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.
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
My mind has been churning for about six months now, grappling with the question of “what’s next as Mojo Mom?” It has been such a big question that I have hardly been able to write about it yet. I tried to take the summer off but in the process, family caregiving duties became very intense and refused to let up. We don’t always get to choose. (This entire experience opens my eyes to the fact that the illusion of choice is magnified to a blinding glare in our society.) I will write more about that specific issue another time–while I could probably write a book about elder caregiving, honestly, I don’t want to.
The issue of what’s next has come to a head for me, and, I suspect, other writers who started out five years ago or more as “Mom bloggers.” Today I joined in a very interesting talk about The Future of the Mom Blogosphere on The Motherhood.com where I posed my defining question and first reaction:
What happens to Mom bloggers when the kids grow up? What does that feel like, and how do we write next chapters?
Since I have been blogging for about 7 years, life has really changed for me. I have always written about motherhood in the big picture more than my family stories. But even the 10,000 foot view of what it means to be a Mojo Mom looks very different as the mother of a Middle Schooler rather than a toddler. Interesting times–definitely lots to write about. Both of us are getting ready to head out in new directions.
So far there are almost 20 comments in reply, so I felt I had hit a nerve with the question. You can still read the archived chat and even add your perspective there, or here on my blog, of course.
A couple more thoughts for now: one of the first signs that this issue could be a global phenomenon among a certain “generation” of Moms came to me from talking to Karen Maezen Miller, whose fabulous first book was Momma Zen. She could have ridden that wave for a long time, but as a Zen priest her newest writing, her memoir Hand Wash Cold, shows her naturally gravitating more toward Zen and less specifically toward Momma.
Karen’s daughter and mine are almost exactly the same age, so Karen and are hitting similar stages of motherhood at the same time. If you have not hit “age 11″ yet, it’s a trip. They are still kids, yet grown up in ways I could not imagine, and ready to learn so much, and be independent if we can just let them and teach them how to be safe in the world.
Last month, on her blog, Karen wrote more about her daughter Georgia and also reads out loud the Last Chapter from Momma Zen. Karen makes me smile because she reminds me that the Last Chapter is also the First Chapter, the Next Chapter.
So please know that I am incubating the Next Chapter of Mojo Mom. It may come in a form that is slightly surprising, but not unexpected for anyone who has been following my path as a writer. I will give you a hint that tells you a lot about me: I see myself as a writer who aspires to be not Dr. Benjamin Spock, who wrote a parenting column into his eighties (hat tip to Melissa Stanton in Courageous Parents, Confident Kids for that fact), but rather I would like to be more like Gail Sheehy, who wrote Passages in the 1970′s, and many more books on the seasons of life, up to this year’s Passages in Caregiving. (Both authors’ paths are valid. I can just feel it I my bones that I am more of a “write the book I need to read now” kind of writer. Both Spock and Sheehy reached the top level of writing success in their own ways. I should be as lucky!)
I have a good idea of what the next chapter will be, and it is developing in my mind like a Polaroid Picture. I hope to be ready to share more details with you soon.
I am interested for you to tell me, what are your major turning points as a mother right now? What makes you feel differently about life and writing?
As I mentioned in my last post, Nate Berkus filmed a “listening tour” roundtable at my home over the summer as part of his preparation for his new show, which debuts today nationwide.
Now as a new show in development, they couldn’t tell me exactly how and when they’d use the footage they recorded. It could possibly be a segment on the show, or used in their promos, even possibly the show opening.
Since it could show up in many different places, I thought I should ask my fans help me discover when and where it shows up. So I will gladly offer a free book to the first person who tells me they’ve seen the footage with Nate and this wonderful group of ladies show up on his show or elsewhere (for instance if Nate was on a news show talking about his show and they used the video in the background). I will send your choice of either Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family, or my latest book Courageous Parents, Confident Kids: Letting Go So You Both Can Grow.
