Too little too late: Sheryl Sandberg apologizes for Lean In

Now that Sheryl Sandberg is a single mom, she has announced, in a post on Facebook, that it’s understandable that single moms do not Lean In.

I am infuriated.

First of all, why is Sandberg telling women they should all work? The whole point of feminism was so women could have choices instead of having someone tell them what to do with their life.

So we have choices. Women can decide they don’t want to work. Women can decide they want to have kids and have a cushy job. Women can decide they want to be a single mom and have two full-time nannies. Sandberg doesn’t talk about any of this.

For Sandberg, mothers have two choices: Have a spouse and lean in. Or be single and don’t lean in.

I have a supportive spouse and I don’t want to lean in. What about me?

Also, before I was with a spouse and staying home with kids, I was a single parent.

You know what? Being a single parent sucked, but I was making a lot of money and I had two nannies and a house manager, and I have to say my life as a single mom was way easier than my life is right now. Because leaning in is so much easier than staying home with kids.

What Sandberg is really saying, with her most recent backtracking, is that it’s hard to be a parent. I don’t think she was really being a parent when she had a husband because all you have to do is trace her day-to-day whereabouts for a month to see that she was rarely home.

But Sandberg would never admit that she wasn’t parenting her kids when she was leaning in.

Why? Why can’t she tell us how many hours a week she was spending with her kids when she was leaning in? Why can’t she tell us why she is deciding to be with her kids now more than double the amount of time she used to be with the kids when she had a husband?

We have a really big problem here that the COO of Facebook wants to be a role model for women, and she is full of shit. But no one can call her out on it because Facebook owns the media.

I didn’t realize that until I wrote about her husband dying. When I wrote that post I got so many emails that requested confidentiality that said no one can say anything bad about her because Facebook controls the majority of traffic to media sites.

I can’t give you names but I can tell you that I have good sources. And you can do pretty cursory research to see this is not far-fetched.

People express so much outrage that Donald Trump can run around saying crazy stuff and he doesn’t ever have to explain himself. Who will pay for the wall? Seriously. How will we block all brown people from coming into the US? Amend the Constitution? He doesn’t answer these questions in any reasonable way. And people complain.

Yet Sheryl Sandberg does the same thing. She says she’s leaning in and doesn’t tell us how many hours a week she sees her kids, or how much childcare costs. She tells us she’s a single parent but she doesn’t tell us if she regrets missing time with her kids, or if she’s still working part-time or what?

Trump and Sandberg don’t need to give us details unless they want to affect change on a national level. Then they owe us more than platitudes.

But you hear tons of criticism about Trump’s platitudes and you hear nothing so much as even questioning Sandberg.

So it’s back to me being the only voice in media saying Sheryl Sandberg is a sham.

Here’s why: For the last two years she’s been shaming women for not leaning in. She tells us we have to justify not leaning in. Now she says it’s okay to not lean in if you are a single mom because it’s so hard to be a single mom.

But as far as I can tell, Sandberg thinks women with supportive, high-earning husbands should lean in. Sandberg doesn’t have any room in her manifesto for women who want to do something besides go to work every day.

So I’m making an announcement. I’m not leaning in because I want to be with my kids during the day. But something else, too. I want to garden. Every day. And I want to curl up on the sofa with my dog in my lap and read. I want to get good at cooking with rhubarb because we grow so much of it. I want to be home for the blackberries because they only come one week of every year.

I don’t want to lean in because I just don’t. I don’t want to have to give Sheryl a reason. Which is why I don’t give a crap what her reason is for not leaning in. I don’t think she needs to justify it. I don’t know why she’s obsessed with who should lean in and who shouldn’t. Each of us is capable of figuring it out for ourselves.

We don’t need a role model. We need a role. Each of us wants to feel like we found our spot, what’s right for us. And it’s not helping to have to justify our choices to anyone but ourselves.

203 replies
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  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    Beautifully said.

    But you are sure to get tons of comments saying how DARE you say anything negative about Saint Sheryl.

  2. Holly
    Holly says:

    A-freaking-men, you hit the nail on the bloody head! After 14 years of corporate life in technology…I am trading it for a smaller shop, privately owned, less stress….and for more money and NO travel (go figure?)…so while I won’t go to for President’s Club every year and perhaps my marketing expense account is drastically slashed, I WILL get to be at hockey/soccer/baseball games, school concerts, birthdays and Hallowe’en….Sheryl you can have your lean in/lean out/lean up/lean down life, I’m happy to have mine back.

    • CRM
      CRM says:

      You – and the author–clearly haven’t actually read the book. She repeatedly says if you want to stay home, or follow whatever path is right for you, GO FOR IT! But if you want to advance professionally, here’s some great advice.

      • Tess
        Tess says:

        Agreed. I am not in a position of anyone who would like to criticize Sheryl Sandberg or her book, but they should read it first.

  3. Anon
    Anon says:

    I don’t like Sheryl Sandberg. I don’t think she’s an innovator in any way and shouldn’t be telling others how to live. She sounds like a hard worker though. I feel terribly for her losing spouse so young. I should take back my negative comment but as much as I agree with much in the post there seems to be extreme jealousy and schadenfreude here. Unbecoming.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      No jealousy at all are you nuts? Only some one who has lived on both sides of the fence like Penelope like me could have the insight and courage to create this post its all true and no German psychological verbiage can begin to describe to pain of trying to lean in with two babies

  4. Dali
    Dali says:

    Thank you Penelope. You did so right by posting this. Bravo to you and I applaud you for having the guts to speak out and claim your role as a mother. Much love and respect.

    • CRM
      CRM says:

      You – and the author–clearly haven’t actually read the book. She repeatedly says if you want to stay home, or follow whatever path is right for you, GO FOR IT! But if you want to advance professionally, here’s some great advice.

