Leaning in isn't the Problem - It's What's Leaning on Us

A mom working and holding her baby

Michelle Obama made news recently for some colorful words (well, one colorful word in particular) about marriage and equality and how difficult it still is for women to have families and careers.

Men, she intimated, aren’t expected to do their share. “Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all,” she said to knowing cheers in Brooklyn last week. “It ain’t equal. I tell women that whole ‘you can have it all’ — mmm, nope, not at the same time.

“It’s not always enough to lean in because that [um, stuff] doesn’t work all the time,” she said.

To which women everywhere said – yes!!

Oh, Mrs. Obama. Thank you for the dose of truth. Women are trying. The problem isn’t that they aren’t leaning in enough – the real problem is what’s leaning on them:

  • The lion's share of family care
  • The lion's share of care for parents
  • The mental load of all those people remembering where everybody’s supposed to be and when
  • The expectation that all of the above is their prescribed job

Oh right and work.

Any more leaning and they’ll tip over.

What they need is a little help from their friends – and their jobs.

How about we start by changing the way we talk about dads. Working Mother’s Meredith Bodgas had it right when she said, “Working Moms Won't Get More Support at Home Until Dads Get More Support at Work (Seriously).” It’s exasperating to read about women saddled with all of the above, and then getting penalized for handling it. On the other hand, “When men broach child-care issues,” wrote the Atlantic about the challenges facing women in TV news, “management celebrates their fatherly duties and usually bends over backwards to accommodate them.“

Gasp.

There are bright spots. It was refreshing to read an article about child care “How Detroit businesses and institutions are contributing to employee welfare with on-site childcare” – that led off with a dad. "I mainly drive the kids in and take them home three days a week or more,” dad Joe Dudek told writer Melinda Clines. “So, to be able to have that time with them, just me and them, has been awesome." Just as refreshing was the fact that the developer thought to put child care on the campus in the first place (thanks, Bedrock!).

And this year's inaugural Best Companies for Dads list shows fathers picking up at the center, and also taking leave, using flexible hours, and staying home with kids with runny noses all because a growing number of employers are letting dads be parents, too. Wouldn’t it be great if there was more of that? With the help of such enlightened employers, maybe one day there will be. Dare to dream.

Thanks for the candor, Mrs. Obama.

Maybe leaning in isn’t the answer. What we really need is support to prop us up.

Maybe, just maybe, with a little help from our friends, we’ll be able to stand up straight.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.