Dad’s Don’t Get Work-Life Balance Empathy

Max Shireson, the CEO of mongoDB, turned in his resignation this past week.  That announcement in itself isn’t really that big of a deal, CEOs turn in resignations every day.  The reason he turned in his resignation is huge.  I’ll let him tell it in his own words from a letter he sent to mongoDB’s workforce:

“Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.

While the press haven’t asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself. Here is my situation:

* I have 3 wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever.

* I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEO travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York every 2-3 weeks. During that travel, I have missed a lot of family fun, perhaps more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car or when my son had (minor and successful, and  of course unexpected) emergency surgery.

* I have an amazing wife who also has an important career; she is a doctor and professor at Stanford where, in addition to her clinical duties, she runs their training  program for high risk obstetricians and conducts research on on prematurity, surgical techniques, and other topics. She is a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful, and  infinitely patient with me. I love her, I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing    that patience.

Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.”

When we talk about ‘inclusion’ we aren’t really talking about everyone.  That’s the problem.  We wonder how possibly a woman could handle the pressures of being a CEO and being a Mom, but we never wonder, or even care, how a man handles the pressure of being a CEO and a Dad.   It’s expected a man can do both, we question if a woman can do both.  

There is a cultural expectation, wrongly, that as a man I can be CEO and a Dad and perform just fine. As a woman, I’ll have trouble doing both jobs, because the Mom does more than the Dad.  The mom cooks and cleans and nurtures and schedules and kisses booboos and, well, does everything for the family.  The lazy asshole Dad comes home and waits for the Mom to fix him dinner and his drink.  Really!?! Is that where we are in 2014?

I’m a Dad and a President of a company.  I feel for Max.  My wife does a ton, it can’t even be measured.  I don’t expect her to do everything and help out a ton with parenting when and where I can.  I assume if the roles were changed and my wife was a CEO, I would have to pick up more of her home and parenting duties.

This goes beyond just duties, though, this is about emotional connection.  As a Dad, like Max, why should I have less of a connection as a parent than my wife.  Why do we throw that cultural expectation onto our employees, on to our executives?  As a father I frequently feel failure.  Maybe it’s because I missed being able to have lunch with my son at school.  Maybe it’s because my wife has a stronger relationship with my kids than I do.  Maybe it’s because I trying to live up to a cultural expectation that I should be less of a parent.

No one ever wants to talk about how hard a man has it, trying to be a father and work.  It’s not ‘politically’ correct.  Men have it easier. End of story.  That sucks sometimes.

7 thoughts on “Dad’s Don’t Get Work-Life Balance Empathy

  1. As a professional work-life balance coach who loves work and a dad who loves parenting, on a personal and professional level, I know these issues are hard and coming up more and more for parents who work. Glad to see Max’s story, and will definitely re-post.

  2. Kudos to him, and I’m glad he shared it with the world. I never got the impression that he was looking for a pat on the back for his awesome Dad-ness. Since when does regret for missing your kids childhood merit a gold star? It’s perfectly normal, and I think his point was more a commentary on the double standard in our society, and maybe even about his fear of the public’s perception of his decision, that maybe he is less of a man for throwing in the towel on his bang-zoom career trajectory. Not for nothing, but he will still be a full time executive, just in a position with less travel demands. Most men I know can’t wait to head home to their families everyday, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  3. Also a great commentary on money’s role in our society. “Doesn’t the money make up for it?” would seem to be a logical question for any CEO who complains about work-life imbalance. No one asks that question, however, because we all agree money doesn’t replace personal relationships – especially when it comes to family. So why then do so many point to money as the reason men have it so much better off than women? It’s time. Time is the valuable object here, and that’s why he’s stepping down. Lets applaud him having the correct priorities.

  4. We have such a long way to go – we certainly should allow our Dads to be just as involved as our Moms, and give them credit for all they do with their families. I guess I was raised a little outside the norm – my Mom stayed home with the kids and my Dad worked, but he was always doing things with us, including changing diapers and getting up for late night feedings or sick kids. Each of us had special times with our Dad, helping him with washing the cars on the weekends, gardening, etc. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him to fit it all in, but he made it a priority and I’m such a better person because he did. I married a man who also has shared in raising our kids, honestly he took the larger caretaking role in our family as the kids were growing up – he was a teacher and I’m a business professional who has always had jobs requiring travel. So it made sense for us. I think our kids are better off now as adults, having had a strong presence from both parents throughout their lives.

    Shame on us as a society for relegating people to certain stereotypical roles. We’re supposed to be beyond that by now, and focused on each individual as a unique person. Kudos to Max for having the courage to bring attention to this issue, and for pointing out that it needs to change.

  5. Nice letter to make us feel better about his as a great person. But if he were really serious he would have just resigned without telling the world what a special and sensitive guy he is.
    Thinking this wonderful venture will last about a year. He travels and works so much because he cannot avoid micro-managing the trivial details. Yes, the life of a CEO is tough, that is why they get paid the big, big bucks. But there are many many CEOs and other executives who can balance their lives by properly managing their companies.

    • Parker –

      I think that line of thinking is exactly what most people in America think. He should be able to handle it. It’s been the same thinking we’ve had for a 100 years, so it must be right…


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