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Sheryl Sandberg Reflects on Single Motherhood, Says Lean In Critics ‘Were Right’

Business Leaders Speak At Fortune Global Forum In San FrancisoBusiness Leaders Speak At Fortune Global Forum In San Franciso
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg speaks during the Fortune Global Forum on November 3, 2015 in San Francisco, California. Photograph by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

In a Facebook post yesterday, Facebook (FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote at length about what she has learned about motherhood and work in the year since her husband’s death. Among other things, Sandberg acknowledges that her 2013 manifesto Lean In didn’t sufficiently address the challenges faced by single mothers. She concludes by calling for better U.S. policies on paid maternity leave, and better community support for single mothers.

Sandberg’s husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, died at age 47 on May 1, 2015. Sandberg writes that his death “has redefined what it is to be a mother” for her. She points to both the added practical burdens of single motherhood, and the emotional stresses of a culture that often assumes Dad is around.

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“I never understood how often the world would remind my children and me of what we don’t have,” Sandberg writes, “From father-daughter dances to Parent Night at School.”

Her experience has also helped her see the shortcomings of Lean In, which was a runaway bestseller and sparked a national dialogue on women in the workplace. However, the book received criticism from some who said it emphasized individual achievement and did not challenge workplace norms, particularly those that marginalized disadvantaged women.

Sandberg’s recent experience seems to have opened her eyes to that perspective.

“In Lean In, I emphasized how critical a loving and supportive partner can be for women both professionally and personally…. 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.”

“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.”

For more on motherhood and work, watch our video.

Sandberg is careful to point out that she doesn’t face the financial challenges shared by many single moms, and she said that policymakers ought to do more to help those who are struggling. “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.”

“Single moms have been leaning in for a long time – out of necessity and a desire to provide the best possible opportunities for their children.”

Sandberg has frequently posted on Facebook about her experiences since Goldberg’s death, which she says has helped her grieving process.