowering for kids.”
Kidpower offers workshops in many locations across the country, and extensive free resources available online. To learn more, visit www.Kidpower.org .
Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International is an educational nonprofit organization founded in Santa Cruz, California in 1989. Kidpower’s mission is to teach people of all ages and abilities, especially children in need, to use their power to stay safe, act wisely, and believe in themselves. Experts highly recommend the Kidpower method for being positive, practical, and relevant for children, teenagers, and adults from many different cultures.
It has taken me a few weeks to get my feet on the ground in the New Year, but I am excited about 2012. I an writing a new book with Kidpower co-founder Irene van der Zande, Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society. I have been doing much of my blogging over at www.DoingRightByOurKids.com and I encourage you to follow my evolving work there, as Irene and I craft a new book and involve readers in the process. We just can’t wait to start sharing key skills and information with you, so online outreach will pave the way for the book.
Irene and I have been committed to the core idea of “Protecting Child Safety at All Levels of Society” from the inception of this project, but it was a bit hard to explain until the Penn State abuse scandal broke last fall. Now people understand why parents need to know what to do to prevent abuse AND that schools, faith communities, sports teams, and all child-serving organizations need to be actively involved as well. Secrecy and silence is so much a part of the cultural umbrella that allows abuse to happen that I have truly come to believe that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Doing Right by Our Kids will give you many tools to be part of the solution and to gather allies to create grassroots pressure “up” the ladder of command when you need organizations to be more aware and involved. We empower kids as well, drawing on the skills that Kidpower has already taught to over two million people worldwide, and beyond that, the new book will emphasize the organizational change and cultural change that is needed to allow children to truly move with safety and confidence through society.
One thing I really love about Kidpower is that it is so positive. I don’t think I could spend years of my life just fighting against a negative. Working as a Kidpower instructor allows me to fight against abuse while teaching kids safety skills in a positive, effective, realistic way that operates through success rather than fear. I highly recommend Kidpower workshops for EVERYONE. However, this year I am stepping back from my own role of teaching workshops in order to write the news book and create other resources that can reach hundreds and thousands of people at once, rather than 10-20 people at a time. Our book project is evolving at a good time, as Kidpower has launched the One Million Safer Kids Campaign, which DoingRightByOurKids.com is participating in as an official partner.
Since last July, the campaign has already reached over 155,000 children!
So keep your eyes on MojoMom.com for news and updates related to all of my work–I will be doing a renovation to the website for 2012 to bring all my writing and teaching interests into one site. And in the meantime, I hope you will check out what we are offering through DoingRightByOurKids.com and all the resources offered by Kidpower’s One Million Safer Kids campaign.
That magical end-of-summer day has arrived for us–the first day of school. As Mojo Girl starts Middle School, this week feels almost as much like graduation as it does a new beginning (I guess that is why they also call it Commencement). I am relieved, happy, and yes, feeling bittersweet as I see my daughter growing up so quickly. The last two years feel like a time-lapse movie of development stuck on fast-forward. The other day my family was at a store together and as I caught a glimpse of Mojo Girl across the room, it took me a moment to pick her out among the crowd of adults. She’s that much more grown up all of a sudden. When we talk about seeing “eye to eye,” it’s almost true on a literal level now!
So all this brings up a question that has been on my mind all summer, “What do motherhood bloggers do when their kids grow up?” In many ways I feel ready to declare my own personal graduation from motherhood blogging. I don’t see this as better or worse, but just honestly the next step in where I am right now in own my life. It is impossible to hold on to the early years of motherhood forever, and I don’t want to try. I feel like I have been at this for quite a long time, writing about motherhood for the past eight years, and now it’s time for the next generation of Moms to start looking at the same issues though their own unique lenses.
Back when I came up with the idea for Mojo Mom, my daughter had started three-year old preschool, and blogging hadn’t even been widely adopted yet. When I started my website I posted “occasional articles” that had to be uploaded by my website developer. I embraced Blogger as a writing platform as soon as I learned about it, and my first Mojo Mom blog post was September 13, 2003.
