Sheryl Sandberg and Women in Therapy

The March 18th cover story in Time is on Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg.  Time describes her as one of the most powerful women in America and explains what appears to be a personal campaign to elevate women’s ability to succeed in society.

The article suggests women collectively have made more progress in being successful in the business/corporate world but are still not equal to the success of men.  Sandberg suggests that this inequality is in part due to women themselves…what they do or DON’T do, especially in their relationships with men and more specifically their husbands.  She , at the end of the article, “…urges women to negotiate shared household duties with their spouses early and often. ‘We (her husband and she) share the child care 50-50. “.

I echo these thoughts.  Often I sit with women (young and older) who are exhausted and frustrated because they are trying to build and maintain a fulltime career and yet do the majority of the housework/childcare (while he is attending primarily to his career and “not so much” to the needs of the home and typically, the children).  Granted, this does not apply to all men but it a common complaint in my office.

My point….women… INSIST… that he sit with you and discuss the fair division of labor at home.  Such behavior does not make you a bitch or a nag or a bad mom.  On the contrary, it suggests you are a modern mother/wife, it is good role modeling for your children (male and female) and it addresses one of the major causes for marital resentment.

Ladies, let’s talk about boundaries, kids and divorce.

I worked with a divorced woman who had custody of her only child, a son.  The son was in high school, was popular and had good grades.  He also smoked pot and had told his mother about it.

The son’s relationship with his father was poor.  His father rarely contacted the boy and likewise, the boy infrequently contacted the son. During the marriage, the father had been emotionally and physically abusive to the mother.  The mother had concerns that the father may be abusive to the son during visits but still did not want to sway the boy, post divorce, away from the father.  She had never “bad-mouthed” the father…Actually, they, the son and the mother, never talked about the father or the lack to involvement he had in the boy’s life.

When the boy told the mother about his pot use, the mother was “overwhemed” with conflicting thoughts.  One the one hand, she knew it was dangerous for him to smoke pot or use any drugs…it was illegal, it would “mess up” his ability to study, lead him to the wrong crowds, put him in risky situations, etc.

Yet, she felt guilty.  She felt his pot use was her fault because of the divorce…he was using to cope with stress of coming from a “broken” family.  But she also felt good about him sharing this with her, as opposed to his father.  She felt it suggested he, the boy, liked her more than the father, or respected her more, or wanted her in his life more than his dad.

Therein lay the problem…if she did what she knew she needed to do, tell him, insist that he stop using pot (and take the steps to ensure he was not involved in drug use, i.e., urine screens, searching his room, etc.), she feared he would pull away from her…and possibly move towards his father, who, because of his lack of contact, she thought her son thought he could hid his use from him (the father), possibly live with him and keep living a pot-filled happy life!

Hence, her contact with me.

Long story short…I shared with her she needed to set the boundary of no pot use (or reinforced her belief that she needed to insist her son stop using pot) and run the risk of “loosing him”.  She was very sorry for the fact that she and her father had divorced and that they had exposed him (the son) to all kinds of bad things during the marriage, i.e., their fighting.  I believe we all can relate to this…feeling we failed our kids.  I joke with parents saying “All you have to do is wake up and you can feel bad about being a parent”.  But this woman needed to hear from me that her son, I thought, was needing, wanting her to stand up and set a boundary with him.  In some ways, I questioned if he was testing her, asking her to set this boundary.  Kids will/do do this, as a way of ensuring that their parents are still paying attention as they (the kids) get older and separate themselves from them and the family.

She REALLY struggled to set that boundary with her son…but she did set it and followed through.  The son argued, yelled, threatened…but did comply.

In my experience, his compliance was not just luck.  He needed and was asking to be reigned in and she was able to do it.  Developmental psychologists will tell us that kids need this at this time in their life (teenage years).

More later….