Welcome to the 4th annual Mindful Return summer reading list for working mamas!  Every year, I seem to find more and more nonfiction books (and this year, a parable!) that delight, inspire, and teach me.  This year was no exception. If you’re looking for the prior three summer reading lists, here are the links – I still highly recommend all of the books on the other summer reading lists as well:

When do I find time to read? On my metro commute (more on finding your zen on the way to work here), and a few pages at night before bed.  This year I’m down from 6 recommendations to 5.  Why? We moved to a new house (i.e. Q1 of 2019 was a blur), and I can’t seem to find my copy of Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead, but I remember enjoying it immensely.

Now, on to the list. And 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.

2019 Working Mama Summer Reading List

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport

  • Why read it? I’m a raging fan of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work so figured I’d enjoy his new book as well.  I was not disappointed.  If you, like most parents, are concerned about the use of technology and screen time in our – and our children’s – personal lives, you MUST read this book.  It opened my eyes to the way social media is designed to capture our attention for longer and longer periods.  And it offered practical strategies for combatting the lure of our screens.
  • Favorite quote? First, I love how Newport defines the term he uses as his title: “Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”  And second, his commentary on the disappearance of (but importance of) solitude truly resonates: “The smart-phone provided a new technique to banish these remaining slivers of solitude: the quick glance.  At the slightest hint of boredom, you can now surreptitiously glance at any number of apps or mobile-adapted websites that have been optimized to provide you an immediate and satisfying dose of input from other minds…[BUT] when you avoid solitude, you miss out on the positive things it brings you: the ability to clarify hard problems, to regulate your emotions, to build moral courage, and to strengthen relationships.  If you suffer from chronic solitude deprivation, therefore, the quality of your life degrades.”

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

  • Why read it? This book became my bible once I had a second child.  For whatever reason, I’m not one to read a book twice.  But I’ve made an exception (a few times over) for this one.  The authors truly get inside the hearts and heads of siblings and give us so many useful strategies for tackling nearly every sibling-related issue under the sun.  Better yet, each chapter ends with cartoons that make concept-review fun and easy.  A must-read for anyone with more than one kiddo.
  • Favorite quote? This pretty much sums up the central premise of the book: “When all of the stories were read or told we looked at each other in wonderment.  What a strange an poignant process was going on here.  It seemed such a puzzling paradox: Insisting upon good feelings between the children led to bad feelings.  Acknowledging the bad feelings between the children led to good feelings.  A circuitous route to sibling harmony.  And yet, the most direct.”

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, by Laura Vanderkam

  • Why read it? I was initially startled to learn that a week had 168 hours in it. Seemed like a lot for something that often flew by.  But the math checks out.  Time-management guru Laura Vanderkam’s book is a well-researched, convincing argument that we actually have much more time than we think.  The key is to fill these hours with intention. She’s a big fan of doing so-called “time studies” – i.e. writing down everything you do for a few days to show patterns.  And her insights are spot-on.
  • Favorite quote? I have two.  First (and I’ve certainly found this to be true for me):, “But here’s the fascinating part: if you love what you do, you’ll have more energy for the rest of your life,too.  If you’re trying to build a career while raising a young family, you will have more energy for your children if you work 50 hours a week in a job you love than if you work 30 in a job you hate.”  And from her time study work, she discovered that “Distractions make us feel more pressed for time than we really are.”

Juliet’s School of Possibilities: A Little Story About the Power of Priorities, by Laura Vanderkam

  • Why read it? Because it’s a powerful parable (and how often do we take the time to read modern-day parables?).  I haven’t ever recommended two books by the same author in the same list before.  But this pairs so nicely with her book 168 hours, it’s as though the sommelier ordered it to arrive with your meal.  We know, through experience, that stories are likely to stick with us longer than mere facts.  And Vanderkam has turned her principles from 168 Hours into a memorable tale.  You’ll probably want to gift this book to all young women in their 20’s.
  • Favorite quote(s!)? ’I don’t have time’ means ‘It’s not a priority.’  We always have time for what matters to us.’  Juliet paused.  ‘I wrote that down.  I made myself write that phrase over and over.  We always have time for what matters to us.”  And also: “…’It’s often easier to meet the expectations that are flashing right in front of us instead of the expectations that are more important, but more nebulous. And here’s the thing.  There can be infinite expectations.  Even if you never slept, you could not meet all the expectations of your employer, your colleagues, your clients, your friends, your family, yourself.  You cannot do everything; the choice to meet one expectation is always a choice not to meet another.’ Juliet paused.  ‘The difficult truth in this is that sometimes you need to disappoint someone’s obvious expectation in order to eventually meet bigger ones.’”

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

  • Why read it? I knew Michelle Obama was an impressive working mama and First Lady. But I had no idea she was such an amazing writer and storyteller.  This book is raw, open, poignant, and vulnerable, particularly on many of the topics we struggle with as working parents.  She’s been in the trenches right there with us (one time bringing three-month-old Sasha to a job interview!).  And she doesn’t mince words.
  • Favorite quote? In debating whether to send in a résumé for a new job after Sasha was born, “In any event, this was not a moment of high glamour for me, not a time I could really imagine blow-drying my hair and putting on a business suit.  I was up several times a night to nurse Sasha, which put me behind on sleep and therefore sanity.  Even as I was still rather fanatically devoted to neatness, I was losing the battle.  Our condo was strewn with baby toys, toddler books, and packages of diaper wipes.  Any trip outside the house involved a giant stroller and an unfashionable diaper bag full of the essentials: a Ziploc of Cheerios, a few everyday toys, and an extra change of clothes—for everyone.” So true!  Also, her recognition of the importance of her mama friends: “I felt it every time we gathered, the collective force of all these women trying to do right by their kids: In the end, no matter what, I knew we’d help one another out and we’d all be okay.”

If you’ve read anything recently that has helped you with life as a working parent, please tell us about it in comments below.  Happy summer reading, all!

Back to Work After BabyIf you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.

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


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