As one of the early motherhood bloggers on the scene myself, I have had the chance to know and follow many talented writers, wondering and watching to see what my fellow bloggers do as their kids grow up. Two of my favorite writers, Karen Maezen Miller and Joanne Bamberger, have daughters about the same age as mine, and I can see them evolving and moving forward too. Karen’s first book was Momma Zen, and her new book is a Zen memoir Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, which addresses her parenting life but is not focused on it. Her author website has also progressed from a Momma Zen “Cheerio Road” focus, to a more holistic KarenMaezenMiller.com.
Joanne Bamberger blogs as PunditMom as well as writing through MOMocrats, MomsRising, Huffington Post, and Politics Daily. This year, Joanne created the new book Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. (In a nice bit of synchronicity, Joanne contributed to Courageous Parents, Confident Kids and I contributed to Mothers of Intention.) She has come such a long way since the early days years ago when I remember she wrote her Column Quest blog (amazing how 2006 feels like The Olden Days now). She had the last laugh with column quest as she blazed a trail that transcended “old media” and shaped the landscape of New Media. And she’s kept her motherhood angle but she has ramped up and reinforced the “Pundit” aspect of her writing as she has developed impressive media credentials.
So I feel my own evolution stirring as my life changes. My daughter is a lot more independent and I don’t define myself by motherhood the way I used to. My defining question in Mojo Mom was discovering “Who am I, now that I am a Mom?” and I know the answer to that now. I am a writer, an activist for social change, a media producer–someone who has many ideas and needs to channel and focus my energies to figure out how to best move forward on all the causes I care about.
I had lunch with my friend Melinda Abrams of the other day–she is a life coach and we were getting together to talk about possible future directions for her work. As we talked over possibilities and strategies, I realized that every word that was coming out of my mouth was advice I needed to act on myself as well. So interesting to see how much more clarity we can get when we look outside our own lives and into someone else’s work–I am glad that I realized that our discussion definitely reflected back onto my own life.
So two things to share out of what I learned that day: Melinda was thinking about the age-old question of “How do I chart my own work when there is so much to do in the world–and I can’t do everything?” My answer from the heart is that each of us has to figure out the work that only we can do, what won’t get done if we don’t contribute, and put our energies there and trust that the other work will be done by other people. I don’t mean outsourcing motherhood but realizing that if I make a dedicated contribution to ending violence, I can trust that other people will work on eradicating hunger, and I don’t have to feel all the weight of the world on my shoulders. I still manage to feel that way a lot of the time anyway, but that perspective helps direct me.
Second, an image came to my mind. (I feel like I am ramping up into a creative time because I have been thinking in visual metaphors lately.) I visualized life as a treasure chest that needs to be moved forward, and all my actions as horses tethered to that chest. If I align my interests close to the same direction, I will make progress forward. Distractions go out to the side as a waste of energy, and bad habits pull backward. But the main insight I needed right now is that even if my activities are all meaningful, if they pull too much in different directions, I won’t get anywhere.
That was one of those “things that make me go Hmmmm,” and the challenge I have been thinking about all summer.
What’s next? And how do I get there? With 24 hours in the day, many family responsibilities, an active and distractible mind (a blessing and a curse when you do internet research), and the work I want to get done, how do I align those priorities in a way that makes sense? The Polaroid image is starting to develop in my mind–and MojoMom.com will continue to be part of the big picture. That is my jumping off point that I will address in my next post, “The Evolution of Mojo Mom.”
Classic Mojo Mom: Work-Life Balance, Our Ladder is up the Wrong Tree. This post was adapted for inclusion in the new book PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America, and, it remains my favorite Mojo Mom blog post of all time as well as the one that has generated the most passionate responses. So I wanted to share these thoughts again with you today in full. (Originally posted on December 18, 2006)
Work-life balance: Our ladder is up the wrong tree
by Dr. Amy Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family and creator of MojoMom.com
All the research I have done as Mojo Mom has led me to a conclusion that I really need to share with you. As mothers trying to have an integrated life with many facets, have set our sights set on the wrong goal. Our ladder is up the wrong tree in a major way.
