Last year I put out my first summer reading list of books that help working mamas get their heads on calmer and straighter.  While I still LOVE all the books I recommended in 2016 and commend them to you again this year, I’ve got some fresh picks for 2017. As you think about what to pack in that beach bag – for the 2-3 minutes you’ll be able to read between baby and child emergencies – check out these truly thought-provoking non-fiction titles.  I’ve read all of these books over this past year, and each has helped me in some amazing way. Of course, if you’re in the relatively early stages of being a working mama, I hope you’ll check out my own new book (published April 11), too!  It’s Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.

Working Mama 2017 Summer Reading List

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, by Anne-Marie Slaughter

  • Why read it? Dr. Slaughter sparked global debate on work-life issues when she wrote the Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”  Her book continues that conversation in a powerful way.  And it taught me the phrase “second child syndrome”, which was absolutely a reality in my own house.  (Somehow, as I say with some frequency, 1 + 1 does equal 85.)
  • Favorite quote? “I certainly cannot claim to be a perfect manager; management is a process of continual learning and course correction.  But I’ve witnessed firsthand that when I create the space for all the people who work for me, regardless of rank, to put their families first, their work never comes second.  They put the two together in a way that both get done.  Responsible people do not limit their obligations to the workplace.  Indeed, I would not hire a job candidate who told me that his work would always come before his family.  I would question his character.”

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport

  • Why read it? Parenthood adds more distractions to life than I can count.  As though the world we live in – with ubiquitous technology and constant connectivity – weren’t distracting enough!  As a working parent, I’m always trying to find strategies for improving my focus.  Newport’s book doesn’t disappoint on this score.  He argues convincingly that taking time for retreat is so important and that deep work can add meaning to our lives.  I also learned that the more you permit yourself to be distracted by quick fixes for boredom (like the quick FB check), the “weak[er] your mind’s general ability to resist distraction, making deep work difficult later when you really want to concentrate.”  The book is full of great, practical strategies.
  • Favorite quote? “Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside those times. I suggest that you keep a notepad near your computer at work.  On this pad, record the next time you’re allowed to use the Internet.  Until you arrive at that time, absolutely no network connectivity is allowed—no matter how tempting.”

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown

  • Why read it? Because what would a reading list of inspiring books be without Dr. Brown on it?  In all honesty, this struck me to my core turn after turn.  In a good way.  The best way.  While Daring Greatly (see my list from last year) was her “how to put yourself out into the arena” book, this one is her “how the heck to pick yourself up when you’re face down in the arena and the world has beaten you up” book.  And as working moms, we get beaten up in the arena with some frequency, no?  No need to read the two books in any particular order; they both rock.
  • Favorite quote? “Connection doesn’t exist without giving and receiving.  We need to give and we need to need.  This is true at work and at home.  In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, asking for help can be shaming if we’re not raised to understand how seeking help is human and foundational to connection.  We can encourage our children to ask for help; however, if they don’t see us reaching out for support and modeling that behavior, they will instead attach value to never needing help.”

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

  • Why read it? When I wrote last year’s book list, I noted at the end that I had just started digging into this one.  It got even better, the further I read.  Prioritizing might be one of the skills I’ve honed the most as a working mom.  And this book takes that idea to a whole new level.  I truly love McKeown’s focus on tuning into what’s important so you can “operate at your highest level of contribution.”  We don’t need to – indeed, we shouldn’t be – doing all the things and diffusing our resources and talents, if we want to be able to make an impact in the areas we find meaningful.
  • Favorite quote? “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”  (Often paraphrased to “if it isn’t a hell yes, it’s a hell no.”  And his Lao-tzu quote, “To attain knowledge add things every day.  To attain wisdom subtract things every day.”

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

  • Why read it? Okay, I’ll be straight with you.  This book cracked me up.  And not because it’s intended to be comedic.  More because if you’ve lived with a child for more than a minute, you know that much of what she’s advocating here in the cleaning-up space is the greatest of fantasies.  I almost put it down, because I thought she was pretty nuts.  (Warning: this book contains statements like, “I never tidy my room.  Why?  Because it is already tidy.  The only tidying I do is once or sometimes twice a year, and for a total of about one hour each time.”)
  • YET, this book made my list of favorites this year, because when you get beyond the “how on earth could someone actually follow this process” question and focus on her themes, it’s actually really helpful.  I loved, for example, her lessons about thinking hard about whether a particular object “sparks joy” in deciding whether to keep it.  AND she changed my philosophy on the most effective way to fold and storing things (standing up, rather than flat).
  • Favorite quote? “I believe that tidying is a celebration, a special send-off for those things that will be departing from the house…”

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, by Arianna Huffington

  • Why read it? If for no other reason, to reassure yourself that the mushy mess your mind and emotions have become since having a child have OH so much to do with a lack of sleep!  And, more importantly, to remind yourself to prioritize this precious commodity.
  • Favorite quote? “After all, there are few appointments throughout the day that are as important as bedtime.  (And if the word ‘bedtime’ sounds childish or embarrassing, feel free not to use it, but remember, there’s nothing childish or embarrassing about being well rested.)  Yet our appointment with sleep is one we don’t seem to mind missing, day after day, night after night.  When we think of sleep as an actual appointment—a meeting of sorts, with ourselves—we’re much more likely to grant it the time it deserves.  Given that we now set alarms on our smartphones and smartwatches for things of much less importance, the work-down call is a great idea to adopt.”

Here’s to a summer of slowing down a bit.  Savoring life and your little ones.  And finding a few spare minutes to read something inspiring. Have you read anything recently that helped you with life as a working parent?  Leave book suggestions in comments below! Need more support in the return to work after maternity leave?  Join the next session of Mindful Return!

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