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Lean In, Lean Over or Lean Out?


I recently read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg -- after, oh, about 100 people told me that I should.

It had almost become a joke. At least once a week, for more than a year, the book has come up in some conversation I've had.

The truth is, I had avoided reading it because I am a Must-Have Parent, which is to say, I know there's only so far that I can lean in.

That's the problem, isn't it? We lean in, or at least we really want to, but we hit a wall, and it's not even a distant wall. 

It's a wall built of financial concerns, childcare options, soccer practice, daycare centers that close at six, and no Plan Bs. 

It's virus season, school holidays, and teacher conferences and recitals. It's traveling teams, and lessons, and therapy appointments and birthday parties, and ... Life.

So can a Must-Have Parent perform the duties we signed on for and still push the envelope?

Can we raise our sons and daughters reasonably and responsibly and still help make the world they inherit one where our sons and daughters will have equal options?

Can we lean in, too?

Yes! We! Can!*

(*But only if that MHP is a man or a lesbian.)

Allow me to explain: A male MHP has reached, I'd say, about the 9th level of feminism, a lofty state where he metaphorically hovers just under the Buddha himself.

A male MHP not only believes that women have the ability to attain and achieve, but he has put his own life up as proof, by allowing his partner to lean in.

This is why we tend to fall all over ourselves to compliment stay-at-home dads. They're more feminist than feminists, whether they mean to be or not.

And a lesbian MHP is in, at worst, in a neutral situation. She certainly is enabling that one really important woman in her life to grab that brass ring, so she's definitely leaning in for the cause in that way, even if she isn't leaning in to her own career.

But what about the rest of us? Can a heterosexual woman who chooses to take on the bulk of the household and family responsibilities while her husband earns the bulk of the pay still be supporting the efforts to achieve equal pay and equal advancement opportunities for women?

I like the pioneering free-range parent Lenore Skenazy's take best: We CAN both lean in and lean out simultaneously if we set more realistic expectations for ourselves by not over-parenting.

The point of feminism, and I believe Sheryl Sandberg would agree, is that women need options. I have two daughters and it grieves me to think that when they enter the workforce, their gender might keep them from getting promoted or earning the pay they deserve.

But it also grieves me to think that my daughters or my son might feel forced onto a certain path simply because of gender expectations. What if one of my children, my daughters or my son, wants to be an MHP one day?

Feminism was supposed to be about choices, and Sandberg certainly says that in her book. She never says that all women should be in the workforce. She expresses admiration for those who aren't. 

And we do have choices now. We chose to become an MHP, and that's a triumph for feminism. Women who came before us leaned in, and their choices allowed us to lean out.

So lean in, lean out, stand up, recline. Whatever. Just make the choice that makes the most sense in that moment, and you'll be preserving those choices for the next generation.

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Military Parenting Rebekah Sanderlin

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Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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