Welcome to Mindful Return’s 2021 Summer Reading List! This is my 6th annual book roundup for working parents. With my kiddos back at in-person school since mid-April, I’ve finally had a bit more time to turn the pages of some awesome books.
You’ll see that the 2021 summer reading list reflects an attempt to center myself during the dark and crazy days of pandemic winter (useful during all times of chaos, it turns out). Deepen my understanding of diversity and inclusion. Reflect on parenthood. And also to simply kick back and relax.
I’m still a big fan of all the books I’ve recommended in my first five summer reading lists. You can find those here:
- Working Parent Summer Reading List for COVID: 5 Must-Reads in 2020
- 2019 Working Mama Summer Reading List: 5 Fabulous Books
- 2018 Working Mama Summer Book List: My 6 Faves from the Past Year
- A Working Mama’s 2017 Summer Reading List: 6 Inspiring Reads
- A Working Mama’s Summer Reading List: 6 Picks to Fill You Up (2016)
And now, onto the 2021 summer reading list! As always, if you’re a new or newish working mama, I hope you’ll check out my own book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.
2021 Summer Reading List for Working Parents
The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, by Sarah Susanka
- Why read it? The author is an architect, and she brings her knowledge of design and planning to create principles for building our lives. At a moment in history when we are emerging from a global pandemic, I can’t think of a better time to invite intentionality into creating the lives we want. Susanka’s book gives us a framework for doing just that.
- Favorite quote? “You may well be asking yourself, ‘Even if this is my movie I’m watching and I’m in fact watching it on fast-forward, how do I find the remote control to slow it down?’ The answer is that change doesn’t happen through a click of a button. It happens by making small, almost insignificant changes in your behavior. And the most important of these changes is taking time for yourself each day. This is the remodeling equivalent of making a place of your own, like the attic I gave myself permission to include in the design of my first house. As we remodel our lives, designating a time of your own is just as important to the expression of who you are and who you are becoming as giving yourself a place of your own.”
Tending: Parenthood and the Future of Work, by Amy Henderson
- Why read it? For anyone who cares about the future of working parents, Henderson’s book is a must-read. There are no platitudes, clichéd portrayals of motherhood, or impractical advice here. Instead, in Tending, Henderson gifts us with a profoundly beautiful, jarring, and at the same time, incredibly informative narrative. As a professional, a mother, and an advocate, I saw myself in its pages. I also learned so much about parenthood’s ability to shape our brains and our career-useful skills. Henderson doesn’t just tell us how acknowledging truth, vulnerability, and pain can change hearts and minds, she paints it for us in vivid color. This masterful page-turner is a must-read for all humans. But especially for any parent who wants to feel seen and anyone who manages parents in the workplace.
- Favorite quote? “Our sessions make the strong case that caretaking—especially parenthood—has value, that it can lead to the development of skills that are not only relevant, but critical, for success in the modern workplace. And because this goes against almost everything we’ve been trained to believe, it often cracks people open and forces them to reckon with all the ways they’ve forsaken their relationships with themselves and others to progress on their professional trajectories. Once we realized that talking about parenthood at work was an emotionally-charged topic for almost everyone, we designed our presentations to use this pain as a portal. When we hold the space for people to be honest with themselves and each other, these conversations become an entry point to working together to design a better future.”
Authentic Diversity: How to Change the Workplace for Good, by Michelle Silverthorn
- Why read it? I’ve seen Michelle Silverthorn speak in-person on diversity issues and she delivers an *amazingly* powerful keynote. So I had a hunch this book would be a passionate and story-based call-to-arms. I was not disappointed. If you want to be part of a workplace that values everyone for who they truly are – and you want tools for yourself as a leader who can help move the world closer to that reality – please add this book to your 2021 summer reading list.
- Favorite quote? “I want you to tell them about the people. The thousands of men and women who are not thriving in your workplace. Stop telling me that my diversity matters because it makes more money or makes your team stronger. Start telling me that my diversity matters because I matter. Because people matter. Because their stories matter. Because their isolation matters. Because their death by a thousand cuts matters. Because this organization cares about people and it wants people to succeed.”
The Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug: The Working Woman’s Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy, by Sarah Lacy
- Why read it? Packed with data and helpful international perspectives on working motherhood, Lacy’s book is brilliant manifesto. She doesn’t mince a single word, and she weaves in her own Silicon Valley experiences as a single mom along the way. There were sections I struggled relating to as someone who’s not part of the California tech culture, but there was much more I could relate to and found myself nodding vigorously along with. Pick this up if you want a kick in the pants to take more baby steps toward equality and if you want some data-driven validation that (1) your working mom struggles aren’t all in your head; and (2) working moms make kick-ass leaders.