  5. Stephenie
    Stephenie says:

    Reading this I’m thinking “well yeah!” It seems so obvious to me now, but it concerns me that you are the only one saying it. I wrote some scathing post a couple of years ago full of outrage at the whole lean in notion and I think I wrote some stuff about Sheryl too, along the same lines. But I can’t find it so I must have felt it was too ranty and deleted it. I think I got some pretty negative responses too. It was from the believers, most of whom didn’t even have children. I think her lean in business is a recipe for an early death and a rebelling teen from hell. But to be fair when I was fresh out of college and ambitious, I did the same thing. I left my older child with babysitters, grandparents, child care, school, scouts, and tons of lessons. I never saw her. She grew up to hate me. I had another child and stayed home, learned to live fairly well on the little bit of money I make by not being a corporate slave and we are much happier. I wish I could say I’m healthier but I burned up my health when I was leaning in. I got a few trophies to show for it. Feminism was absolutely supposed to be about women having choices and control of their lives as much as men have. It was not supposed to replace one social mandate with another.

  6. pfj
    pfj says:

    Years ago, I was a single mother with 2 children for several years. No education, no training, making a pittance of wages. A very hard time of it.)

    Then I was married and although we weren’t rich at all, there were times when I worked full time, and other times when I worked part-time, and sometimes I didn’t work for 6 months or more at a stretch.

    I learned from that . . . and my opinion is that the best thing, for mothers and also kids, is working about half-time. It isn’t the money, it’s the interaction with other adults plus (hopefully) having interesting work. If not all the work is interesting, maybe some of it can be.

    Not working full time means being able to do things for and with the kids that wouldn’t be possible with a full-time job. Can’t do everything, but they seem to be able to forgive that.

    And I remember quite clearly, when one of the kids was about 15 and the other was about 10, and they were well able to stay home alone after school . . . one of them asked me politely if I might be going back to work sometime.

    Hahahahaha . . . maybe I trending toward smothering at that point, instead of mothering?

    • Stephanie
      Stephanie says:

      That’s what was best for YOU. We all get to decide for ourselves. I stayed home full time. That was what I wanted to do.

      • Jane
        Jane says:

        She clearly said that was what was best for her Stephanie. She said it was her opinion after doing it all different ways. Then, of course, you had to get all defensive with, ‘That’s what was best for YOU’.

        Chill out. Not everyone is referring to you, or about you. It responses like yours that keep the ‘Mommie wars’ going.

        • Cindy Ray
          Cindy Ray says:

          She did say “my opinion is that the best thing, for mothers and also kids, is working about half-time.” That’s not a “right for me” statement.

      • CRM
        CRM says:

        She says in Lean In that she has the most respect for single mothers and can’t imagine how difficult it is. She repeatedly says she can only be as successful as she is because she has a great partner who supports her – making his death all the more painful and your comments ridiculous. Read the book before saying something so ignorant.

        • Tess
          Tess says:

          So true. Thank you. I have nothing against people who would like to criticize her book, but they should not criticize if they have not read it.

  7. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    I don’t think supporting women to make one choice automatically discredits an alternative one. Women clearly needed someone to tell them it was okay to lean in and she provided this voice. Perhaps she misrepresented the reality of leaning in but as her FB post shows, you can’t acknowledge what you can’t see. If a dude wrote a book about succeeding in business no one would give a shit about how often he sees his kids or the details of his childcare (okay maybe you would but no one else) which is exactly why she needed to write the book in the first place.

  8. Amy Moore
    Amy Moore says:

    I have to say I really resent women who think that being a feminist means you have to be just like a MAN. No no no dammit. Feminism was all about women deserving and receiving the same rights and choices as men have traditionally had more of.
    Gloria Steinem (mother of feminism) recently ranted that a woman who does not vote for Hillary Clinton (simply because of her gender) is an anti-feminist!!! First of all this pisses me off because I am a human being and as a woman, I’ve always made my own damned choices, including staying home with my children. So I’ll darned well vote for whoever I please -Bernie Sanders. And after 22years I am just starting to work from home because my kids still need me and also because that’s my own damned choice.

    Thank you Penelope for this post and for being a true feminist, not a brown-nosed rule-follower.

    • Dph
      Dph says:

      I would point out that most men don’t feel like they really have a choice in how they govern their work life balance either. Its career and bring home the bacon or what’s wrong with you.

      The only advantage is that if we choose to prioritize career over kid/FAM time we don’t get criticized for it.. Whereas if we make any other choice we face the same gauntlet of disapproving comments.

      • Abe
        Abe says:

        As a guy I appreciate this comment, as well as all the others. I think as a society we still haven’t really grasped the idea that freedom and equality mean that either gender should feel free to make whatever choice makes sense for themselves and their families. I think men these days feel a bit lost, like we’re being sidelined… Even from the one role which was traditionally expected of us. And for women it’s become a weird dogmatic thing where they’re seemingly expected to magically have it all, despite the fact that no one can. Life is tradeoffs… For everyone. If we work more, we have less time for hobbies, family, and play. If we have families then certain consequences will result. I think it’s a shame that women these days have no more choices (societally) than before. Before they were expected to stay at home, no matter what they wanted, now they’re expected to “lean in.” Worse, the social wiring can be enormously painful for those choosing to go against the grain. My wife chose to stay home, and she carries a hefty load of guilt around that she’s not “leaning in” etc. Somehow it feels like in our modern era we’ve all become less free, rather than more.

