Lesley Jane Seymour is Editor In Chief, Brand Reinventor and Builder, Connector, Advocate, Sustainability Expert
In her speech Thursday night introducing her mother Hillary, Chelsea Clinton said: “Whenever my mom was away for work … she left notes for me to open for each day she was gone. I treasured each and every one of those notes. They were another reminder that I was always in her thoughts and in her heart.” My heart jumped with instant recognition. At first I thought, oh, my God, I did that too! I guess Hillary must be a good mom because we did the same thing (this was obviously the warm, domestic-mommy connection the Democratic campaign hoped to make for a candidate who has been criticized for being mechanical and distant).
Then: Wow, Hillary and I must have read the same article suggesting guilt-wracked working mothers make those notes–how is that for kismet? Later: I hope my kids, like Chelsea, remember all the wacky gimmicks I used to assuage my guilt about not staying home full-time; or were the notes forgotten, like the dozens of baseball games and ballet recitals I left-early from work to attend? (My kids managed to guilt me for the one or two I missed.) And note, I wasn’t the worst guilt assuage-er: I knew many female executive friends who spent Sunday’s before they traveled, cooking meals to leave in the freezer with notes for their families!
And then this morning I felt suddenly very sad. Why, I asked, was it that while running a major national magazine (Marie Claire) and raking in a significant part of the income that supported our family, did I feel I had to spend weeks planning and writing notes (and wrapping small gifts–my own obsessive addition) for my kids so they wouldn’t feel abandoned by me?
(PS: For the record, Lake just told me she has zero memory of any of my notes; how terrific!)
Contrast my self-imposed antics with the fact that my husband left home at 5:30 AM and returned well after the kids went to bed–for years. He never penned cards or left guilty gifts. All he had to do to be considered a „good father” was earn a living. Nor was he ever on the receiving end of a good friend saying to his face, „Well, I decided to quit my corporate job and stay home because I love my children.” Which left the receiver of that barb (me) obsessing over the proposition that I obviously chose to work because I don’t love my kids.
And can we even imagine how bonkers the Twitterverse would have gone if Chelsea had said about her mother what Ivanka said about her father: „In the same office in Trump Tower, where we now work together, I remember playing on the floor by my father’s desk…” If Hillary had left Chelsea playing by her desk at a law firm or–for shame!–at the State Department,she would have been demonized as being cold, disengaged, and unfit to lead anyone, never mind a nation. Instead the stereotypical image that popped into my mind for Ivanka was that of The-On-The-Phone-(or On-Twitter) Donald seated at his desk while a kindly (female) secretary hovered nearby to make sure his little girl didn’t accidentally stick her finger in an electric socket or choke to death on a pen cap.
Now that my children are a fully-baked 21 and 25 and didn’t turn out to be mass-murderers or psycho patients (that really was the implied threat), it makes me sorry that we still make women feel guilty about wanting (or needing) to work. Just look at the recent uproar created when Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer returned to work only two weeks after giving birth. Though I sense that the next generation of mothers are finally beginning to rebel against this double standard of female executive-and-maternal perfection, it’s dismaying to discover that the political world must still offer up a candidate’s mommy-bonafides for a woman who President Obama himself said „has never been….. more qualified…to serve as president of the United States of America.”
So what can you do to help lift this burden of the double standard for women?
Be aware that you are judging. If you find yourself thinking about or discussing negatively those who made a different work/life balance decision than you did–just stop. You can’t know another person’s issues and you certainly don’t want them to judge you for all of the things you didn’t do perfectly. (You know you are being judge-y if you can substitute a man’s name for the woman you are criticizing and you suddenly don’t feel so disgusted with her choice).
Try to be a kind and thoughtful manager and respond to the needs of both sexes equally (you can try the name substitution game here). And don’t forget the single workers: they need the same kind of personal-time consideration parents get.
Tell people you manage that in a crisis, they should always choose their family first. I know this goes against what most corporations want us to tell employees, but as I said to my staff every week: you can always get another job, but you can’t get another child or husband.