Six Pieces of Advice for Marissa Mayer on “Having it All”

Marissa Mayer, welcome to the 2012  “Having It All Olympics!”

I’m sure you’re feeling warmly welcomed to this corner of the world now that you’ve announced your Google departure and your new gig as the CEO at floundering Yahoo! And you shared more good news by letting the world know via Twitter that you’re having a baby! But guess what? With those few social media characters,  you officially, but perhaps unwittingly, entered the world of pop culture scrutiny of mothers!

The deafening chorus of those who are both cheering and booing the fact that Mayer is with child as she takes on the corporate tech world brings us back to the work/life discussion we never get enough of — that any high-profile woman who’s pregnant or who has young children is still something of a curiosity worthy of criticism.

In the round of interviews Mayer has given about her move, she’s said that her baby won’t slow her down!  Sounds like her plan is to pop out the kid, take a few weeks leave, and be back to work quicker than you can say, “Give me that damn epidural!”

But Mayer, who’s looking very well-rested and nicely coiffed at the moment, will soon find out what it means to have those ‘when was the last time I slept‘ bags under her eyes and that putting your hair in a ponytail is the motherhood equivalent of primping to go out.

I’m guessing that she thinks she can have the elusive “all.” I’m not a mind reader, but I thought the same thing. So did my younger cousin who has been open about her disillusionment over being told by so many people she trusted that she could manage full-time motherhood and a full-time profession, only to learn the hard way that having it all is really a state of mind, not a physical possibility.

Some rumors are circulating that Mayer’s pregnancy is a non-issue — not because she’s qualified for the job, but  because she’s being set up to take the fall off the glass cliff. Regardless of which version is true, I have a little advice from Mayer, as someone who’s been down the “all-having” road and, at least for the moment, has lived to tell the tale:

1. Be honest with yourself about the possibility that your thinking might change once your new baby boy arrives this fall. There are plenty of us (raising hand here!) who thought we’d give birth to or adopt a child, be home for a few weeks, and head back to that power office while the nanny took care of things. That’s how my generation, and yours, were both raised. It seemed like a total non-issue. But then once that little person is in your life, you start to think — hey, I waited a long time to be a mother. Why would I outsource caring for the one person who means to most to me in the world?  Just sayin’.

2. You’ll never get those days back. There will be plenty of time to burn the midnight oil and assuage disgruntled shareholders down the road. I’m not saying quit and do the so-called “opt out” thing. But do you really have to broadcast to the world that you’ll be working during those few weeks of leave you say you’re taking? Please don’t tell me you plan to be texting a few last work notes in the labor and delivery room.

3. The view of the world is different in your 30s than in your 50s. I know I’m the first to say that 50 is the new 30. But on the announcement of your new gig, I’m remembering where I was when I was 37 — trying to get pregnant, weighing my parenting and professional options from a job with a pretty nice title and a window office. I thought I knew what I wanted, what I’d do and what kind of mother I wanted to be. And maybe you know yourself better than I did then. But as things have progressed and I’m now the mom of a soon-to-be seventh-grader, I see things much differently. Just allow for that possibility.

4. Don’t get fooled by the fancy title. You might be CEO in name, but if things are as in flux as they seem to be at Yahoo!, you might not want to buy too many new business cards. Don’t put all your eggs in that one professional basket or sacrifice yourself or your first motherhood moments for what seems like the golden professional opportunity of a lifetime. There are plenty of stories of others who’ve come before you in the executive world who found out too late that someone was already plotting to make you their sacrifice. Make sure you save the moments you will want to remember as a person, not a chief executive officer.

5. Don’t listen to Sheryl Sandberg. Yes, you might physically be able to be at home at 5:30 p.m. every day, but you’ll be getting no sleep. Not for a long time if you’re managing an infant and the rigors of trying to save a desperate company. As for Anne-Marie Slaughter’s arguments, your “all-having” will in some ways be easier when your son is an infant, but let’s talk in 12 or 13 years about how things shift when you have teens, and how they are able to suck all your attention and focus, and you realize that all the worrying you did when they were toddlers was nothing compared to your fears about cyber-bullying, sexting, drinking, tricky social issues and so much more.