        • george
          george says:

          I look at it a bit differently. We really are free to make our own choices (within the limits of our resources). And guess what, other people are also free — including the freedom to criticize those choices. But that doesn’t really make us any less free, does it? It simply means that other people will respond (sometimes supportively, sometimes not) to virtually any choice we make. This so-called lack of freedom is often a function of our own minds, as we fervently wish for everyone else to approve of us. It’s an understandable feeling. But, as we get older, we come to realize that is never going to happen. And so we learn to make our choices, and to allow others to have their opinions. And we roll with it.

  9. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Yeah, too little too late.

    For me it says that Sheryl failed to find any empathy and understanding for single moms until she became one. So how could we expect she have empathy and understanding for poorer women, would she need to lose all her money first? At least that’s possible. What about understanding those who are less-privileged, have different world views and desires around life & children. Empathy, empathy, empathy.

  10. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Penelope … Thank you. I am so sick of lean in. I work full time and have a husband. And a kid. One because who can handle more with a full time job? Seriously? My company got bought by another company and I started traveling like crazy this past 12 months. My son almost flunked out of high school and became massively depressed. Correlation? Hell yeah. My husband points out all the other things that were going on with him and says it wasn’t my fault. But as a mother I know it was. So I cancelled my trips and leaned into my kid and I fixed it. Period. It takes all kinds and ways to live a life. Lots of women would like to be with their kids but for one reason or another work full time. Butt out Sandberg. What we have to do to survive in this world is none of your GD business.

  11. Julia
    Julia says:

    Some people/feminists/women seem not to have comprehended that while women may have all the choices, they will always still be women and whenever their own children are in the game, they have a specific role that can only partially be filled in by men or other people. Having choices does not equal forfeiting that role, at least not without some serious tradeoffs.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      Bummer. So, even if my husband is way more excited to stay home with kids, and I make 2x more than he does, I should quit my job if I want kids?
      That sucks, I don’t want to do that. Why can’t my husband be the primary caregiver?

      Does the same rule apply for gay couples? They should be allowed to adopt or have a baby through a surrogate?

      • Julia
        Julia says:

        No, if that is what you want and you find it works, that is perfectly fine. I will never stop you and hope no one does. Or gay couples. Or whoever. Single dads. Which just does not change the reality that it is not what most women prefer. Even in countries with perfectly equal parenting leave rights, with mandatory percentages of women in company boards, it is still mostly the women that will take the leave, or lean out, by a vast majority. What is the matter with that? I see none.

      • Tanya
        Tanya says:

        We have friends where the husband has always been the primary caregiver and the wife works full-time. The kids are fine and the FAMILY is a great family.

  12. Tara Dillard
    Tara Dillard says:

    Having the life you are choosing doesn’t make money for the bigger picture narrative USA.

    Your life, now, richer. You, happier.

    But you are not as good for the macro economy. Worry about that, why?

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  13. Marie-Eve
    Marie-Eve says:

    Well said!

    I love your message and the message of Anne-Marie Slaughter in Unfinished Business that says we have to value caregiving, and build an infrastructure to support it so everyone can be fulfilled.

    • Ron Vitale
      Ron Vitale says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Building an infrastructure to support caregiving is critical. Options in America for childcare are appalling compared to Europe.

        • Abe
          Abe says:

          I agree. I find it astounding that “childcare” is considered an equivalent substitute for parenting. Those who provide childcare are employees. And their work is just a job to them. I certainly don’t want my kids to grow up being someone else’s job. In my opinion there’s no substitute for a parent in the home. Note that this doesn’t mean it needs to be the mother, so long as one of the parents inhabits the role. That said, it is good to have support (babysitters, etc), so long as it’s not five days a week for forty hours or whatever. Why have kids if you’re going to turn them over to an employee of a business to raise?

          • Mabel
            Mabel says:

            What about the two-parent, working poor? They have no choices. You seem oblivious to their position other than acknowledging the
            limited child care in America. When, in fact, we have educational and workforce issues that serve those at the top collecting wages too often out-of-alignment; at the expense of those being educated and those doing the under-valued and under-compensate frontline work.

  14. Jillian
    Jillian says:

    Oh my god, yes! I have ALWAYS said this about Sheryl from day one. How can you lean in when you’re the only parent? I’m a separated mom of one with no family support financial or otherwise, so I can’t really “lean in” because who will take care of my child and drop them to school and collect etc? I tried leaning in,a few years ago, I started working for a big US Multinational and earning crappy money- €22,000 a year, thinking I could climb the ladder in the company and make a better living eventually for me and my daughter.

    I don’t know how I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, as I had to get up at 6am, get me and my child ready, fed, clothed, drop my child to a childminder at 7am, rush to get to my desk for 8am, work 10 hour days, 30 min lunch breaks, finished at 6:30pm, got home at 7:30pm, and had to put the child straight to bed. I had split days off too. I was permanently frazzled, wrecked and barely had any time with my child. The job was bullshit, we were not allowed to be sick, even if it was certified by a doctor and the company used to time our toilet breaks. It was chaos.

    It’s simply not possible to lean in when you’re a single mom, unless you have a lot of money for a fantastic nanny or your own mom takes care of your child for you. So yes, in some instances you can lean in, but at what cost? These VPS and COOs need to be honest like Penelope says and willingly admit that;

    (a) They never see their kids -and that’s by choice, because they’re busy leaning in.
    (b) Their career will always come before their kids.
    (c) Their dream career comes at a cost- the opportunity cost of having an amazing corporate career, is the time not spent with your kids and possibly missing their important milestones.

    We all have an idea of what success looks like, but it’s rarely what we think it will be. Eventually I decided to start my own business because it’s the only way can drop my kid to school and not miss all the school plays, recitals etc. I can do both to some degree, sure it’s a balancing act some days, but at least I’m present. I wouldn’t say I’m aggressively leaning in and that’s fine. It’s not what I want. But I can tailor my career to fit around my kid and not the other way around. That’s the only way it’s gonna work for me and that’s just fine. I tried leaning in and it was pile of crap.

