I finished Laura Vanderkam's newest book this weekend, and wanted to share my thoughts. Overall I really enjoyed it. It was an engaging and quick read. Since I was familiar with Vanderkam's work through her blog and other books, none of the ideas were truly brand-new to me, but they were highlighted in a way that made things stand out that I'd never before given much thought. I'll disclose that I did contribute a time-log for her study and there may be some quotes from an email exchange.
I've noticed that her work is surprisingly divisive. This may be in part due to the privileged position she comes from, and assumes in her readers. I think this book dealt with the issue by stating outright that the numbers and stories in the book were all from working mothers making >$100K/year. I get that this is a small subset of our society, but its all the very subset that writes these articles about not being able to "have it all" that invade and shape our cultural mindset. So it makes sense to delve into --and hopefully challenge--the idea that these women, who admittedly have the most privilege to deal with modern life, are consummately unhappy. Are all women who are successful in their career stressed and miserable, never seeing their kids, spouses, friends and never having a moment to themselves? And if not, why not?
Vanderkam likes to look at the big picture. She's not about elaborate to-do lists and fancy planning systems, but encourages removing the unimportant time sucks so you can fill your life with the things you value and enjoy. She disparages typical working-mom advice like cooking on the weekend (my lifesaver!) and tidying/organizing schemes in favor of decreasing overall chore/housework time by outsourcing or letting things go. I don't think her ideas are limited to the six-figure income demographic. If a family can't afford a house cleaner, they still can lower their cleaning standards (assuming they aren't at rock bottom to begin with!) or get kids/spouse to chip in so less falls on one person. Whether you drive to work in a fancy car or take a bus, you can listen to music or podcasts to turn your commute into leisure time. Anyone can take a close look at their life and see what can be subtracted to fit more good stuff in.
Something that really made me think is the prevailing assumption that less work=happier life. It never occurred to me that for some people (including me at some points) working more, enough to achieve the kind of forward progress that results in satisfaction, may actually relieve overall stress & angst. Even in a salaried job where hours worked does not equal money in the bank, having more time to do really fulfilling and career advancing work may be worthwhile if it makes you more energized and excited about your career.
One segment that made me feel warm & fuzzy was the one about the mother coming home on the bus and coming up with a fun, close-to-home evening plan for her little family on weeknights. Go to the park, go for ice cream, jump rope, play board game---nothing was BIG or expensive or required too much advanced planning, but it was intentional. Rather than rushing through the dinner-bath-bed routine, they took some time (30 minutes?) to do something that felt special. I really want to do that, at least a couple nights every week. It was actually reading this chapter that made me feel hopeful and positive about my ability to make life less of a slog and got me out of my blah mood this weekend! The bit about the woman who takes walks or shares wine & food with fellow moms at her kid's soccer game also made me happy---what a great way to combine so many values---exercise, supporting kids, being outside, friendship.
I also really like Vanderkam's focus on noticing what you already have.
The narrative of working parents not having any leisure time, when in
fact we have plenty of time to spend on our own pursuits, made me
examine my days with more scrutiny. Was I using my non-work, non-kids,
non-sleep time in a way that was relaxing/refreshing/energizing, or
frittering them away. I exercise regularly, write this blog, read a ton
of books, have watched multiple series of television shows, go for
happy hours with friends approximately once/month, work on my garden.
But if I eliminate some of the Facebook and stupid internet time, I
could do those things more often or even incorporate something new into
She encourages us to figure out our priorities and then make them happen---find a way to fit them into our lives. I've done this, with great results (thus the exercise, happy hours, reading) but its been several years. Especially with kids, things can change pretty dramatically in 3 years, so its good to revisit this---reading the book was a good reminder. I mentioned in my last post that I anticipate more periods of at-home time where I'm not actively needed by a child (B can play independently but needs me in eye sight, or I'll hear MOMMY WHERE ARE YOU within 30 seconds; L still wants me to play with him most of the time) I need to think about what i want to do with that time, so I don't fill it with internet surfing or chores. Its not that hard to handle both kids at once anymore, either. I've given G plenty of time to himself to work on his projects. Maybe I need to claim my own time (he does offer, I'm just not sure what to do with it, so I'm "saving" it, but actually I'm forfeiting it).
The negatives: I did not read the time logs. On the Kindle they were too small to see. There was a link so that you could get an enlargeable version of the page, but when you made it larger, it didn't fit on the page so I had to scroll left-right and up-down to see the whole page, which made it really hard to see any patterns. Also each page of a log was a separate link, and some logs were 4-6 pages! You had to click the link, enlarge, scroll around, close out, flip to the next page, click the link again... I did this for 1-2 logs and then just skipped them altogether. I didn't find them interesting, to be honest. I prefer the narrative, with the whys and the hows then just blocks with "did this" "did that".
While I like day-in-the-life narratives, the "statistics" presented in the book in narrative form were hard for me to get my head around. 15% of women with X situation did Y. But how many women were in X situation? Was that an average? I'm used to figures with "n" and error bars and significance, so I find numbers thrown around distracting and hard to really believe (I trust the numbers presented are correct, just don't trust that I know exactly what they represent, if that makes sense?)
And of course, not all the advice pertained to my situation or my personality. I like prepping meals ahead of time because I don't work from home, and we all descend together & starving---its a huge stress saver to have something that can get on the table in 5 minutes on a weeknight. We can't afford a twice weekly cleaner, so we do have to clean the kitchen and yeah, we have higher standards for cleanliness (but not neatness--I do not pick up toys at night, but I do get why people do...its ingrained and hard to change). I'm not lucky enough to be able to fall asleep in 5 minutes (ha! hahahaha! the past 2 nights it took me over an hour, even after reading for 30-45 minutes!) after stopping working at night, so I need to schedule a good amount of down time and "lying in bed" time if I want to get enough sleep. No one is going to give me advice that is 100% pertinent. I take what I can use from various sources (including my own experience).
Tips and tricks aside, the best part of the book was the overall positive message. There is plenty written about how hard it is for working mothers, its easy to fall into the pity party mindset. I found it refreshing to hear someone reaffirm what I already know to be true: I can indeed have it all, and more.