6. Don’t listen to me. I know I’ve just given you all this advice, but don’t listen to me or other critics. Don’t listen to anything but your inner voice.  If working through your maternity leave makes you feel energized and seems like the right path for you, go for it. But just promise me you’ll listen to that voice and take heed of what your inner self is telling you to do when it comes to being a professional and a working mother. Because we’re all tired of having the debate over how women should manage their lives and their parenting.

Be a leader in having your own “all.”

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6 Responses to “Six Pieces of Advice for Marissa Mayer on “Having it All””

  1. wendy Says:

    thanks so much for this post, joanne. i think one of the things that makes it so relevant is the perspective that you are able to provide from being just 12 or 13 years ahead on the mothering road. i’m always grateful for any share of the wisdom friends with children even slightly older than my own have to share with me. there’s nothing that can compare to having been there.

    bless that sweet melissa mayer’s heart. she’s going to need every kind thought we as fellow moms can spare her.

  2. Nicole Pelton Says:

    Great points as always, but while it’s really hard to knnow how a new mom will handle things, I wouldn’t write off being able to pull off this plan. Sadly plenty of moms in low paying jobs often have to do just this, and don’t get the flexibility or help she has. She can bring her baby and nanny to work I’m assuming, have her meals cooked, as an editorial I read this morning assumed…I took several months off, I admit, but it was a relaxing time as my baby slept pretty well and with me. I went back to work pregnant, unbeknowest to me :) I slept 5 hours a night, worked full time and, no, I did not have a high pressure, executive job, but also had no more than a housecleaner every other week. I was very lucky that my “nanny” was my dad, and my husband was home a lot. After baby number 2 I was so ready to go back to work, and leave a toddler and baby in daycare to get a little peace :) On the other hand, from talking to parents of older kids, it is the pre-teens and teens when kids need more time.

    I do hope she does well, but I think your point #4 is so spot on at the end.

  3. Robin | Farewell Stranger Says:

    Well said, especially #6.

  4. Christy @morethanmommy Says:

    Love this. My kids are 5 & 6, so I’m somewhere in between. I think it’s naive, and perhaps foolish, to announce that you won’t be using your maternity leave for the essential break that it’s meant to be. You can’t know. You can’t know if hormones will leave you a sobbing mess. You can’t know if your child – or you – will be ill. You can’t know if this is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. You can’t know if you’ll sleep at all during those first few weeks. Nanny or not, you can’t know. Now, I am not a high-powered CEO, but as a women whose brain is always on overdrive, I was back to work in the hospital. It’s simply how I wanted to be spending my sleeping baby time. I don’t believe women can have it “all.” I don’t believe men should have the luxury of having it all, either. But I wish we’d get to the point where pregnancy and childbirth was no longer shocking news.

  5. PunditMom Says:

    And as much as you can’t know what those first years are going to hold, I never would have thought that I’d have to figure out how to manage a variety of cyber issues from other tweens, and I’m not even talking about the truly bad stuff. And trying to figure out — do you talk with the other parents? Do you just arm you child as best you can? So many people turn a blind eye to the actions of tweens and teens, often getting chalked up to “normal” for the age and if you speak up as a parent, you’re tagged as a trouble maker that also comes back to haunt your kids.

  6. deb Says:

    i’ve been on vacation so i’m a little late coming to this–still wanted to add my 2 cents. I agree that Mayer’s comments are naive, but I just want to point out that naive is not a crime; it’s just a lack of life experience. In fact, I think it’s the state of every parent before that first baby makes its appearance. We all had ideas about how it would be, and we were all surprised in some way. Given that, I think we should treat Mayer with more empathy than anything else. She is in for a surprise and the best we should do is entertain her ideas with understanding, then be supportive of her choices when the time comes. I know her public comments made other women feel that she’s mocked or belittled those of us who dared to take maternity leave, but these are all lessons she will learn with life experience. I don’t think we should ridicule or criticize her for having a plan that doesn’t line up with our life experience as parents. she only has her own lack of experience to go on. That’s where we all started, right? Her public statements give us an opportunity to do publically what we’ve all done privately for our newly pregnant friends and family: smile and nod kindly, then wait for it all to play out.

    and given that we often lament the lack of female execs in our country, lets make sure we’re in her corner for what’s sure to be a tough go.

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