  15. bernadette
    bernadette says:

    I think her kids have reached an age when children realize their parents are “choosing” to work. Working moms often quit when their kids are school age rather than newborns because the kids can actually ask for what they want to choose: a stay at home parent. At around age 5, each of my kids have asked me very seriously, “how about you stay home and just daddy goes to work.” It is a real blow. I don’t know why they say it to me since my husband does just as much maybe more as a hands-on-dad. I’m a teacher so I can turn around and say to my kids, guess what I will be home more in the summer. Ayelet Waldeman got into hot water for saying she loved her husband more than her kids; people like Sandberg just don’t want to say this outloud: they love their career more than spending time with their kids.

  16. Pam
    Pam says:

    “We don’t need a role model. We need a role.”
    That’s it, Penelope!
    Free to make our own choices.
    Great post!

  17. Ron Vitale
    Ron Vitale says:

    Your post lit a fire within me. Having grown up where my mom was on her own with two kids because my father left her, her only option back in the mid ’70s was to move back in with her parents.

    With the lack of childcare options for parents today, I’m disgusted with how poor the infrastructure is in America. Let’s do the math: Minimum wage worker makes about $15K a year. When my wife and I had two kids in daycare, it was $24K a year.

    For all the women like my mom, I don’t know what they do. Work and try to get daycare from family, neighbors?

    What a country we live in where Sandberg can talk about leaning in while hiring multiple nannies. The woman making minimum wage doesn’t have that option. And her kids? When they grow up, what are their options?

    The reason why this is such a hot topic for me is that there’s a sick wound in America. Yes, those well off can pay to do whatever they want.

    But what about the people who can’t? When their kids try to go to college, how prepared will they be? How will they afford the around $120K for a four year degree and then come out making what?

    There’s a cycle of debt that’s ripping through America and it drives me up the wall (I’m trying to be kind here in my comments and not used four letter words) that we’re not investing in America: Preschool care and education, training programs for working moms and dads, grants/scholarships for vocational training or college, etc.

    If we take a step back and see the lack of opportunities many people have in America, what hope do their children have? People are angry and no wonder they’re supporting Trump.

    How many single moms are poor and don’t have a choice: maybe they married and their marriages fell apart and then what? How are they going to pay for housing, childcare, etc.?

    A friend of mine’s marriage broke up. Now she’s on her own with two young girls, trying to work and find a way to pay for her mortgage and other bills. Her ex-husband is contesting her on childcare care costs and so the cycle continues.

    Yes, people can choose to not have kids, but when a child is born and then something happens (sickness, marriage falls apart, loss of job, etc.), then what? You’re screwed.

    Must be nice to be Sandberg to hire extra nannies.

    My point in all this: We need reform in this country. Here’s a thought: Let’s focus on helping the American people. Where to cut? How about some of those trillions spent in foreign wars? A few percentages from that would do nicely!

    Great post and, boy, did you fire me up this morning after I read this. Hell yeah!

  18. Linda
    Linda says:

    Well said Penelope. I have no kids, worked in corporate hell for 15 years and now I do whatever I want whenever I want. I don’t care what others think. I love waking up and doing what I feel compelled to do whether that is gardening, cooking, being with niece/nephew, writing or teaching. I’m much happier now and touching lives with my true passion and gifts. I want others to be happy and make choices that make sense for them.

    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      I have your life half of the year, but not all year (yet.) What did you do while you were in corporate hell that paid enough for you to get out after 15 years? Also, do you have a spouse who contributes household income? What do you do about health insurance?

  19. Kirk
    Kirk says:

    She’s worth a billion dollars. Whatever she has to say is simply not rooted in normal reality.

  20. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Hmmm, the only thing I really know about SS is what I have read on Penelope’s blog. It always stuns me that so many people put much stock into what she had to say to begin with. Whenever she is a topic on this blog, the comments are fast and fierce.

  21. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    “First of all, why is Sandberg telling women they should all work?”
    Show me where she said that. I read Lean In, it explicitly says that “Lean In” is NOT for all women. Many times.

    “For Sandberg, mothers have two choices: Have a spouse and lean in. Or be single and don’t lean in.”
    Show me where she said that. She never said that.

    This whole article is a straw man argument. Why do you care that when Sandberg had a supportive spouse she chose to work full time? There have been millions of women that have quit their jobs to stay home with the kids. That path is well worn. Sandberg wrote a book that talked about what the path looks like to stay in a high powered career with kids.
    Sandberg is just writing about what she knows. She wrote Lean In when she had a rockstar career and a supportive spouse. This facebook post is a new perspective because now she is a single mother.
    Penelope, just write about what you know. YOU want to take care of your kids yourself, YOU chose to give up a big career for homeschooling, YOU don’t want the farmer to be the primary caregiver. Lots of people identify with your perspective, as is obvious from the comments above. But your perspective can be valid AND Sandberg’s. You don’t have to tear her life choices down in order to validate your own.
    Try, “Good for her, not for me.”

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      I think Sheryl would not have felt the need to write that apology if things were as you say. Her words: “Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.” and “Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right.”

    • Ari
      Ari says:

      It was very clear in Lean In that those were the options. I did enjoy the book but I knew there would reach a point that it’d be irrelevant to me. That is, if and when I have children. Sheryl says not to let kids that don’t exist sabotage your current career, but if you’re planning on having them within two years, it’s worth considering where you are. Penelope is spot on.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      Some excerpts from “Lean In”. Just a few examples of times Sandberg stipulated that not everyone has the choice to stay home, and that she isn’t passing judgement on the highly personal decision to quit working.

