I don't remember how I heard of I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam but as soon as I started reading it I loved it. A few chapters in and I started texting my working mom friends telling them they should read it.
This book has a message that resonates with my own experience of being a working mom and being able to spend significant time with my kids and family, finding time for myself and finding success in my career. It takes a lot of planning with a healthy dose of flexibility but doesn't all parenting? Doesn't life?
A theme of the book is that our cultural narrative about being a working mom is filled with negatives and this is something I've observed. Things like: being stressed out and over-scheduled all the time; not being there to witness your children's milestones; not intimately knowing your child and feeling connected to them; not enjoying being at work; not succeeding at work; wishing to stay at home instead.
I definitely have days that are harder than others but on most days I look forward to going to work and overall I do not find these negatives to be part of my narrative. And I have many friends who also enjoy being working mothers who don't express these negative sentiments as their main life narrative. So it was comforting and uplifting to read a book that spoke to my own experience as a working mom and to read something positive about it for a change; I found myself highlighting so many passages.
The premise of I Know How She Does It is that the author has women in demanding and successful careers (earning more than $100,000 per year and therefore likely to be very successful in their careers) fill out daily time sheets and account for all of their time for two weeks. This allowed her to see exactly how much time they spent working, caring for and spending time with their kids and partners, doing housework and taking time for themselves. It was fascinating to see the breakdown of time and the different tactics women used to structure their time.
I think this book has great messages for parents who work outside the home as well as those who don't but it is definitely focused on mothers who work outside the home. If you are also a working mom I would definitely recommend I Know How She Does It!
Here are some of my favorite quotes and take-aways from the book...
On creating a narrative:
"The time is there to have what matters...[W]e have to choose to see this, and many people choose not to. In the discussion of women's life choices, we often focus on the crazy moments, or the difficult moments. But what if this logical leap--these stressful things happened, and therefore life is crazy and unsustainable--limits our stories?"
"In life, and particularly in a life with little ones, happiness is a choice. I can choose how to remember our day at the beach. It's not that the stressful moments don't happen; it's just that they are not the only moments that happen."
"We often describe our life in abstractions, but happiness comes from making our day-to-day lives as good as possible."
"I cannot subscribe to the belief that there is something about modern life that makes us harried and maxed out. If we are, then it's time to examine our own choices and the scripts that are running through our heads."
On making time:
"We can carry many responsibilities and still revel in our own sweet time."
"The more you have going on, the more you do." (I have found this to be so true! My life has never been so full as it is with two little boys and yet I am pursuing more personal interests, my blog and two podcasts, than ever before.)
On having a perfect life:
"But no one gets a perfect life. Not people who stay home with their children, not those who are married or not married, not those who have kids or don't have kids. I want to push back against this expectation of a stress-free life, because it keeps us from seeing the sweet moments that already exist."
On investing in a career:
"When we create enough time to invest in our careers, our careers grow. We can better support our families financially. Over time, that affluence can give us even more control of our time and our lives." (This idea is a huge motivation for our plan to quickly pay off our mortgage.)
"When we work enough to see our careers flourish, we find work energizing. That gives us more energy for the rest of our lives."
On making big decisions:
"When kids are babies, life naturally involves some hunkering down. People often make big, life-changing decisions when they are in this survival mode, but if you hang on, eventually you can fathom the future."
"You don't build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself. Recognizing that is what makes success possible."
All of these sentiments really resonated with me but I also feel there is so much more I could say on this topic! Like how privileged Chris and I are to be in a position to choose to be a household with two working parents; to have available and be able to afford excellent childcare; to have enough free time to read about and reflect on the experience of being a working mom/parent. I always find myself going back to this article about mothers and parents living near or below the poverty level and struggling to provide for and care for their children. Whatever stresses or doubts I may face I know that it does not compare to the stresses that those parents grapple with and it is appalling to me that as a country we are not doing more to support those families.