I am talking about “work-life balance.” This idea is everywhere, and has become a watchword for my generation, Gen X, which has put “work-life balance” on the map as our highest ideal as we negotiate with our hard-charging Boomer bosses. Although it is usually presented as a positive ideal, “balance” is a trap. I argue that rather than being our highest goal, “balance” accurately describes our current situation that asks families to do it all…on our own. Until we change our thinking on this issue, we are going to be stuck with the same set of unappetizing work-life “choices” that we are faced with now.
Think about it. Who needs balance? Jugglers, tightrope walkers….and Moms. Picture the iconic cover of a chick-lit novel, showing a woman struggling to “balance” a briefcase, cellphone. and pacifier. In real life there would most likely be a dog and stroller involved too, in addition to an actual baby. When we tell women to strive for balance, we’re really telling them to keep dancing as fast as they can. We are telling them that they are failing to keep it all together without asking for help.
“Balance” is in fact a telling metaphor for motherhood. Balance is the underappreciated sixth sense in our brains. Our sense of balance is active, dynamic, and takes a constant hum of processing and adjustment to achieve—yet this vital work barely registers in our conscious mind. We only notice it when our system fails and we are thrown into disequilibrium, left dizzy and unable to function. We couldn’t get out of bed to stand up straight and walk, much less work and lead productive lives, without our sense of balance. But when is the last time you thought of your vestibular system, not to mention stopping to thank heavens for the vital job it does?
This is just like the work that mothers provide: unpaid, uncounted, and invisible labor that forms the foundation of family life. If it were counted, women’s unpaid household labor would add an estimated one-third to the world’s annual economic product, more than $4 trillion.
So if our balancing act is a farce rather than a lofty goal, what should we be aiming for?
This needs to become our new ideal, our North Star, our guiding metaphor. The motherhood movement should aim for creating a real support network that involves everyone–employers, communities, men and women. We need a team approach to holding up the world, one that recognizes the contributions that all family caregivers make, a system that does not just expect us to make the pieces fit all by ourselves on an individual level. My Mojo Mom Mantra is to “make the invisible work visible and then divide it fairly.” We are still at the beginning of that first step, increasing awareness about what mothers and fathers contribute to society, through the sacrificial giving that is required to raise the next generation of children. Support and teamwork need to trickle up from the grassroots to a policy level. We can use this context to explain the motherhood movement to our supporters and skeptics alike.
I learned a lesson about support recently. I had ordered a giant beanbag chair called a Foof Cube for our home. My 7 year old knew a good thing when she saw it. Within a day of its arrival she had commandeered it for her bed, and she’s been sleeping in it every night since then. Kids are great at taking what they need.
I am also ordering another one for myself. In the meantime, I sneak into her room during the school day and sink down into the foam cube to remind myself what support feels like. I am cradled in a snug nest. I let go, and nothing falls.
I could get used to this.
One of my favorite writers is Joanne Bamberger, aka PunditMom. Last year we collaborated on the book, Courageous Parents, Confident Kids: Letting Go So You Both Can Grow, in which Joanne authored the chapter, “Becoming a Political Parent: PunditMom on Mothers Raising Their Voices Online.”
Now, I am proud to be a contributor to Joanne’s brand new book, PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America. This collection brings together voices from many political women in order to get your political mojo fired up for the 2012 elections, which suddenly seem to be just around the next corner. It’s time to open our eyes and see the effects that the 2010 elections are having on our families through our statewide and national leaders. I encourage you to particularly pay attention in to what is happening in your state government. Here in North Carolina we’re seeing how a sea change in the state government can have a startling effect on the kinds of bills coming out of our state legislature–and it’s not pretty, with attempts to slash the education budget and a dozen separate bills to curtail women’s rights. Fortunately we have a strong governor who is standing up tot these proposed changes but she can’t do it alone–her veto power is crucial but it may be over-ridden by the legislature in some cases.
My contribution to PunditMom’s new book is adapted from my favorite Mojo Mom blog post of all time, Work-life balance: Our ladder is up the wrong tree, which I will talk more about later in a separate update.
Check out Joanne Bamberger’s writing on her PunditMom site and pre-order PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America on Amazon.com