What the decision to return to work after 1 to 2 weeks by Yahoo! CEO and new mom Marissa Mayer COULD represent for working mothers everywhere is simply that this is but one example of how a powerful woman handled the work/life balance.
Honestly. Speculation and preconceptions about powerful women aside, there it is. She is just one example reflecting what works for her. And, she has been both criticized and celebrated for this decision.
In typical “Mommy Wars” style, we have taken to our keyboards and airways in alarm in response to Mayer’s announcement. How can this be? She is attempting the impossible! She is an ice queen! Or (gasp) worse, she is Superwoman!!!
Surely, she has the resources and ability to employ top caretaking and household support. Surely, she feels pressure to send a strong leadership message early on in her tenure; a maternity leave could prove disastrous in the male-dominated world of big business leadership.
I don’t really care, nor do I know, what kind of person, or mother, Mayer really is. But, I do care about what, inevitably, her decision WILL mean for women and the workforce.
It will feed yet another debate into the already tempestuous and complicated “Mommy Wars,” a war waged every day in our homes, on the internet, and in the workplace…and fueled in the media.
…Which leads us to the question of why the uproar. Mothers have been going back to work quickly for years for a number of reasons, including financial constraints, not being covered by FMLA, other considerations, and even personal preference – none of which have captured public attention quite like this.
It’s not really about what kind of mother she is perceived to be (though we mothers will judge her up and down for that as well). It’s also not solely because she was hired as the first female CEO – and a pregnant one at that – at one of America’s largest firms.
The real uproar is because there is an underlying fear that the other shoe is about to drop.
The presumption from this story is that new mothers have the ability to return to work immediately, or at least quickly, if only they would elect to do so, like Mayer did. The potential implication here is that we are impossibly Superwomen, because Mayer and others like her have unequivocally proven that we can be.
This is a huge step back for advancements in the availability of work/life balance in the workforce.
The potential resulting message of this new debate is clear: Women, choose sides. Are you a good professional or a good mother? What? You wanted to be both? Shame on you for presuming such a thing could be done! Employers, if you were looking for validation for requiring less work/life balance and for requiring (or pressuring) new mothers to return to work before they have healed and settled their baby into their home and family, now you have it. If the CEO of Yahoo! can do it, surely your workers can too!
Really… enough is enough. In our quest to meet all of the conflicting and unrealistic expectations in today’s world, we have already “superwomaned” ourselves into a tizzy. We can bear no further unrealistic expectation and judgment.
We are already a nation of over-extended and exhausted mothers, suffering from the very “Mommy War” judgments to which we also contribute. We strive to exceed expectations in the workforce, complete full time caretaking duties even if on a part time schedule, navigate the minefield of conflicting choices facing today’s parents, and still maintain the vast majority (or all) of the household and family management responsibilities. And, we must do this while looking like a magazine model, complete with all baby weight dropped within minutes of delivering our little one – because if the Hollywood starlets can do that, then so can we, darn it!
Disturbingly, the pressure to meet unrealistic or differing expectations has somehow turned us into a pack of wolves, clawing at each other’s individual, family and professional decisions. For, if theirs conflict with our own, what does that say about them? About us? About the society we live in? Who’s doing it “right”? Who’s doing it “wrong”? Who’s doing it better?
Or, better yet, how in the heck can anyone do “it” well at all?
The madness has to end.
Unfortunately, what Mayer probably wished her decision will mean to women and the workforce is…nothing.
Her unique set of circumstances, values, and supports contributed to her personal decision and reflects no one else’s life or abilities. We can only hope the debate ends here.