Leaning In Means Letting Go

With this data in mind, it is hard not to hear Sandberg’s battle-cry as the voice of the capitalist marketplace, speaking through its female poster-child. What is a mother to do? Whom are we to trust? If we lean towards our children, as so many women of the “opt-out” generation did, we risks financial dependence on our husbands, risk falling into a very traditional marriage and home life, risk the chance to return to the work force and have a meaningful career. If we lean towards our careers, we risk missing our children’s childhood, risk our children feeling like they are not our top priority, risk constant exhaustion, and, in some careers, as Birkner points out, even risk the ability to pay for the child-care we need.  With all of the leaning, this way and that, it is hard to feel grounded, hard not to teeter and fall, defeated, to the ground.

We must begin to address these issues as they truly are – societal issues, economic issues, issues that cannot be resolved simply by pushing women in one direction or another. They relate as much to fathers as to mothers, and as much to people who are not parents, who care about work-life balance, and about the overall health of our society.

But when it comes to whom to trust, we need to better listen to ourselves. And we need to have the hard conversations about what we lose when we choose one way or the other, if we are lucky enough to have a choice. As mothers, when we choose to lean in one direction, we are also leaning away from something, letting it go, and sacrificing something about which we deeply care.

Elizabeth Mandel, in her Lilith article “The Jewish Costs of a Jewish Education,” laments her sacrifices when she writes about her decision to leave her meaningful part-time work for much less meaningful full-time work that allows her family to afford living in Manhattan and her children to attend Jewish Day Schools: “I am left confronting a great irony. Has organizing our lives around affording day school tuition, so our children can learn Jewish values, turned out to be antithetical to propagating and modeling Jewish values?” When a mother leans in a direction, that direction has a set of values, and an equal and opposite set of sacrifices – in Mandel’s case, another set of values that is compromised.

Our choices have implications. Mandel and all mothers who make sacrifices for their children, who are forced to prioritize their values, must teach their children about the difficulty, necessity, and implications of choosing between conflicting loves. We cannot have it all, cannot do it all. This is a profound Jewish message. Perhaps this is why when Abraham and Sarah, the first Jewish couple in the Torah, who yearn for a child for so many years, are charged with sacrificing that child. The text is implying that with children come conflicting pulls, conflicting values, conflicting directions, and inevitable sacrifices.

As Jewish mothers, we need to be more open about the difficulty of our choices, the pain of our sacrifices. We must admit to ourselves why we choose one way or the other, if we are blessed with choices. We must have honest conversations about how leaning one way involves sacrificing other ways, even other ways we value. Perhaps this is core to what we need to create the healing and clarity that will guide us as we strive for balance, as we poise ourselves to embrace wherever we choose to lean next.


photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

2 comments on “Leaning In Means Letting Go

  1. Cimmy Monheit on


    Welcome back, I’ve missed your writing so much. As ever, your piece is thought provoking and reaches places I thought were no longer accessible. Thanks for posting this and for articulating what so many of us experience(d, if our kids are grown).


  2. Esther on

    As someone who went to Jewish day school up until high school (in NJ) and now live in Manhattan, and see the unfortunate generation of children being raised in private school environments now, my question is more this: is it REALLY for the Jewish education? Or for the prestige and the social climbing/hierarchy? I see it every single day at work. It sounds callous and jaded, but it’s more prevalent than you think.

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