3 Books to Help Working Moms (and Dads) Manage it All


If you are a child or the ‘80s or ‘90s you were probably taught that you could “have it all”: the career, happy kids, a loving husband, fun, friends and a fit body, too. Then came a new millennium … and the kids, and suddenly (like me) you’re not so sure.

After my twins were born, I questioned my decision to keep working– more often than I washed my hair. Sometimes, I still do. When the boys grip my ankles like rabid raccoons as I try to get out the door, when I’m so tired I wear yesterday’s pants to my morning meeting — only to realize they still have baby oatmeal on them, and when (despite my master’s degree) I hand over nearly all my paycheck to cover childcare, I wonder if I’ve got this all wrong. Last year when I read that the average working mom works 98 hours a week when you factor in family care, I thought “That sounds about right!”

Despite all that, I’m still pretty sure keeping my office job is better for me, for my kids and for my family. And it turns out there is some research to back that up.

working mom
Working moms often feel like we’re not doing anything well, but we should give ourselves a little more credit.

You’re not alone

A lot of women aren’t so sure about having, or more importantly, DOING it all. Participation of women in the labor force in the U.S. has been falling since 2000. Women, especially moms, are leaving their jobs despite being more educated than men. Researchers argue about the causes: a lack of family-friendly policies, inflexible schedules or a general culture of discrimination against moms called the “maternal wall.” It’s probably all three, but for me, the biggest barrier was the mommy guilt that comes with that culture.

We need better policies for things like paid family leave, free child care and an economy that offers women and men more flexibility to have both a family life and careers. Sadly, the one thing most likely to get us there is when more moms work outside the home and continue to demand better.

Stay in the game (at least a little)

Many researchers have argued that moms fare better when we figure out how to keep our jobs through our children’s early years.

A few of the best arguments for continuing to work while you parent: Moms who keep their jobs feel more fulfilled and some reports say are generally happier. As adults, our sons are more likely to share housework and our daughters are likely to earn more, according to Harvard research. Also, working moms don’t backslide in wages.

If you do leave your career when your kids are young, returning might not be so easy. Only 40 percent of moms who leave find full-time work after a break, studies show. If we do find that job, our wages take a big hit; it’s hard to get back to what we earned before that baby break. As Anne-Marie Slaughter writes, “if you keep your hand in the workforce while you are devoting more of your time to care, it will be easier to ramp up than to get back in.”

If you can’t have IT ALL, have some of everything

I started picking up every book and article I could find on managing a career as a mom. The best books I found offer a way for us to have some of everything. No, you can’t bake your kid’s organic muffins from scratch and land that new client every week (and forget being ready for date night if you do). But you can be there for what matters for your family, take care of yourself, and advance your career; you just have to get creative. Oh, and give yourself a break; a little self-appreciation can make all the difference. I found that thinking about what you value most helps to cut out the extra stressors.

Here are three books that might help you find just enough of everything (to read in all your free time):

1.“Pie Life” by Samantha Ettus:

This book is at once permission to forgive yourself and take pride in how you manage and a reminder of what matters most. It’s not a list of tips and tricks for managing, but more like a new framework to imagine a life with so many delicious slices, including, career, kids, love, health, community and — gasp — hobbies! If you are only going to read one book to help yourself navigate motherhood and career, this is it.

2. “I Know How She Does It” by Laura VanderKamp:

VanderKamp has interviewed hundreds of women who a) have families and b) earn six figures or more. Moreover, she has scrutinized how they use their time from time logs. Her insights amount to a powerful story of success for many moms who might inspire you. The major takeaway is that there are actually 168 hours in every week —if you can break free of the strict 9-5 world you can probably get a lot of the good stuff from both a career and family.

3. “Unfinished Business” by Anne-Marie Slaughter

In 2012, Slaughter wrote one of The Atlantic’s most-read articles ever — “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” — but she now says she would have rather titled it “Why Working Mothers Need Better Choices.” It turns out she has a lot more to say on that matter. This book takes a broader angle to explore public and corporate policies and cultures around families. It also includes well-researched advice on how to approach tradeoffs, things like working with your partner on who get to focus on their careers when, and how to and step back from your career, without stepping out of it. It is a great read for dads, too.

Oh and in case you didn’t read it five years ago…

4. “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg makes a good case for how women can lay the groundwork for other women to succeed. And her chapter on “make your partner a real partner” is a key piece of the puzzle. We are never going to succeed in our careers if we’re doing all the family work, too — that means finding partners who will do their share, and letting them do it.

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Katherine lived on four different continents before settling in Washington, D.C., to raise her family. She works at a global think tank during the day and raises twin boys the rest of the time. When she isn't working on a spreadsheet for work, she loves walking in the forest with her family, which invariably involves stomping in puddles and climbing on logs. Though she is less of a world traveler these days, she continues to seek out adventures, from exploring D.C.'s museums and playgrounds to taking road trips to national parks. When it's time to unwind, she can be found snuggling with her husband on the couch. Likes: adventures, sleeping past 7 a.m., being surrounded by forests, the sound of her boys laughing, and locally made ice cream. Dislikes: whining, the patriarchy, and people who judge parents.