Leaning In, Mommy Wars, and a Dose of Humility

By Jamie Calloway-Hanauer 04-29-2013
Working mother illustration,  iofoto / Shutterstock.com

Working mother illustration, iofoto / Shutterstock.com

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I feel so bothered by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.

I suggested to my husband that maybe I’m being defensive since I am an educated woman in a professional field who has very clearly chosen to “lean out” to spend more time at home. 

Or maybe it’s because I disagree with putting any degree of blame for inequality in the workforce on women.

Or maybe it’s because I don’t like the idea of human capital.

None of those reasons, however, seem to explain why the book and the phrase “lean in” have become such an obsession for me. I certainly consider myself a huge proponent of equality and women’s rights. I have marched, protested, researched, worked toward, and fought for true equality for women all of my adult life.

So my discomfort with Sandberg’s book isn’t because I’m anti-woman or anti-feminist. It isn’t because I disagree with her and want all moms to stay home and bake cookies and volunteer for PTA. It isn’t even because I feel the need to defend my choice to be a 99-percent stay-at-home mom. Instead, it’s because, as a Christian, I believe that the whole idea of “leaning in” does not take into account the principle of putting others before self. (Phil. 2:3-8). This principle applies equally to both women and men.

(Caveat: neither women nor men should be trapped into subservience by children and/or spouse. I am talking about putting the real, rational, and loving needs presented by being part of a family before one’s  individual needs.)

This isn’t to say that wanting to get ahead in the workplace is selfish. I’m sure that sometimes it is, and that sometimes it is not. That said, I do feel comfortable stating that, when one has a family at home, working 60+ hours per week for the sole purpose of obtaining power and a leadership position may be putting self before family, and letting pride and envy take the lead. (cf 1 Timothy 5:8, which states one should provide for family, presumably monetarily).

Sandberg repeatedly states that she couldn’t have made it so far in the workplace without her husband’s help and support. That’s great! They (presumably) came to a decision as a couple that this was the course their life would take. But to say — repeatedly and vehemently — that more women need to follow that same course in life, to say that it’s the fault (in part) of women that they are still treated as lesser beings in society, to say that professional and able women who do not follow that course are somehow damaging society’s potential and the advancement of women, ignores the fact that we all have a higher calling to aspire to: that of humbling ourselves daily and putting the needs of others before our own needs. Of realizing that our time on Earth should be about loving and helping others, about seeking justice.

Of course, Sandberg and others may argue that by being in a position of power and having financial resources to draw on, they are better able to make positive changes in the world, to donate to good causes and influence others to do the same. I don’t disagree with that; just look at Bill and Melinda Gates. (but see Mark 12:41-44). I can’t say enough that everyone’s situation is different, and I don’t profess to know what each family or individual needs. I certainly don’t intend to blindly judge anyone — male or female — for the decisions they make about career and family. 

But, I have to say that in these discussions, these “mommy wars,” and debates about face time vs. flex time and the like, we have a responsibility as Christians to point out that the final decision should come down to what works best for the family, not what works best for the individual person, regardless of gender. This isn’t because family must come first; it is instead because our greatest commandment is to love, and working to achieve status, power, and notoriety is not loving others, it is loving self. 

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a writer, poet, speaker, and attorney living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Andy, and their children. She is a frequent contributor to FaithVillage, and her work also can be found in Literary Mama, the Allegheny Review, and the Collegiate Scholar, among others.www.jamiecallowayhanauer.com

Image: Working mother illustration,  iofoto / Shutterstock.com

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