Choosing not to take family leave in corporate America
Having it all means more than getting ahead in the corporate world.
Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo, recently announced her plans for taking “limited time off” while expecting as well as soon after giving birth to her twin daughters. The girls are due in December. Basically, her message was the pregnancy and birth were not going to slow her down in respect to her career and duties as a top executive.
I did something similar as an administrator in a nonprofit when my youngest was on his way. I did not take any time off other than the week I was in the hospital — I had a planned C-section. Even then, I had my laptop with me in the maternity suite and was in touch with the office regularly.
For Mayer, comparisons are being made between how she is handling her expanding family and how a man in her position would handle it. If dad’s who are CEOs can work while expecting a child and hit the grindstone the day after baby arrives, why shouldn’t moms?
Those who would criticize the decision might ask, “What about the baby?” Those who have not been through it might assume careers are prioritized over the children and family unit in such a scenario. But that assumption may not be accurate.
First, let’s clarify that Mayer is not the first woman to head back to work right after giving birth. While I did it for similar reasons, there are women who also do it out of necessity. Many women simply cannot afford to take six, eight or twelve weeks off after the birth of a child. I dare say there is crossover between working moms who do not take much, if any, maternity leave and tag team parents.
Next, how does a mom who jumps right from the hospital bed back into the workforce prioritize and bond with baby? Again, it happens more frequently than you might think. My youngest was with me at work a lot during his first few weeks. And for his first four years, I held him much of the time we were together. You cannot spoil a baby by holding it too much. That was my mantra. He began his freshman year of college last month — I’m still suffering from separation anxiety.
Lastly, is it worth it? While yes, women can certainly do it all when it comes to marriage, family and career, I would have done a few things differently in a do-over. Just as career-driven men who have “it all” bring regrets with them to their deathbeds, women are equally susceptible to living out their lives under the assumption that focusing on their careers above all else is a sign of strength, power and status only to discover that enjoying life with family and friends is what it’s really all about.
Of course women deserve the same opportunities as men in all aspects of life from career to family. Women should run Fortune 500 companies, be elected to the highest political offices and also be blessed with children and grandchildren — just like men. But we also need to understand that part of the “having it all” package includes missed moments, extra stress, regrets and sometimes even an early grave.
The key for both women and men is in striking a balance that provides fulfillment, prosperity, good health and happiness. In my do-over, I would have started working on seeking that balance a bit sooner.