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Sheryl Sandberg now understands how difficult it is for a single mom to lean in

Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Stand up before you lean in.
  • Jenny Anderson
By Jenny Anderson

Senior reporter, Editor of How to be Human

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

When Issey Monk, a Facebook employee, read Lean In, a call-to-arms for women to push their careers forward, she did not find herself represented in the book. “At the time I read it I joked to myself that I needed you to write a book called ‘get up off the floor and stand,’” she wrote to Sheryl Sandberg, author of the book, and Monk’s boss.

Monk’s was not a unique criticism: others weighed in that Sandberg’s message seemed targeted at a narrow audience of successful women with supportive partners, and ignored the reality of many disadvantaged women or single moms.

Sandberg, now a widow, took to Facebook on Mother’s Day to say she gets it: “Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right,” she said in a post.

It’s not a small group. According to Sandberg:

  • Since the early 1970s, the number of single mothers in the United States has nearly doubled
  • Today, almost 30% of families with children are headed by a single parent and 84% percent of those are led by a single mother
  • 8% of married family couples live in poverty compared to 40% of families headed by a single mother

“Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home,” she wrote.

Since the death of Dave, her husband, more than a year ago, Sandberg has been a single parent. Overnight, she had to deal with the grief that comes with suddenly losing a spouse, parenting kids bereft by losing a parent, and the reality of being a single mom.

She acknowledges—more than once—that she is hardly representative of most single moms; she’s got boatloads of money, an amazing job, and a massive community of people to lean on.“I will never experience and understand all of the challenges most single moms face, but I understand a lot more than I did a year ago.”

Despite having money and support, parenting alone can be a deeply lonely and isolating experience. Having kids means making millions of decisions every day, big and small, and knowing it’s all on you is exhausting. There is no one to share the work with, no 24/7 sounding board for managing the decisions, and no emotional backup for when it gets to be too much.

“I did not understand how often I would look at my son’s or daughter’s crying face and not know how to stop the tears,” she wrote.

While Sandberg celebrates single moms and the sacrifices they make, she contends that everyone from policymakers to neighbors could do a hell of a lot more: paid maternity leave, paid leave, and a bigger safety net for those in poverty. Sandberg writes:

We need to understand that it takes a community to raise children and that so many of our single mothers need and deserve a much more supportive community than we give them. We owe it to them and to their children to do better. We must do more as leaders, as coworkers, as neighbors, and as friends.

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