      “There are many powerful reasons to exit the workforce. No one should pass judgment on these highly personal decisions. My point is that the time for a woman to scale back is when a break is needed or a child arrives—not before, and certainly not years in advance. For those who even have a choice, choosing to leave a child in someone else’s care and return to work is a hard decision. Anyone who has made this decision—myself included—knows how heartwrenching this can be. Only a compelling, challenging and rewarding job will begin to make that choice a fair contest.”

      “I do not have the answers on how to make the right choices for myself, much less for anyone else. I do know that I can too easily spend time focusing on what I am not doing. When I remember that no one can do it all and identify my real priorities at home and at work, I feel better—and I am more productive in the office and probably a better mother as well. Instead of perfect, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling.”

      • Cess
        Cess says:

        I agree with Rachel. This book was for women who were choosing to be in the work force. Sheryl’s book is aimed at women pursuing the roles they want to pursue in the work world. Penelope’s arguments are well argued in the book “Mommy Wars” which discusses the very personal choice of staying at home with the child or continuing to work. Lean In is not about that choice. Sheryl emphasizes the importantance of a spouse in the role of child care in her book. When I first heard about her husband’s death, I remember wondering how things would change for her as she gave him a lot of credit as a very supportive spouse and dad while she pursued her career. I took her acknowledgement to single women as an understanding of how they do lean in and juggle it all. If you want to argue staying at home or working, read Mommy Wars.

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      I agree staying home with children is a well worn path, but perhaps it doesn’t feel like a well worn path for women who have the choice. For many women who were raised and educated to have careers and find themselves at home or wanting to be home, voices like SS make us feel as though we should be working…that we have somehow wronged feminism, and wasting our talent. I think what Penelope is touching on is the implied expectation today that women must work, and that it is a better choice for women. Again, I am not sure what SS meant but what women who don’t work felt by Lean In and the press around it is that their role in society is not as valid. Perhaps it’s just our own insecurity. I think what is important though is we start to value the work done at home as real work, whether a man does it or a woman. I have never met a stay at home anybody that doesn’t work their butt off. It’s an important, challenging, meaningful role for whomever does it.

  22. Johanna
    Johanna says:

    i love your voice penelope. i felt so guilty for having a cushy well-paying job that i left it. but, i miss it. now i work lots of hours, trying to lean in… but maybe that’s just not me? there’s nothing wrong with just enjoying cooking and being with your children and reading and enjoying life with your time, and i wish that message was more accepted in our culture.

  23. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    I just retired at 55 from 30 years with the same company. I left because I was sick of it, and wanted to help homeschool my 3 grandsons. I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled. Sure, money is tight, but spending time with my daughter & her sons is priceless.

  24. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I don’t know a lot about SS. But I know about being a single mother. I had a shotgun wedding, a baby and a divorce all before I graduated college. And I did graduate. I leaned in, I had to, and it was hard. No one told me what to do, I didn’t read about what others did. I just did the best I could. That’s all any of us can do. SS thinks she’s doing the best she can, and I’m sure she is. The problem is she can’t know what’s best for anyone else. Most women don’t have the choices she has. I consider myself lucky. I work in my field, I work from home and my son is healthy and loved. My son’s Dad, even though he’s right down the road has not been a part of my son’s life. He didn’t even help pay for college. I co-signed for all $80,000. Most single Mom’s are both Moms and Dads for their kids. That’s my definition of leaning in.

  25. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    “I’m not leaning in because I want to be with my kids during the day. But something else, too. I want to garden. Every day. And I want to curl up on the sofa with my dog in my lap and read. I want to get good at cooking with rhubarb because we grow so much of it. I want to be home for the blackberries because they only come one week of every year.”

    Yes! I’m pursuing my career, but when push comes to shove, I’m pursuing joy. Thanks for this post, Penelope!

  26. Lara
    Lara says:

    I mostly agree, except why attack SS for providing yet another viewpoint that includes those who DO want to lean in? That’s still a valid option too, P.

    • Gabriela Guzman
      Gabriela Guzman says:

      Fully agree, Lara! I read the book and never felt like she was speaking for ALL women or saying everyone had to do this. If the message speaks to you, then you follow it. I shared more of my thoughts below.

  27. Gabriela Guzman
    Gabriela Guzman says:

    I believe it’s a safe assumption that if you buy a book called Lean In, you kind of want to Lean In. I don’t think Sheryl Sandberg intended to write this generations feminist manifesto with a prescription for ALL women, but some people have interpreted it that way.

    Personally I saw myself identified with so much of what Lean In said, because although I fully understand and acknowledge institutional sexism, I found myself repeatedly in all of my careers holding myself back from a loads of awesomeness that I could’ve jumped into. In my case a lot of it had to do with insecure crap, and a lot of it has to do with my upbringing as a woman, and not necessarily about raising a family.

    I read Lean In after I had my son, and I still felt fully identified with the message, even as a single mom. I didn’t take it as a prescription to base my life off of. I didn’t expect her to be speaking for all women, I took the message and adjusted it to my life.

    There is actually a very good reason to advise women to Lean in. In grad school I worked with the leading work-life balance researcher in the country and the sad reality is that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and the women are left with the mortgage the kids and all the responsibility. If to that you add that you haven’t developed any marketable skills for several years the prospects are really grim. It’s not scare tactics, that’s statistics. That’s the ACTUAL reality for most single moms.

    So it is a position privilege, to be able to take time off of work for several years to raise your children. It is a position of the utmost privilege to not expect it to impact the rest of your life at all

    I got from Lean In straight talk and choices. To me that book was about holding ourselves accountable to our own crap so we can come closer to equality.

