By Connie Schultz
A Million Ways to “Lean In” For working mothers, there’s no such thing as one right path
bout a year ago, a reporter asked if I had a photo from the early days of my journalism career. I found only one picture, taken in 1988 by my son, Andy. What a sight. I’m 30, sitting on the ﬂoor by the coffee table wearing goggle-glasses, a bathrobe, and big-hair bangs that look as if they were chopped with nail clippers. Nine-monthold Caitlin is on my lap, her hands reaching for mine as I peck away on my Smith Corona. I was a freelance writer on deadline. Looking at that picture, I can still feel the fatigue and the pride of that moment. This was my version of having it all, or as much as I could handle. Six years would pass before I took a job at a newspaper. By then, I was also a single mother. The trajectory of my adult life—from stay-at-home mom to part-time worker to full-time employee—was not uncommon for my generation. We were the direct beneﬁciaries of the women’s movement, wrestling with options. Like many of my friends, I cobbled together as best I could the modern feminist’s life. A parenting group was my lifeline. We talked about kids and husbands, but we also dared to imagine out loud our future careers. Over
YOU HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE
That’s me, at age 30: a freelance writer and mom, trying to have it all.
the years, one by one, we found our way into new professions. I’ve been thinking a lot about that time in my life after reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In. I gave the book a mixed review for the Washington Post, but I emphasized that I was buying it for my daughters and daughterin-law. I want them to read it and talk about it with one another and their friends. I also hope it gives them a little insight into the choices I made. Increasingly, I’m feeling the need to explain myself.
Sandberg encourages young women not to make incremental decisions for their careers based on future plans, particularly when it comes to having children. “Don’t leave before you leave,” she writes, and it’s
We’d love to hear how other women have managed their families and careers. Join the conversation at parade.com/connie
good advice. I bristle, though, at the notion that women who sideline their careers to have children are putting a permanent brake on their ambition. It wasn’t true for me, nor for many women I know. One of my best friends, Gaylee McCracken, was a stayat-home mom, an artist, and a high-octane volunteer. When her kids were in high school, she started medical school. She was 42. “I’m going to be 50 someday anyway,” she said. “I may as well be 50 and a doctor.” Today, at 60, Gaylee is beloved by her patients, most of whom are women. Looking back on her life so far, she can easily see a narrative unfold. “I was meant to be a healer,” she told me recently. “I was 7 when I took care of my mother, when she had cancer. I raised two great kids, and I’m stronger today because I was a parent. Now I’m taking care of women.” Gaylee and I were workingclass kids who grew up thinking anything was possible if you gave it your all and had a friend or two who believed in you. On the day she graduated from medical school, we danced to Motown at the reception while others politely sipped their tea. Sandberg is right to encourage young women to imagine the biggest, brightest lives for themselves. I hope her book launches a million conversations. There are at least that many ways to compose a life, and there will always be roads not taken, no matter how high we climb.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF CONNIE SCHULTZ
14 • MARCH 31, 2013
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