…that is the question.
This past Christmas, I bought myself a special gift. I ordered the weekend edition of The New York Times. On Sunday evenings, I kick everyone out of the living room so I can indulge in stories that are above my reading comprehension level.
In the latest New York Times Book Review, there is a Q&A section with Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg. The mega-executive, mother and author seems like a woman I should idolize based on her workplace and home-life practices. She claims to eat dinner with her children every evening, she prefers “real” books to iPad downloads, she enjoys the humor of Tina Fey, and she never leaves the house without a spiral notebook and Bic pen to capture ideas. Her career is steeped in advanced technologies, yet her personal approach is rather old school. I think I might really love this woman if I could get to know her, but something makes me want to cover her face with my coffee cup.
Why? Because she wants me to “Lean In” and I want to sit back.
It’s another book about balance and the way women ought to be. Another 300 pages of why I should do this and why I should do that. Another anthology of ways to get the life I’m supposed to want. Another guide to having it all.
News flash: I don’t want it all.
What kind of message does this send to my daughters, though? What type of influence is this having on them? They didn’t know me when I got my first essay printed in a national magazine at 14, or when my poems were accepted by a Manhattan publishing house at 16. They didn’t know me when I produced and hosted talk shows, or when I graduated from college a semester early. They didn’t know me when I became the marketing and business development director of a high-powered law firm in my mid-twenties, or when I drove a cute Audi A4 to and from that job. They didn’t see me in New York or Scottsdale or Miami or Boston.
I had that life. And now I have this one.
My daughters see me tapping on the laptop at all hours of the day and night, pounding out blogs and pages for a children’s book. They see me in jeans and a button-down shirt, running in and out of their school with flyers for this event and that fundraiser. They see me pushing a cart of groceries to my SUV– a Chevy Equinox with Goldfish cracker dust jammed into the seams of the seat. They see me without makeup and with hair out of place.
So I’ve had parts of “it all” — just not all at once.
Let’s jump ahead for a moment: What will I do or say if Ava (almost 10) comes to me one day and announces that she wants to go to a local liberal arts college and get a B.A. in English, become a writer, get married, have three kids and work from home?
What will I do or say if Maryn (age 7) comes to me one day and announces that she wants to go to Harvard all the way through medical school, become a plastic surgeon and move to Los Angeles to snip and tuck the faces of the Beverly Hills elite?
How would you respond? How should you respond?
Lean in or sit back?
Now sitting back is not the same as sitting on your a**. I sit to write, and that’s about it. I’m usually very busy as a commercial writer, newspaper blogger, communications instructor and PR consultant. But I’m not shattering the glass ceilings at Facebook or Yahoo. Am I a leader in my daughters’ eyes? Maybe. I certainly know how to get them out the door in the mornings.
But as a mother, aren’t I supposed to setting a more ambitious example? Shouldn’t I be motivating them to reach higher? Shouldn’t I be the type of mom who coaches them to dream big but to achieve bigger?
As a parent, I’m leaning in. I’m ALL IN. I’m actively involved in everything our girls do, from homework to outside interests. I push them to try hard and study, to get good grades and positive feedback. I demand that they behave and conduct themselves like young ladies. I want them to do well and go far. Don’t we all?
However, when it’s time for Ava and Maryn to make their own life choices, am I going to encourage them to lean in and take charge or sit back and assist? That’s where it gets complicated. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I love my simple life, so that makes it successful in my book. I was in charge of a lot of things at one time in my career, but then I discovered that my best work was performed on the sidelines, helping. I found great purpose in being a follower. Tell me what you need done and I’ll do it.
But is a seemingly easier life a waste of potential and talent? If my daughters want to be “housewives” one day, will I be (secretly) disappointed?
I don’t have the answer to that. I do know that we’ll give them the best chances to make the best lives for themselves, however that phrase is defined. But whether the girls choose to lean in or sit back, I feel certain that both of them will find a way to stand out.