When you released your book Lean In back in 2013, I found myself deeply conflicted.
While I am passionate about unleashing the unlimited potential of women, and believe that as women we have the right to do and become whatever we want, I also believe that this “right” is really the right to choose, unapologetically and without the judgement of others…especially other women.
To me your book felt a little declarative and judgmental.
While your intentions may have been to empower and inspire, there was an element that felt condescending and I felt reactive to it. But again, my gut told me that at a fundamental level, you were calling all women to advocate for themselves and for the careers and success to which we are entitled.
However, even given my gut feeling about your intentions, I found myself, at the same time, questioning your motives and wanting to defend every woman’s right to choose whatever kind of life, with or without a “career”, that she wants. I also felt myself wanting to stand up for single mothers of any kind…by choice or not. At the time of Lean In’s release, you had your husband and unlimited resources, how could you possibly relate to me or any other single mom.
But then you lost your husband….and in such a public way. My heart broke for you as it does for everyone who suffers a deep and excruciatingly painful loss of someone they love.
And as I continued to honor your loss, I silently knew that you would feel differently about your book once the reality of being a widowed mother set in.
I know that you still mourn his loss, and that the pain will not ever go away, which is why I wanted to express my appreciation for the facebook post you wrote on mother’s day acknowledging the strength and resilience of single mothers, and in many ways, admitting that you may have been wrong about a few things. I give you so much credit for doing so, again in such a public way…and I honor your honesty.
My life, like yours and every single one of us, has not quite gone the way that I imagined it would. I have been divorced 12 years, and worked tirelessly as a single, home owning mother in a quiet suburban town to raise my young children. I couldn’t afford to be a stay at home mom, and because of the realities of sharing custody, not having a lot of financial resources and wanting to show up as the kind of mother I choose to be, I also couldn’t pursue the professional career I knew I could and “should” have. I couldn’t lean in the way you described…my circumstance simply had realities that made it impossible to do so.
Instead I had to prioritize, compromise and make choices based on ever changing realities that included money, my children’s needs and creating a life and new love that made me feel happy, healthy and whole. Honestly, that has been the driver of all of my choices because that is what has allowed me to be not only a present and loving mother, but a mother who leads. Maternal leadership is something I am passionate about and that leadership comes with resilience and consistently making strategic and intentional choices that teach my children how to do it for themselves. After all, they will experience all kinds of things, beautiful pleasure and painful loss, in their journey into manhood and they will also need to master resilience in order to do so.
We can never walk in another’s shoes.
Sometimes you find the partner that will be with you forever, and sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes you have the resources to act on your courage and competency in a big way, and sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes your life offers few challenges and an open path towards creating what you desire, and sometimes it doesn’t.
And while life is imperfect and deeply flawed, as we as humans also are, it is beautiful, mysterious and a guide to our best selves if we allow it. Your recent commencement speech touched on this.
I am most grateful that you have recently used your public platform and success to honor the challenges of being a single mother, but I am so sorry that it came as a result of the loss of your husband.
I wanted to make sure that you know how much I feel for you as you now move forward in your next chapter as a single mother and that you are not alone; resources or not, it is still a role that is turbulent at best.
And to every one of you beautiful women reading this, you have the right to choose whatever life you want. And remember, you have the right to make a new choice each and every day. Yes, it is your right.