Just leave a comment here or on my Mojo Mom page on Facebook. Be as specific as you can about where you saw it–time, channel, show–so I can try to track down or be on the look out for the video myself.
You may have heard that Oprah’s favorite designer Nate Berkus will be getting his own talk show debuting September 13th. But what you don’t know is that when he embarked on a “listening tour” this summer to find out what is on the minds of America’s Moms, he stopped by my house for breakfast!
I was thrilled to host Nate and four dynamic women to gather around my dining room table to chat. We waited excitedly for Nate to arrive, and as he came in the door we welcomed him into the group around the table. He is just as adorable and caring in person as he appears on TV.
Nate was really interested in what was going on in all our lives–and as Moms, each of us faced a variety of life situations, but even though we had just met, we were able to connect on that universal level of motherhood. It was amazing to me to see how really, truly, we have similar challenges of caring for our family, and ourselves in the process. And Nate made a connection with the group right away. It doesn’t hurt that he has the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen–I just had to mention that because his electric gaze drew me in to the conversation. As you can imagine, having a gorgeous guy show up and really want to hear what is on your mind, listening to what you have to say and wanting to know more, was close to every Mojo Mom’s fantasy! He talked to us for more than an hour and stayed to say hello to everyone who wanted to meet him. The whole Nate Berkus Show team was great to work with. I have to share one funny detail–the producer reassured me “Just come as you are, you don’t need to clean up your house special for us,” but I thought that no woman in America was going to have Nate come over without picking up first–unless he was there to do a makeover! But it really was my house…just looking its best to welcome this top interior designer.
Nate is a genuine connector and I can’t wait to see what he does with his new show this fall, with both talk and design. Today on Oprah they are re-airing Nate’s farewell episode from her show last May, so I’ll be tuning in to watch that to tide me over until September 13th.
I don’t know those details yet about how the video we shot might make it onto the new show, so keep an eye open for me and please let me know if you see our segment pop up!
Karen Maezen Miller has described herself as an “errant mother, delinquent wife, reluctant dog walker, expert laundress, and stationmaster of the full catastrophe.” She’s a Buddhist priest–but she could also be the Mom next to you in the school carpool line.
You may already know Karen as the author of Momma Zen, and now she has a brand new book Hand Wash Cold–Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life. Her writing will help you enjoy the life you already have, which is such a wonderfully sane and comforting concept–just what all of us need in today’s over-scheduled, distracted world.
She’s my guest on this week’s Mojo Mom Podcast, so I hope you will listen in, and watch her lovely book trailer video, too. You can also learn more about Karen’s work at her newly-redesigned website, www.KarenMaezenMiller.com
Here is this week’s episode of my podcast, which is also available through the iTunes Podcast directory:
Karen’s book trailer is one of the nicest I’ve seen. I feel better just watching it!
This week I continue my podcast conversations with Courageous Parents, Confident Kids book contributors, talking to Renee Trudeau about the absolutely essential need for mothers to practice self-care. Renee knows that it’s not always easy to practice self care–we each live that challenge every day, and Renee provides a warm and wise voice to help support and guide us. What I love most about Renee’s work is that she is committed to helping each woman unlock her own potential and talents, and showing us how to work together with other women to bring out the best in each of us.
Listen in to this week’s show:
Renee Trudeau has written extensively about self-care in her book “The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal,” and her training that teaches women how to form and facilitate their own Personal Renewal Groups. Podcast host Amy Tiemann has also written about self-care as a core principle in “Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family.” So these two have a lot to talk about!
Listen in to find out why mothers in particular have a hard time claiming their own self care as a top priority, why it’s really important to learn how to do so, and how to get started. Then make sure you register on MojoMom.com to reserve a free digital download of the new book that is a collaboration between Amy, Renee, and 12 other experts, “Courageous Parents, Confident Kids–Letting Go So You Both Can Grow.”
Sign up now and we’ll send you a free digital download of the new book when it’s released on April 19, 2010.