First Anne-Marie Slaughter’s admission in The Atlantic that she knows she can’t have it all, and now Marissa Mayer’s announcement that she’ll only take a few week’s maternity leave from her new CEO position at Yahoo. I’m thinking that Mayer should get together with Slaughter for a talk. But it’s more likely that Mayer is looking to Sheryl Sandberg as her mentor.
Why am I writing about this on JobTalk? Well, here’s the deal. Because of Slaughter’s article and now Mayer’s announcement (and don’t forget Sheryl Sandberg’s advice for women), there’s a flurry of discussion about women holding high-level positions and whether or not they can be the moms they want to be. Many people are touting Sandberg and Mayer as role models, but I’d recommend that you don’t look to them for a working-mother model. They simply aren’t the average woman.
What’s more, Mayer isn’t even a mom yet; she has no idea how she’ll feel once she has her baby. I’ve known so many mothers who were planning on going back to work after the birth of their child only to be so enamored with their little one that they never returned.
For some women, like Sandberg, getting to see your kids for dinner every evening then going back to work is enough. I’m sure she gets some time on weekends and a few vacations a year with the kids as well as holidays. Sounds like this will be enough for Mayer too – or at least she thinks it will be. For Slaughter, who has teenage boys, it was not enough for her to be home on weekends only.
What about you?
Okay, so you’re thinking to yourself, I’m only 19 or 20, I’m not thinking about kids yet. Humor me. Take a moment and think, really think about whether or not you want kids, and what kind of parent you want to be. Do you want to be able to give baths and read stories to your child at night? Do you want to have time to bake cookies with your child? Do puzzles? Go to museums? Sporting events? Better yet, talk to women who are raising children and working. Find out what their struggles are.
You have to start thinking about this now, if you want to shape your life.
There are a few women that I worked with when I was teaching that went out on maternity leave. One of the women really was happy to be back teaching (she had four months home with her first baby). She was the type of person who really needed to work. The other two women were not happy about being back at all, but they didn’t have a choice. But remember, this is teaching. Teaching takes a lot of time, but summers are off and there are lots of holidays.
In my interview with Jessica Durrie, who co-owns Small World Coffee, she talks about the pull between her work and her family. She admits that it’s something that she could never fully reconcile, but rather something that she got used to. That said, Durrie has constructed her life so that she has been able to be a pretty active parent.
Kirsten Thoft, an architect in Princeton, is another woman that I interviewed. Thoft recognized early on in her career that the best way for her to have a family was going to be if she could work on her terms, which meant going into business for herself.
Keep in mind that neither Durrie or Thoft work the amount of hours that Sandberg and Mayer work.
Let me get back to why this is important for you to think about. Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg can do whatever they want. They can afford nannies and million-dollar homes. Maybe Sandberg is sometimes torn about not getting more time with her kids, we don’t know. Don’t mistake the fact that Sandberg appears happy for thinking that is how you will feel if you were in her shoes.
So Gen Zers, it’s imperative that you think about how you want to craft your life starting now (know there are always surprises!).
1. If you are positive that you want kids, figure out what you will need/want to raise kids. Would you want a high-ranking position if you are so busy that you barely have downtime, let alone time with your children? And what if you can afford childcare, but not cooks and someone to clean the house? Would you still want the big career and children?
2. Consider living near your family so when it’s time to have kids, you can have free help. This one may be hard to arrange if your parents or spouse’s parents live in a place where there are no jobs, or none in your field. And there are always those parents who aren’t keen on helping. But I know so many parents who help their children with childcare and it saves thousands of dollars a year. Plus, who better to be stepping in for you than your own family?
3. Stay out of debt. Stay out of debt. Stay out of debt. I can’t say it enough. Debt limits your options. You don’t want to have to work if you have kids just because you still need to pay off loans. Or, what if you want to work but can’t afford the childcare you need because you have to pay off loans?
4. Consider adopting later in life. Have the high-powered career and get to a place when you can slow down, or even retire early. At that point, maybe you can still physically have kids, or maybe at 40ish you will decide to adopt.
*Correction: an early version of this post stated that Mayer is taking two weeks of maternity leave instead of a few weeks.