Leanin.org has begun a new campaign this week with the hashtag #Leanintogether. It highlights the benefits—for men, women, and children—when men invest not only in their paid work but also in their responsibilities at home. Among other things, it reminds us of the positive affects fathers have on children, and the undue burdens many women bear when it comes to household management. It provides practical and accessible tips for men to encourage men to join their wives by leaning in at home and by working for equality among men and women at work.
As this campaign suggests, for both men and women to participate in the paid workforce with equality in pay, position, and possibilities, it will take men and women working together for this arrangement for the common good. It will take men in positions of power to model for other working couples that snow days fall on both parents’ shoulders. It will take men in positions of power to encourage flexible work and child care arrangements.
As Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and COO of Facebook wrote this week for the New York Times, when men and women “lean in together,” our whole society accrues benefits. Sandberg touts healthier marriages, more emotional stability for men and women, and all the benefits of dads involved in their children’s lives.
And yet, this winter, I was tempted to lean out, to abandon my work because the cost of maintaining a professional life and caring for our kids amidst the successive snowstorms seemed untenable. Winter started punching in January, and it hasn’t let up. This first week of March has included one snow day (snow day number six of the past two months) and two delayed openings (again, numbers six and seven, I think, respectively). I have limped through weeks of little to no writing, days of excuses and explanations for deadlines missed and phone calls rescheduled, nights of back pain and headaches from worrying about it all, and a season of grumpiness with my children and husband. I want to be done with it all. I want to let go of my dreams to write another book. I want to let go of my dreams to communicate truth and beauty through speaking and writing. I want to concede the fight and limp my way home.
Yesterday morning, I was replying to email in the middle of the kitchen. The kids were home again, so they flowed in and out around me, asking for a snack, needing a hand with a shoelace, displaying a painting. I swallowed hard, chastising myself for the way work had encroached upon family time and yet knowing that unless work encroached upon family time no work could get done. I said to William, my six-year old, “What do you think about me working?”
I expected him to offer a kid version of what I had been feeling—to bemoan the hours it takes me away from them, to question the value of what I do, to wish I spent more time attending to his needs. Instead he gave me a hug and said, “I love that you are a writer. I love what you do.”
It might sound from what I’ve written so far that my husband is out of the picture. He does have a job with a great degree of responsibility and long hours as the Headmaster of a boarding school. But he also has flexed his time again and again this winter. He drove the kids to ballet and tumbling class on Wednesday. He comforted Marilee for hours one night through the throes of a double ear infection while I was traveling for a speaking engagement. He took the kids to the gym and sledding on an afternoon when I had a deadline. He canceled two overnight trips when the weather promised another snow day. I’m not the only one at the breaking point. I’m not the only one making sacrifices for our family.
I don’t know what the solution is for our particular problem, and I know it won’t feel nearly so impossible when the sun starts shining and our schedule becomes more predictable. I know my inclination is simply to give up, because it would be easier for us all on a practical level if I were to remove myself from the workforce entirely. But I’m not at all convinced that the easy road is the right road for our family or for our culture.
We need men to join women in challenging traditional assumptions about who becomes the "default parent" on snow days (and sick days and doctor's visit days). We need men to lean in with women both at home and at work. But positive and transformative social change will also take men and women together questioning the values we bring into the workforce and to our families, respectively. It just won’t work for us all to work harder and longer. It just won’t work for us to outsource all our childcare (as much as I support parents who find consistent and good childcare). It just won’t work if our culture continues to value higher paychecks, bigger houses, fancier cars, and expensive college degrees above community, and family, and a slower paced but more sustainable life together.
This winter brought our family to the breaking point. My husband and I did need to lean in together to keep our professional lives going. But we also needed to slow down. We needed to change our goals and expectations. And we needed to accept the limitations that come with living on top of a small mountain in Connecticut with three small children in a half dozen successive snowstorms.
For the sake of the common good, men and women need to lean in together. But for the sake of the common good, we also need to question our cultural assumptions about the good life and consider what we lose when we pursue professional success without heeding our limits.