    Finally, Sheryl Sandberg said that she left Facebook at 5:30 PM every night to be with her kids. Whether not she did it for real, I don’t really care. The fact that this woman in a position of power said that out loud it’s completely revolutionary, and definitely was at the time when other senior women were expected to not even have families. The biggest take away from the book for me was as women when we are in positions of power we are better able to help other women and make the workplace better and more equitable. And yes we have a better chance of doing that before we have kids. That’s it. I find looking to her and her story is a prescription for how to live all of our lives quite unfair and naive.

    The irony is Penelope Trunk is hustling with her newsletter, etc. and making her mark. Being boss and has been for years. By all accounts, leaning in. I would like for her to introduce me to all the single moms with two nannies she knows cause I sure as hell wanna figure out how I can make THAT happen.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      This was exactly my take away from the book too. I didn’t agree with everything, but I found a lot of it extremely useful. Thanks for the great comment.

      • NS
        NS says:

        How many people asked me when I was pregnant whether I was staying home with the baby?
        And how many asked my husband that?
        I AM more interested in my career AND being a role model to my son (that ALL people should work) than I am helicopter parenting my toddler until he is school age and I’m unemployable. The single greatest predictor this would work for my family is that my husband and I BOTH had working moms (and NEITHER of us has any desire to stay home, even though my husband was mostly raised by his Professor dad).
        It’s one thing for Penelope to cite inane homeschooling statistics to justify the 40 hours a week she spends at cello lessons. It’s another to tear down one of the few working mom role models we have (privileged or not) to justify choices she’s clearly ambivalent about. Penelope’s “Mom for Career” schtick is getting kind of tired, and I suspect the “Big Career” she gave up for farm life and homeschooling was probably on its way down. And regardless, it’s clear that Penelope likes her work a little bit (can’t you see the passion in her posts) and it’s a bit hypocritical to act like her choice is the only one.
        Not dissimilar to the “disenfranchised xyz victimhood” complex that could very well put Trump in office…

        • Sharon
          Sharon says:

          No one probably asked your husband if he was staying home with the baby when you were pregnant because I’m 100% certain he wasn’t the one who was pregnant, unless you’re all participating in some newly-designed science experiment. People should just not ask the question at all, though. For many women, the physical aspect of pregnancy, creates a desire to be around their babies for a large portion of the day, 24/7. Because they ARE babies. Helicopter parenting does not mean providing attention, love, and caregiving to a small child. Look up the definition of helicopter parenting. It doesn’t mean what you think it does. But you’ve so cleverly crafted your own connotation of it, so you can reinforce your choices. Just leave it at, “My career is more important.” If I were content being a slave to corporate America, I’d just say, “My career is very important to me.” Leave it at that. That’s the only explanation or statement you need to make. You’re not interested in being a “helicopter parent” just like I and many wahm and sahm are not interested in “outsourcing childcare and institutionalizing” our children. See I can play smug too.

          • Rachel
            Rachel says:

            Wow, so much defensiveness here. Why did you call her out for mischaracterizing your choices, and then do the same thing right back to her?

            The person who is pregnant/births the baby does NOT equal the person who needs to care for the baby 24/7. I mean, infant adoption proves that quite obviously. If a woman can adopt an infant, a husband can take over primary care at birth.

            Its wonderful that you felt such a connection to your baby right after birth, and wanted to provide that care for them. It also sounds like you and your husband have a great partnership that allows you to stay home with them. That is definitely the most obvious way to handle childcare and earning money in a hetero relationship. However, not all women have the desire or opportunity to be the primary caregiver.

            Why not allow for some experiences different from your own? Why do you care that NS wants to go back to work after having a kid, and have either daycare or her husband care for her child? Her decision is not a judgement on your decision. It sounds like you are confident you aren’t helicopter parenting your kid, so why did you assume she was saying you were?

    • Lara
      Lara says:

      Beautiful points, Gabriela. I’m a mom of two with a solid career. My husband has a thriving business. In theory, I could dial back, take a part time position, lose much of my marketability, and maybe have more time to spend with kids. But if my husband’s business tanks or we ended up in the 50% of divorced couples, I need to be sure I can pay the mortgage and that my kids don’t have to move. It’s a thing for me–to know I can support myself and my kids solely, if I had to. My thing, my choice. Other people have different things, different choices.

      And can we also just acknowledge that SS is still grieving and trying to figure it all out?

  28. Julie
    Julie says:

    Since when is “leaning in” equated to any particular path? There’s plenty of room to criticize and discuss Sanders’ use of that term.

    • Gabriela Guzman
      Gabriela Guzman says:

      That’s the whole point. We Lean In (to employment, because gardening don’t pay the rent) in many different ways. You can do it through moving ahead with your career at a company or as an entrepreneur. It doesn’t mean you can’t choose to take a break. But taking a break has real financial consequences. That’s also a big part of it. I don’t think this in any way says you HAVE to do what she did. Her argument is that if you want to, here’s how to get out of your own way…