- Favorite quote? “What is the Maternal Wall if not the enforcement of a patriarchal idea that to be a good mother you must be 100 percent devoted to your kids and to be a good employee you must be 100 percent devoted to your job? If you are in a heterosexual marriage and have a male boss, two patriarchs are essentially coming into conflict when you try to have a career and a family. Which patriarch do you owe your allegiance to?” And also, “Guilt is the most effective weapon the patriarchy has. It both keeps us from achieving and makes us feel bad about it when we do achieve. Guilt pits us against ‘patriarchs’ like spouses and male bosses. Guilt is so effective because it’s self-inflicted. Guilt makes you doubt everything you know in your heart, in your head, in your gut. Guilt is the patriarchy’s evil little voice inside you. It has to go.”
No Drama First-Time Mama: A Practical Guide to Living Your Best Life as a New Mother, by Emily Lammers
- Why read it? If you’re pregnant or just recently had your first baby, you’ll want to pick up this quick and helpful read. Lammers’ reflections on her own foray into parenthood are honest, relatable, and humor-filled. Most importantly, her advice is very intentionally focused on the well-being of you, as mom – something missing from a good deal of the new baby literature. You don’t have to want to follow every one of her parenting approaches to appreciate the value of her calm confidence, straight talk, and well-explained logic. If you are looking to decrease fear, and increase joy and confidence in your new parent journey, this book is for you.
- Favorite quote? “I’ve also noticed posts in my social media communities from moms who feel like they are drowning and are seeking support or advice. Nearly every such post is followed by a cascade of encouraging messages, kind offers, and helpful suggestions. Should you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to throw up an SOS and seek out whatever kind of support you need be it hiring outside help, calling on family and friends, or simply getting emotional support. It could mean the difference between just a rough patch and a very serious situation. As women, we so often put our heads down and soldier on regardless of the circumstances. This can be especially true with the transition to motherhood. I certainly felt a heightened sense of responsibility to my family and a strong desire to keep all the balls in the air and be everything to everyone. But thankfully I realized early on that there was no need to play the hero by trying to do it all on my own. Asking for help and outsourcing isn’t defeat – it’s just being smart.
Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
- Why read it? I was a little late to even knowing who Glennon Doyle is. And I admit I didn’t know what the hype was about. Then I read Untamed. If I could, I’d include half the book in the “favorite quote” section below. This collection of short essays (incredibly digestible for the working mama on the move) is a handbook on bravery and fierceness. If you’d like an intro to her story (and because I can’t write a summer book list without mentioning Brené Brown), listen to Brené interview Glennon on this episode of her Unlocking Us Podcast.
- Favorite quote? “When it comes to who my children are, I don’t want to be an Expectations Parent. I don’t want my kids striving to meet an arbitrary list of preconceived goals I have created for them. I want to be a Treasure Hunt Parent. I want to encourage my children to spend their lives digging, uncovering more and more about who they already are, and then sharing what they discover with those lucky enough to be trusted by them. When my child uncovers a gem inside and pulls it out for me to see, I want to widen my eyes and gasp and applaud. In other words: If my daughter told me she was gay, I would not love her in spite of it, I would love her because of it.”
The Practice is the Path: Lessons and Reflections on the Transformative Power of Yoga, by Tias Little
- Why read it? As I’ve mentioned in a blog post describing a day in my own working mama life, a yoga practice 1:1 with a teacher is one of the tools that has helped sustain me during many of the darkest moments of this remarkably difficult pandemic year. As part of my practice, we read a book together, chapter by chapter. And my teacher provided me with prompts to journal about. This book by Tias Little was the book we read together. I found it helpful both to developing a deeper understanding of yoga but also for tools that help me walk along the daily path of working mom life.
- Favorite quote? “If left unchecked, the impulse toward perfection undermines spiritual growth. It limits a capacity to be kind, nonjudgmental, open, and carefree. It undermines the ability to find simple joy in the everyday. By accepting our own foibles and failures, we become more tolerant of ourselves and others. We stop trying to be someone else, someone more worthy, special, or enlightened. If we are not careful, the longing for perfection can close off the very source of light it is seeking.”
Pursuit of the Truth, by K.D. Richards
- Why read it? Confession: this is the first Harlequin Intrigue (or Harlequin anything!) book I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s by my dear friend from college and fellow #lawmama, K.D. Richards. And I’m here to celebrate her publishing world debut. Having gotten back into fiction during the pandemic, I was riveted by this page-turner mystery with an amazingly strong #girlboss protagonist. Take this one to the beach for some fun 2021 summer reading!! (Maybe just don’t stay in a hotel while you’re reading it, or you may get a bit spooked!)
- Favorite quote? “The real mob families looked nothing like the one-note portrayals given in the movies with shake-downs at the neighborhood mom-and-pop stores. In reality, organized crime had stepped into the twenty-first century with everyone else. Today’s gangsters had college degrees, wore three-thousand-dollar suits to the office and were more diverse and gender-balanced than the average state legislature. Greed knew no ethnicity, and mobsters like Lincoln Smith would work with anyone who could make them money.”
Have YOU read anything recently that has helped you with life as a working parent? If so, please share your book recommendations in comments below. Happy 2021 summer reading!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave