A Dangerous Trend for Moms, Babies … and Women as a Whole?
Sure, some women are born overachievers, you might argue—and good for them. But in the wake of Mayer’s announcement, many wondered whether her decision to forgo a traditional maternity leave would put other working women at risk.
In the online magazine Slate, one writer opined: “Mayer needs time to emotionally and physically recover … [it's] nuts to forget that there is a BABY involved here.”
Others queried whether her decision would set a bad example for other women looking to juggle motherhood and a career: Namely, would HR departments and bosses then expect more new moms to follow suit—by literally suiting up again mere weeks after giving birth?
And why did Mayer—and other ladies who choose to launch when they have an ambitious new project to tackle at home—feel the need?
“For some women, working through pregnancy or using the same set of skills used on the job while on leave may be an effort to maintain normalcy,” says Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.”
The brain is craving certainty, says Alpert, so if overachieving is your norm, it may actually be hard to slow down—even with a newborn to contend with. “While working hard may not be advisable from a physical perspective,” he explains, “it may be a positive coping mechanism that helps the mother deal with the uncertainty associated with a baby.”
In other words, staying in work mode may allow frazzled new moms—used to a demanding work routine—to maintain some sense of their former selves.
Who Creates the Need to Overachieve?
Another weighty question: Is our inability to be home with our babies—without refashioning ourselves as CEOs while they nap—something innate in modern-day women, or a response to outside pressure?
“Women get stuck in a cycle of fear where they can’t see all the other things that are important in life,” says Shari Goldsmith, a life coach and mental health therapist. “It’s often difficult to be a woman in a workplace, and some fears related to falling behind may be valid.”
But there’s also a difference between a natural-born entrepreneur who just happens to have a newborn and someone who’s having a hard time transitioning from her 24/7 attachment to her Blackberry. Or worrying that being away for that amount of time could cause her to fall behind on the job.
“The reality is that women notice and respond to those subtle societal pressures to be better, stronger and smarter, and they make choices accordingly,” says mom of two Samantha Krigsvold. “As a professional woman, breadwinner and mother of two young children, my choice to take an abbreviated maternity leave was absolutely tied to an underlying pressure to prove I could handle it all.”
The experts agree: “Women hear over and over again the message that they’re supposed to be able to manage it all—a career and a family. When it comes to taking maternity leave, there are very real fears of being seen as uncompetitive or dispensable,” says Ford Myers, a career coach and author of “Get the Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring.”
But Isn’t Just Having a Baby Enough?
Then again, for many women, wanting to go back to work at all, let alone double down on it during their downtime, just doesn’t compute.