Among the pieces of good advice in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s juggernaut of a book, Lean In, is to find a partner who is truly a partner in childrearing and housecleaning (and despite the fact that I think the book over-emphasizes the individual rather than structural barriers for women, I do believe it’s well-intentioned and important). “It’s the biggest career decision you will make,” Sandberg says.
She holds her relationship with her husband—the extremely successful Survey Monkey CEO Dave Goldberg—up as a model of a companionate, equal marriage. He appeared beside her in a charming interview on Sunday’s 60 Minutes about the lean in phenomenon and their relationship. Sandberg cites statistics that say husbands who do the laundry have more sex. In a voice over after that claim, interviewer Norah O’Donnell says, “It's hard to imagine these two are spending a lot of time doing the laundry,” since they are so wealthy, but the couple insists that they “split the parenting responsibilities equally, trying to make sure at least one of them is home for dinner” each night.
In Lean In, we hear slightly more about the nitty gritty of how their impressive, successful lives work. “We sit down at the beginning of every week and figure out which one of us will drive our children to school each day,” Sandberg writes. “We both try to be home for dinner as many nights as we can. Our division of household chores is actually pretty traditional. Dave pays bills, handles our finances, provides tech support. I schedule the kids' activities, make sure there is food in the fridge, plan the birthday parties.”
But beyond that, we don’t hear very much about what an average day at Chez Sandberg looks like, and we hear very little about what Sandberg does with her time at Facebook. Their child care arrangements are mostly mysterious, as is when she gets up in the morning, when she’s expected to arrive at the office, who picks the kids up when they barf at school, who drives the carpool for AYSO soccer on Saturday morning. A cursory Nexis search doesn’t reveal any more details about how they manage it.
Most very successful couples are a tad vague on the details. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was on Katie Couric’s show talking about leaning in this week, was also asked about how she balances work and family. “Like every working parent we just figure it out and you find a balance,” Gillibrand says. Gillibrand, like Sandberg, is also the mother of young children and has a husband who is a venture capitalist.
I suspect one of the reasons that they give scant details is that they know how much working women are judged for not spending as much time as they “should” with their children, or for relying on nannies. But it’s a disservice to ambitious women to mask how much time and effort it does take to reach the pinnacle of politics and business. Most CEOs regardless of gender are not home for dinner at 5:30 most nights, and that’s ok.