When Little Miss was 2.5 months old, I joined a New Mom’s group. It was a support group for new mothers who were trying to figure out how to make our infants happy and healthy while keeping ourselves sane.
During one particular session, one mother announced that she had thrown away all of her parenting books. You know the ones that tell you that if YOU only do A, B, and C, then your BABY will do X, Y, and Z. They’re the ones that leave you crying asking “I’ve done everything they said. Why isn’t my baby doing what s/he should?”
Well, she ditched them all. With a triumphant note in her overtired voice, she declared:
“The babies don’t read the books.”
As well-meaning as all of those parenting books are, they don’t offer solutions for every parent. Some babies will sleep through the night at 8 weeks. Some parents won’t get a full night’s sleep until after their child’s first birthday. And it doesn’t matter what the book says!
My daughter NEVER napped. I would sit at those group meetings and watch all of the 11 other babies sleep nestled in their mother’s arms. Not mine. She might go down in the car or in the swing, but at most, I’d get 45 minutes in a 12 hour day. And no advice I ever read or received helped. I couldn’t force or persuade her to nap.
I read all about children and napping. But all of my reading didn’t have an impact on her.
So where does Lean In come into this discussion? Reading Lean In felt very much like reading one of those parenting books.
If women do A, B, and C, then X, Y, and Z will happen.
Sheryl Sandberg’s book is a well-meaning attempt to offer solutions to the challenges women face in the corporate workplace. And like those parenting books, she makes it all sound so simple.
Get a mentor. Make sure my husband does 50% of the housework. Just leave the office at 5:30 to have dinner with your family. Take a vacation.
But it’s not that simple.
While I think a lot of her advice is very good, for things to change, women can’t be the only one’s adapting, changing, and doing.
Like parents looking for a solution to get their child to sleep, women are buying and reading Lean In. They’re following the media discussion. They gather to hear her speak when she comes to town.
Women can read the book and discuss it amongst ourselves, but to what end? What are we trying to change? Ourselves? The System? Men?
I think for true progress, the answer is all 3.
Unless men read the book and join in the discussion, there won’t be an easy fix.
But men aren’t reading the book, and you could have counted the number of men at her live-event on one-hand. As a friend of mine said, “I’m not sure the men who were there weren’t waiters.”
For a real solution, both women and men need to change and adapt. This can’t be just a woman’s issue.
Otherwise, women are going to be left saying, “I followed all of Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and it still didn’t work out.”