Miriam's Advice Well
Wrestling With the Balance of Work and Home Life
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
By: Rabbi Geri Newburge
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO since March 2008, and her best-selling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, have generated quite a bit of discussion, with some clearly in her camp and others critical of her message. I have not yet read the book. I hope to. As a working mom, the list of books to read is constantly growing. But I have seen Sandberg’s TED talk from 2010 focusing on the same ideas fleshed out in the book. The facts and figures she presents about women in leadership positions are, quite frankly, demoralizing.
Sandberg is not alone in issuing a plea to women to stay in the workforce while sustaining a fulfilling home life. Linda Hirshman, author of Get To Work: A Manifesto for the Women of the World, urges women to work for honor and power, as well as to use their skills and capabilities for the betterment of society. As a guest on The Colbert Report, she reminds viewers that no statistics exist to suggest that children raised by working mothers are any worse off than those with stay-at-home moms.
These powerful and well-spoken women preach a message I internalized at a young age and have tried to live by these past 10 years as a full time congregational rabbi. We should be able to have our cake and eat it, too. As inheritors of the feminists who paved the way for us, we can excel in the workplace and maintain a happy, satisfying home with a partner and children.
Only, it’s much easier said than done. Juggling pressing professional responsibilities (that I cherish and am passionate about) with feeding, bathing and other childcare duties is no small task. Sandberg and Hirshman acknowledge the struggle and offer several solutions or opportunities to persist, though I am not sure how realistic they are.
I consider myself lucky. I have a supportive spouse (also a rabbinic colleage) and a 7-year-old who actually likes having babysitters and is proud of his mommy. On the other hand, you can imagine the thud in my heart when my son asks, “Mommy, who’s coming over to be with me tonight?” So I maintain — easier said than done.
Representing a different perspective is University of Michigan business professor Marina Whitman. A pioneer in her own right — a full-time professor and a corporate executive when it was unusual for women to lead companies —Whitman asserts that "doing it all" is a mirage.
"I think this thing about 'can women have it all?' or 'can't they have it all?' is kind of a silly argument," she said in a CNN report. "Yes, you may have it all, but not all at once."
Certainly there is no one solution. Each family must wrestle with the delicate balance of work and home life. When the needs of all parties cannot be met, something or someone must give — what or who will that be?
Rabbi Geri Newburge is the associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, N.J.