Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Working moms ‘leaned in’ before the trend

By Meg Hibbert

These days the talk is about “Lean In,” as in the title of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean in: Women Work, and the Will to Lead.”

Those of us women who went to college on a career path, worked and decided to raise families – before, after or during the times we were starting our careers – know what she’s talking about. We did it without thinking, in most cases, and working mothers still are.

I recognized a side of myself in the photograph of Connie Schultz in the March 31 “Parade” magazine. It was her at age 30, a freelance writer and mom, “trying to have it all,” she said, with her infant daughter, Caitlin, sitting on her lap as she typed furiously on a Smith Corona typewriter to make a deadline.

In her case it was 1988. I did the same thing in 1978, with three babies under the age of 4. The first time I realized I couldn’t have it all without sacrificing family life was a few months after son Rex was first born. I quit trying to work in the office of the Amherst New Era-Progress, the weekly newspaper in Amherst County, and freelanced for a couple of years.

I went back to work twice while our children were small, and remembering those days and deadlines, I know I couldn’t have made it without huge support from my husband, Bill, and babysitter and friend Della Wills down the road.

We didn’t have family in Virginia, so I couldn’t call on them for help. Community newspaper work wasn’t so demanding then as now, and I was a reporter, not an editor as I am today. There’s no way I could keep up with a young family and those late-night Tuesday hours we do now to finish up the Salem Times-Register.

Unlike high-powered career women now who feel that taking off time for family will put them behind on their career paths, I didn’t have to choose. Bill had a good job and supported us. I knew I could always write later.

Not everybody has that choice. I grieve for young mothers today who have to work one and two jobs – in addition to their mother jobs – to keep the wolves, or around here, coyotes, away from the door.

In my early mom days, more than 50 percent of young women were still in the home. I’m not sure what the figure is today in the Salem area. The thoughts of young moms today trying to juggle daycare, snow-day day care, summer came child care, sick child care and all the rest exhausts me.

Thank God for all those grandmothers – and great-grandmothers – who are stepping up to help raise the little ones.

I’m sure Sandberg’s book, which I haven’t read and probably won’t, makes valid points. Even though it’s been 30 years since women first made up 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, supposedly men still hold the majority of leadership positions in government and industry.

And the question still is, can women have careers and families, too?

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