All this talk about Marissa Mayer becoming the first pregnant CEO of a Fortune 500 company….it got me thinking. I’m excited for new barriers to be broken down, no doubt, but the coverage made me think I was in a time warp. Aren’t we past this, people? Can we focus on the issue at hand – how she plans to turn around Yahoo!? How the board was able to lure her from Google, where she’d worked all her adult life?
I wrote an essay a few months ago about women’s career and baby decisions. Now seems like as good a time as any to publish it.
It was my first day back to work after an impossibly long 10 week paternity leave. I was only supposed to get 2 weeks off, but I took some vacation, Christmas came, and it was a slow environment for consulting so I didn’t get staffed for a while. After 10 weeks off, coming back to work was Monday on steroids. I simply couldn’t get interested in anything but my little 10-week-old boy at home.
I was trying to focus on the media industry but McKinsey Associates are all generalists. So this one was in the insurance industry, and was little and less interested. The first few hours that morning were typical for the start of a McKinsey project: the partner delivers an inspirational vision of the project, leaves the room, and then a stressed out junior manager tries to tame the absurd amount of forthcoming work into manageable workstreams for each of us on the team. I drank a lot of coffee.
We took a break for lunch at Brasserie, around the corner from the office. Normally we’d eat at the in-house cafeteria, or grab food from a deli, but the manager decided that we should get to know each other, and that a fancy lunch would make us like him.
I looked around the restaurant. It’s a great spot for people-watching because the restaurant floor is sunken from the street, and the stairway cuts right through the middle of the room. So each entrance is like a new presenter coming on stage at the Oscar’s, or a model on a catwalk. There were crisp dress shirts with fancy patterns and matching colorful socks. Scarves. Mostly I remember the hair gel.
I felt like an alien on another planet. Filled with good-looking people who spend a lot of time grooming themselves and clearly have not experienced the joy of bringing a life into the world.
The team wasn’t any better. We sat there for 2 hours talking about airline points and hotel status. One of my new colleagues explained how, when he travels, he checks out of the hotel every morning and checks back in at night. It’s easier to reach status levels with Starwood on number of ‘stays,’ rather than number of nights, and each new check-in is considered a new ‘stay.’ You have to drag your suitcase around with you but you can reach status much more quickly.
No one asked about my 10 week old boy, who, the day before, was snuggled into a sling against my chest, gripping my little finger with all the force he had, while I walked through the park singing to him. There was no way to offer such a thing into the conversation. I didn’t say much.
The insurance project was canceled after 2 days, and then I was staffed on a new project for a fledgling cable network. Before I knew it, I got distracted by some tricky financial modeling, and I found myself staying late at the office, trying to finish things, to feel that rush of success, of completion. I was started to regain my sea legs.
I remember that impossibly strong connection I felt to my newborn child, and the palpable emptiness of trying to readjust back into a world that seemed foreign and shallow.
But I pushed through it, because I am a man. Because my role is to provide for my family. I am biologically programmed to bring home bacon.
Females are different. The survival of the species depends on females to nurture their young, and therefore the proper place for them is in the home, suckling their babes.
Actually, no. That’s backwards and barbaric and not even based on biology, at least according to the programs I watch on TV with my 4 year old.
Take lions, for example. Female lions do suckle their babes, but they also go out and hunt for food. They protect their cubs and provide everything they need. The only responsibility of male lions is to periodically mount the female lions (and yes, they do take their pick), roar occasionally and walk around the perimeter of the territory pissing on the ground.
Does that sound like an interesting model for our society, based on mammalian biology? [Actually, as a man...let me think about that for a minute...]
Come on. Let’s cut the crap about all these biological models.
The choice of whether to go back to work is a personal choice, based on what is economically possible and what will make a woman happy. My wife chose to stay home with our kids, and we are lucky enough financially that this is an option for us. She has good days and bad days, but overall I think she is happy with her choice. It is absolutely not the right thing for everyone.
Sitting on the floor with a 2 year old for 10 hours a day is mind-numbing. I love my children desperately but I seriously don’t know what parents did before the iPhone.
So when I talk to women in the office, and they find out that my wife doesn’t work, I often go out of my way to explain that I’m not judging them, that everyone makes their own choices and that I respect their decision. I’m sure I take it too far. Most women probably think I’m just this intense guy who is overcompensating for some religion-based conservative view of the world.
Women should do what feels right for them. What they think will make them happy. To me, it has little to do with the children, at least directly. An unhappy stay-at-home mom is a much worse influence on a child than a mix of good child care and parents who lead fulfilling lives.
I don’t fly much anymore. And when I do, I’m just a regular guy in seat 34E, no status, no upgrades. The flight attendant always gives the same lecture. If the oxygen masks come down, you put your own mask on first, then assist your children. Instinctually that feels wrong, it feels against human nature, because you always want to protect your kids first.
But it’s the right thing to do. And it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of that every now and then. The survival of our species depends on it.