  29. Kim
    Kim says:

    Gloria Steinem has a line that says, “We need to remember we are linked vs. ranked.” This shouting match between college educated women with or without kids, working to some degree or not outside of the home, is reflective of the pain we each feel…we want choice, but we don’t want to to feel shame or been seen as less as, once we make a choice that works for us. We are at a point in time where people, women haven’t lived with this abundance of choice. There aren’t tons of role models…we are the role models, figuring it out and it is painful. Women I talk to feel stigma and silence with whatever choice they make… full lean in, lean out, child, childless, work less, etc.. Our schools, our work institutions, our policies, our workday and school hours are built on a dated 1940s, 50s industrial and family model that doesn’t exist. We need WOMEN to blow up these models and a culture primarily defined by men. I think some men (very quietly though) want out too…they don’t like the lifestyles they see perhaps at the level above them in corp america but they can’t want out or to craft something very different. At least, we can yell and judge each other about our pain…it’s some sort of discourse. Let’s celebrate our choices, for those who get to be leaders (pls change the 1940s/50s systems to 2016..offer us choices, so we can make ourselves feel whole. I am a divorced mom at 47 of a 6 year old (with some safety nets, work, education, savings) who works part-time for now so I can be present to my kid. I am not proximate to it, but I think the real story about women, the real courageous women…are those living in poverty ( especially with children) relative to the standards in their nation and are getting it done one their own with no help from the father of their children. These are the real heroes….who need more of our help…it will take leaders changing our dated structures, systems and policies at the top of the heap and the continued grassroots efforts that we don’t know about, that are happening every day. Penelope, hope the media picks this up and you get to talk about and explore this isnight more.

  30. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Best part of this post: “We don’t need a role model. We need a role.”
    This is such a thought-provoking statement that it could be a whole post in itself to explore – not just how this idea relates to ourselves, but also to how we understand our children’s need to find a role for themselves rather than just finding someone to imitate.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      I think you have probably already covered this in other writings, but this is definitely one of the reasons that school is such poor preparation for life. Because in order to discover your role, you have to actually try out different roles in real life, not just try specific skills in controlled setting. An individual skill by itself is only one aspect of a complex role – you have to experience what it feels like to play that role in a live situation to know if it’s right for you or not.

  31. Laura
    Laura says:

    While there is a lot that Sheryl says that I don’t agree with, I recommend you take a step back and evaluate your anger towards her. She has written advice for women who choose to work because that’s the world she knows. She has never written that all women should choose to work. She simply writes to women who choose to “lean im” because that’s the experience she’s earned. I think perhaps you should find heroes (or, even better, become one) that better reflect your own values and chooses instead of attacking someone who writes to an audience that doesn’t include you. We could all use more compassion to all the women who are simply trying to make it in this crazy world. There’s plenty of room for all of us in the many roles we fill.

    • Gabriela Guzman
      Gabriela Guzman says:

      Exactly! I feel like this whole post is about putting another woman down. And I’ve followed Penelope for a while and don’t think she needs to do this in order to uplift herself. She is awesome enough on her own. No one said Sheryl Sandberg’s way is the ONLY way. But for those of us that message spoke to it was powerful and positive and transformational. If it’s not your jam, find another one…

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        This is yet another example of a “mean girl” writing mean things about other women online. In one sentence, she states “how dare she tell me what to do” and in the next sentence, she basically tells her readers what to do.
        I, too, questions where the anger towards Lean In comes from in this post and in the one where she is so rude about a spouse death.
        We all have choices. No one is forcing us to work, stay at home, have children, garden all day or write mean blog posts about other women.
        This type of anger fulled post makes us work against one another, instead of suggesting/implying/writing that we all have to figure out what works best for us, our children, our families and our homes.
        No finger pointing on my part. You want to Lean In, go for it. You want to stay home with your children and read to them, go for it.
        What I wish we would not do, is encourage Penelope (not her real name and yet writes about being authentic in other posts) to be mean to other women just because they chose a different path than she did; jealousy/envy is not becoming.

        • Lara
          Lara says:

          Agreed. P is convinced her choices are the right choices for all women. That’s confusing. SS offers just one more option for women. And, dare I note, P is very much leaning in to her career/life choices. Good for her. Good for us all.

      • Kay
        Kay says:

        Agreed. People take other people way too seriously. P you overestimate Sandberg’s impact on people’s lives. You totally care about the whole role model thing.

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      I am sorry, but when you are COO of Facebook, there is no “audience that does not include you”. When Sheryl says women are not in leadership for a lack of the right attitude, or that she thinks half the leadership positions should be filled in by women, that reaches every woman, including those who never bought the book.

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        What is wrong with thinking half the leadership positions should be filled in by women? There are plenty of women who *want* to fill them (and are qualified to). There are plenty of men who don’t (and who aren’t).

        • Julia
          Julia says:

          The proportions of men and women wanting to do the necessary sacrifices for a leadership position are certainly not the same and when she says that, it can only mean she thinks more women should work, and work more, and that less women should lean or drop out. She is saying we should be doing it differently.

          And while there is no rule as to whether a woman (or man) should feel this or that way towards caring for and being with their children, the fact that women are in principle the main caregivers for their own children at least in the first couple of years is not set to change soon (hopefully, I would add, though I accept one might think otherwise). If you have nannies on call and are willing to use them, it probably does not make a difference, but for the regular folk, being the mother is one strong point in favor of leaning out.

          • Laura
            Laura says:

            In regard to: “And while there is no rule as to whether a woman (or man) should feel this or that way towards caring for and being with their children, the fact that women are in principle the main caregivers for their own children at least in the first couple of years is not set to change soon (hopefully, I would add, though I accept one might think otherwise).”

            1. Not all women want to breed.
            2. Accepting “women as primary caregiver” as status quo is the reason books like “Lean In” are so necessary to begin with.

            I think it is completely fine if you choose to be the primary caregiver for your child. In fact, you don’t have to fight for that right since that’s the assumption and you’ll find little resistance along that path.

            But there is simply not an infrastructure in place yet to support those who (1) choose not to breed; (2) choose a 50/50 partnership in terms of splitting childcare duties with their significant others; or (3) choose people such as nannies to raise their children (which is, for some women, the more financially viable option, since the choice to leave the workforce will stagnate (if not decrease!) their wages .

