Sheryl Sandberg attends AOL MAKERS Conference at Terranea Resort on February 2, 2016 in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. (Jerod Harris--WireImage)
Jerod Harris—WireImage
By Charlotte Alter
May 6, 2016

Just over a year ago, Sheryl Sandberg became a single mom when she suddenly lost her husband. On Friday, she posted a letter to all of her fellow single moms in honor of Mothers’ Day. The post was both a personal essay and a call to action, demanding that the government and corporations do more to support single moms, who are already leaning in as much as they can.

In the Mother’s Day Facebook post, Sandberg said that there were aspects of single parenthood that she never could have understood before she lost her husband Dave, and that raising kids alone was much more difficult than she possibly imagined:

For me, this is still a new and unfamiliar world. 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. 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. How often situations would come up that Dave and I had never talked about and that I did not know how to handle on my own. What would Dave do if he were here?

After the release of her bestseller Lean In in 2013, Sandberg was criticized for not acknowledging that much of her advice for working mothers assumed the presence of a supportive husband or partner. On Friday, Sandberg wrote that she now agrees with those critics, and that the challenges facing single mothers in the workplace are much greater than she understood when she wrote the book:

“In Lean In, I emphasized how critical a loving and supportive partner can be for women both professionally and personally—and how important Dave was to my career and to our children’s development. I still believe this. 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…. 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.”

Furthermore, she wrote, most single mothers are already leaning in—but government and workplace policies aren’t giving them the support they need, which is why so many households headed by single mothers are stuck in poverty. Single mothers, she writes, have “no safety net.” She says:

I think we all owe it to single mothers to recognize that the world does not make it easy for them, especially for those who struggle to make ends meet. Forty percent of families headed by a single mother in the United States live in poverty, compared to just 22 percent of families headed by a single father and 8 percent of married couple families. Single parent families headed by women of color face even more barriers: 46 percent of families headed by black and Hispanic single mothers live in poverty….

We need to rethink our public and corporate workforce policies and broaden our understanding of what a family is and looks like. We need to build a world where families are embraced and supported and loved no matter how they fit together. 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.

It’s a significant shift in rhetoric from Lean In, where Sandberg mostly focused on personal strategies, mentorship, and confidence rather than structural poverty and government policies. She ends her Facebook post—which is really more of a mini-essay—with a call to action:

Being a mother is the most important—and most humbling—job I’ve ever had. As we rightly celebrate motherhood, we should give special thanks to the women who are raising children on their own. And let’s vow to do more to support them, every day.

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