Why One Executive Doesn’t “Lean In” Anymore

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May 29, 2014

Amanda Vincent built a career that Sheryl Sandberg, who exhorts women to “lean in” to careers and not get derailed by motherhood, would approve of. Vincent was an executive in the tech industry, establishing an impressive and demanding career before she adopted her two daughters, 13 and 10. But now, Vincent says she doesn’t really lean in anymore because it’s so much more difficult in practice.

“Before I had kids, I was a workaholic. With one, I became a resentful workaholic. With the second child, I just became resentful,” Vincent says.

She didn’t realize how difficult it would be to have time for both career and kids. But bouncing back and forth from the office to child care to home leaves little quality time for either work or family. “You have these people who mean more to you than anything, but you’re in a constant state of guilt,” she says.

There was a time, after her youngest daughter arrived, when Vincent was working 100 hours a week, “trying to be superwoman” by working late into the night after tucking the girls in. Meanwhile, as a single parent, Vincent felt like she needed to show that she was just as involved with her kids as other parents.

She was trying to “have it all” but burning out — fast. Vincent says the only way working parents can attempt to have a work-life balance is if they have reliable child care.

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“Whether it’s in-home care, day care, or college students looking to make extra money, that support structure for child care and the surrounding responsibilities — laundry, housekeeping, all that it takes to run a home — having that support is vital,” she says. And, of course, she points out that women still bear the brunt of this work, regardless of whether they work outside the home.

When Vincent adopted her daughters, they were on waiting lists for day care for about a year each, and she had to pay thousands every month when both girls were in child care. Eventually, she explored using live-in care with an au pair, which appealed to her partially because it would be help that wouldn’t fall through. “As a single mother, you can’t risk arranging for child care and then having someone not show up,” she says.

Being the sole breadwinner amplifies her anxiety about being available to her colleagues, so reliable child care has always been something Vincent was on the lookout for. Having to scramble for care can jeopardize your career if it means missing work or being perceived as distracted.

Now that her girls are in school, Vincent gets by with having a sitter drive the kids to music lessons and sports practice a few days a week, plus an occasional night so that Vincent can take a much-needed break by seeing a movie or going to the gym.

At work, Vincent now refuses to drive herself into the ground. She negotiated a promotion that was both a higher level and offered better work-life balance, so she works fewer hours and mostly from home. The flexibility is invaluable.

“This is partly why I don’t ‘lean in’ more,” she says. She’s refused other job offers because she and her daughters need flexibility to have quality family time. “I’m lucky to be in a place in my career where I can make that decision,” she says.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, but it works for the Vincent family for now. “Maybe I’m not giving enough to my career and not giving enough to my family,” Vincent says. “But there’s only 24 hours in a day, and it’s hard to get everything done to the level you would like.”

Vincent’s story was featured in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Outlook. Read more about how the lack of child care is hurting women.

 


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