            That is the world “Lean In” fights to make available for women who love to work. And some of us do. So yes…hopefully the *expectation* for women to drop their careers, have babies, and become professional mothers does change.

    • Aurora Moore
      Aurora Moore says:

      Seriously. Penelope- your ongoing anger at SS reveals how hard it still is for you to lean into your choices, your privilege and your life narrative. We are all working every day to create lives of meaning, joy and security, and sometimes that requires leaning in to the corporate world, and sometimes that means leaning in to your garden, or your kids, and some of us have the choice to do all of it and some of us don’t really have the choice to do any of it, but to be angry at each other as women is to negate the fact that we all the choice about what messages and advice we internalize, and we all need to take responsibility for how we react to the circumstances we are living. I mean, shit, we could all decide to hate you, Penelope, for getting to live the romantic farm life, for getting to garden every day, for being able to lean out. I’ve been trying to get pregnant for 10 years and at this point all I can do is lean in to my job because there are no kids around me, and besides that my field is getting more competitive by the day and the people with kids at my work are the ones who manage to negotiate less travel so I’ll take one for the team and to preserve my job….the amount of leaning one must do is not always a matter of choice, and it is not something about which we women should criticize ourselves or each other. Or maybe I should just go get some plastic surgery so I can have a do-over?! ?

  32. Moses
    Moses says:

    Woow! That was brave. It feels great to vent like this and let someone know that you are pissed off. Which Editor would publish this? None. And thats why we own our spaces and speak out minds our. Thank you Penelope for your honesty.

  33. Bri R
    Bri R says:

    We need to move to a point where we’re not talking ad nauseam about women’s role and place in the business world. We need to see past gender and only focus on the quality of work being offered. By not giving any energy to it, we will move to a place of neutrality, and consequently, quality. And it starts with us as women not self-identifying as ‘women’ business players and just business players. Alas, often it’s women that see much through the gender lens and freely offer platitudes of how a women ‘should be’ in the workplace. As a player in business, I never see myself as someone marked for gender. I’m just a highly educated person who got great results in the teleco and finance industries just by doing my work really well, being innovative, supporting my team and driving hard. Simple.

  34. Alina
    Alina says:

    One thing about her book that I was struck by was that it wasn’t really the empowering manifesto that it was hailed to be, but more of a ‘life according to Sheryl’. Repeatedly, her epiphanies came with personal experiences – having to walk too long from her parking spot (women walk way longer than that when pregnant, and are advised to unless they have specific medical conditions), not having a bathroom for women next to the meeting space etc. This new epiphany is just a continuation of that process – she realises that there is a problem when she is faced with a particular situation. But, self-centered or not, her campaign has brought a lot of awareness and even more conversations around gender diversity in the working place. Not all of her messages were realistic – if someone’s partner out-earns them by miles, it’s a difficult choice to make to ask them to take a step back so that you can take one forward. And the opportunity has to be fit for the ask. Not too mention that that there is a price to pay. I just wish people would stop trying to defend their own choices by demolishing the others’. Also, leaning in is not easier – not for everyone. Mostly because it’s rare that your average working mom can afford ‘two nannies and a house manager’ (and i sense a bit of a spitting contest here), and more often than not they can afford part-time help and end up running between work and children. So please make allowances that your message is also not for everyone, either. I talk to plenty of young mothers who stopped working because they felt that trying to do everything made them feel they did nothing right.

  35. Kim
    Kim says:

    The post and comments represent the power of stories, anecdotes and how we “embroider” our own stories, narrative into the narrative in Sheryl’s book. I agree that Lean In was to give more guidance to women in the workplace who choose to be there and want to advance. I also agree there are women doing this with means and without means…there is a whole shift of what people can tap into (if they have the funds or web of people) to help run their households and raise their children. For some who feel left out of this narrative/option, struggling or not important to society, perhaps there is anger. Time is not infinite. And I’ve learned time is my most important currency (didn’t know that in my 20s).

    On this same day where we talk about our narratives and experiences, there’s a track going on out there…where the data is being looked at as well…hopefully, both will make life better for all or provide support and joy for the choice you want to make vs. feeling like the choice is a draining battle.

  36. Mirana
    Mirana says:

    1) Well, you have a very luxurious life, that you cannot lean in, for most people this is not a choice and they still have to take care of their children and sick relatives etc. It sounds to me that you are upper 20% and therefore not at all representative for the rest of US or World population.

    2) People that admit their mistakes are definitely more admirable than people bashing others.

    3) Why nobody asks men how much time they spend with their kids? The problem is not lean in or not.

  37. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    One of my great grandfathers had a vegetable and strawberry farm. One of his daughters (my grandmother) had her own garden later in her life when I knew her. One of the things she grew was rhubarb. Also I remember she was a great cook. And she made the most delicious rhubarb pie. Thanks for reminding me of that fact.

  38. lisa lahey
    lisa lahey says:

    All women work…..whether it’s inside or outside the house every women in this world works……p.s. women with time on their hands who choose to volunteer in the community in any manner are also working.

  39. Salem
    Salem says:

    I don’t know much about Lean In, only that its intention is to empower women and equality in today’s workplace and socioeconomic landscape. All good stuff. But I have 2 questions as a naive male. 1.) Is leaning in about having zero work life balance? that’s how this rant reads … either you have life or you have work, there is no in between? 2.) Who gives two turds about Sheryl Sandberg? She is one person. She has been successful. She is an advocate for women’s empowerment and equal rights/ opportunity/ professional and social status. So tell me again how she is unique? In reading this, you’d think she is capable of unassisted flight or curing cancer with a single tear. I get that she has/d a great platform from which to advocate… but it sounds like lean in is a cult and people are now realizing that empowerment is up to you. Not some B.S. that a corporate exec spews as gospel.

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