I picked up Tiffany Dufu’s book “Drop the Ball” on a whim during my last trip to the library. With an endorsement on the front from Sheryl Sandberg and a foreword penned by Gloria Steinem, I figured this book was worth a read. And I am very glad I took the chance. This is the first book I’ve read in quite some time where I felt like I was learning something new on every page and it even inspired me to write pages of notes and reactions (like I was back in school all over again!).
Dufu utilizes her extensive background in the field of advancement for women, detailed scientific research, as well as her own personal experiences to send the message that working mothers can indeed learn to stop trying to do it all.
Drop the Ball seeks to address the following questions:
Why do working moms stall out when they reach middle management instead of joining the ranks of leadership in equal ratios to men?
Why are these women burning out, experiencing increased rates of crippling stress and depression?
According to Dufu, both questions point to the same answer. Women with families are taking on too much. Gender stereotyping to “own” the household, regardless of having a career, forces women to essentially work two full time jobs.
“Drop the Ball” is filled with practical advice on how to go about obtaining better balance between career and home life. I love how Dufu addresses the problem here, instead of blaming society or men for this problem, she focuses on how women need to be assertive to push back against these gender norms.
So, how can we learn to drop the ball?
- Evaluate what is important to you and then decide if you are best utilizing your time and talents to meet those goals
- Analyze the tasks needed to run your household (Dufu uses an excel spreadsheet) and work to balance them in a more equitable way, keeping in mind that some tasks can be dropped completely (if they don’t meet goals in first bullet)
- Let go of tasks assigned to other people and you may be surprised at the result (Dufu calls this Home Control Disease or HCD and as long as we hold onto this habit, we will never be free to pursue more important things)
The Hidden Gems
The further I got into the book, the more impressed I became with how Dufu thinks. I want to highlight a couple of gems that I really appreciated in her work.
- Do not take for granted the work our husbands already do to help support our households – Dufu shares an experience similar to my own when she sits down with her husband to list out all of the household tasks and is surprised by the things she was unaware that her husband handled. I imagine this is a common experience for women and enforces the need for this exercise to be done with an open mind (instead of accusations and anger).
- Just because men do it differently than we would… doesn’t make it wrong. This is so important in terms of us learning how to let go of tasks. Dufu refers to detailed lists she left for her husband, expecting him to manage the kids exactly in the way that she would. I actually went through a similar mindset with my husband prior to having kids, when we worked together for his business. It was an eye opening experience for me to learn that my way of doing things was not the only way to get it done (and not even the optimal method at times!).
- Men are suffering from gender stereotypes when it comes to family life as well. Dufu uses a personal example of being outraged that her husband was telling prospective employers that his wife was nagging him to spend more time at home. When she approached him, she learned that he was scared to be ridiculed (and not hired) if he truthfully explained his own commitment to his family. It was much more culturally acceptable for the wife to be forcing this change that for it to come from an internal desire. This experience highlights how we need to buck the trends that are not supportive of men being just as involved in family life and household management. One solution Dufu brings to light here is that companies can incorporate leave and flexible work policies for both men and women and adapt a culture that allows men to take advantages of such programs without stigma or penalty.
Overall, an enlightening read on a timely topic dear to many a working mother’s heart. I highly recommend “Drop the Ball” for all women who seek to find balance in their domestic lives, carving a more equitable future for generations to come.
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