Home / Books / Book Reviews / Book Review: What Happy Working Mothers Know by Cathy L. Greenberg, PhD, and Barrett S. Avigdor, JD

Book Review: What Happy Working Mothers Know by Cathy L. Greenberg, PhD, and Barrett S. Avigdor, JD

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In a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, written by Doug Moore and Aisha Sultan, I learned that recent US Census Bureau data has contradicted the popular myth that highly educated women with high paying jobs are staying out of the labor force to be at home with their children. According to the data, stay-at-home mothers tend to have less education than salaried working moms.

I worked at professional positions as my three children were growing up. We all were happy and enjoy the benefits of this family lifestyle. But are mothers working outside of the home happier and better parents than are women who stay at home with their children?

In their book, What Happy Working Mothers Know, Greenberg and Avigdor send the main message to women not compromise themselves and their ambitions in order to be a great mom. The key to being a great mom, they contend, is not whether a woman stays at home with her children or takes on a salaried position. Whether at home or in the workforce, happy mothers make great mothers.

The authors acknowledge the pressures, guilt, and stress under which working mothers struggle. They suggest that negative factors cause women to look away from their strengths and become unhappy. Using a positive psychology model, they encourage working mothers to focus on authenticity, a position of abundance and a strengths-based approach as the path for being happy as a working mother.

In conjunction with writing their book, they conducted online survey of 773 salaried working mothers. The results of this survey can be reviewed and are captured in this book.

I especially enjoyed Chapter 2 — The Science of Happiness. The authors reviewed evidence that genetics have an impact on individual happiness and research indicates that everyone is born with a happiness "set point". Like a set point for weight, everyone is predisposed toward a certain level of happiness, with a 50-50 chance of turning out that way. Nevertheless, they stress that while there is a genetic influence, a person's level of happiness is not fixed.

They explained psychologist Jonathan Haidt's formula: Level of Happiness = set point + current conditions + voluntary activities or H = S + C + V. This very simple model, they contend, makes it clear that the easiest way to increase your happiness is to consciously choose voluntary activities with your happiness in mind.

Here are some key passages from this book.
• True happiness requires not only appreciating the good parts of your life but also this self awareness of your needs and how to make sure those needs are met. It's not solely about meeting the needs of your kids and your family. (Page 21)
• Emotions play a role in decision-making no matter how unemotional you might think you are… Human beings think with their whole brain and not just one part. (Page 35)
• But we owe it to ourselves, our kids, and our work to take care of ourselves as well. To be your best, your most energetic and most joyful self, you need to be able to pursue your own life in addition to your life as a mom. For many women, going to work helps them preserve their sense of who they are… for some others, staying at home to raise the kids is the fulfillment of a dream, of their life's purpose. (Page 57)
• The unhappiest working mothers are those who have given up on happiness, moving through life like robots, accomplishing a stunning array of tasks at work and at home but taking little joy in any of it. (Page 115)
• When you're at peace and happy with your choices as a mom — whether you go to work or stay at home — you and your children thrive. There is not a right or a wrong choice. (Page 121)
• If you stay home full time to take care of your kids and feel like a martyr because you're doing so, you teach your children that your needs and desires are less important than theirs, and that's the role you model for their future… if you do what you truly desire (stay at home or go to work) you teach your children to follow their passion and to make their contribution in the way they feel is most important. That frees them to do the same. (Page 136)

This book is a very helpful resource for action-oriented parents. While targeted to working moms, it is also a helpful guide for disenchanted stay-at-home mothers. Each chapter has exercises, self coaching breaks, checklists, and other evaluative and change tools to help women develop or increase happiness in their chosen paths. One particularly easy recommendation is found on page 42 where they suggest that women put happy playlists on their MP3 players and listen to them every day. And as the first chapter title states, happiness is not a luxury for mothers; it is a necessity.

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About Dr. Coach Love

  • Hello!
    The topic of working mothers is certainly an important one and I am pleased that my post added to your understanding. Finding the joy and fulfillment in your life with multiple roles—including motherhood—is the key to life satisfaction. Thanks for your feedback.