Lean In, the bestselling book by Nell Scovell and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, has a chapter advising women on how to pick a husband if they want to succeed in Corporate America. The chapter is titled “Make Your Partner a Real Partner.” It turns out that marriage is correlated with success: “Of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, twenty-six were married, one was divorced, and only one had never married.”
Sandberg and Scovell decry the findings of surveys that, on average, men don’t do as much in the home as women. The book says “We all need to encourage men to lean in to their families.” I.e., men should be changed. The authors are not wide-eyed optimists when it comes to the prospects of scrubbing up a Neanderthal into a sensitive vegan so they recommend careful selection prior to the marriage: “do not marry [an attractive-to-you man]. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner.”
How easy is this? “Wonderful, sensitive men of all ages are out there. And the more women value kindness and support in their boyfriends, the more men will demonstrate it.” The chapter concludes “We need more men to sit at the table… the kitchen table.”
[To the woman who hasn’t been successful in finding a plausible mate, Sandberg’s message is basically “Look how incompetent you are compared to me. Not only do you make less than $50 million per year but you didn’t realize that there are millions of single guys out there who would rather change diapers and talk about feelings than watch NASCAR and football.”]
The couples with which Sandberg is familiar seem to be ones in which nannies and cleaners do most of the household and child-related work. Really the marital squabble seems to come down to which parent decides how to spend the near-infinite river of family income on local, organic, vegan, and gluten-free items at Whole Foods. The authors cite a couple in Massachusetts that I actually know. The mom is a bigshot at a non-profit organization. The dad is a child psychiatrist who, according to Sandberg, “leaned in” to do far more than the traditional male share of child rearing. Perhaps he did, but this couple has twins that are about the same age as Greta, my 3.5-year-old, so I see the kids a lot. Of the 50 or so times that I’ve seen the twins, were they with mom or dad? Once they were with mom. Once they were with both parents. 48 times they were with a Brazilian nanny.
What about the woman who does not expect to command Sandberg-style financial resources and the associated team of domestic laborers? Or the woman who is skeptical of her ability to hold a man to promises of extraordinary child-rearing efforts that he made before he had any idea of what marriage and child-rearing entailed? Let me suggest what I think is far more practical advice than Sandberg and Scovell’s: Marry the only child of immigrant parents. The couples that I know of where there is the least amount of conflict regarding household- and child-related tasks are those in which the immigrant grandparents live nearby (or in the same house) and cheerfully and skillfully contribute a huge amount of effort toward making the family successful. With Grandpa and Grandma around nearly 24×7 it is no longer critical whether or not the husband can be persuaded to give up his career ambitions, his television and video game addiction, etc.