Series 10: For the Love of Parenting | Episode 04
Working Moms Stretched Too Thin: Jessica Turner on Work-Life Satisfaction
Over 70% of moms in America work, and let’s face it: they’re pulled in a thousand directions. More than ever, the pressure is sky high to do All The Things well: birthday parties, presentations, laundry, answering emails. There hardly seems time to keep everyone fed and clothed, let alone investing in self-care and meaningful relationships. As a full-time employee in Corporate America, writer Jessica Turner knows the struggle is real. Today she sits down with Jen to discuss practical ways moms can become more efficient and less stressed, and why we shouldn’t focus on creating “work-life balance,” but “work-life satisfaction.” Jessica also shares how we can prioritize self-care, discover more flexibility at work and home, establish clear boundaries, establish easy home management solutions, and cultivate deeper relationships with our partners and friends.
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Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey everybody, it’s Jen Hatmaker. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast.
So glad that you are here today because we are in the middle of an amazing series called For the Love of Parenting. We have all kinds of awesome experts on this series and the response to it has been great. Thank you so much for your feedback.
Our guest today is a really wonderful, smart voice for those of us who are working moms. That is today’s topic, being a working mom, juggling it all.
This is Jessica Turner. She is a writer, she’s a speaker, she’s a blogger. She works full-time in Corporate America on top of that. She has three kids, her husband Matthew is also a writer, and they are both dear friends of Brandon and I. They are as good as gold. You are going to love Jessica today.
I think a lot of us can relate to this line in her bio where she said, “Every day I go 90 miles an hour trying to juggle too much. I love it all and have fun at the same time. I work full-time outside the home, but that does not stop me from loving my family and friends big time.”
Listen, I’m telling you as one of those friends, she’s telling the truth. Jessica lives a really amazing life, and she manages to do it all so well. She’s bringing her expertise to bear today in this next hour.
In her first book, which is called The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You [Amazon | Barnes & Noble] that Jessica wrote a couple of years ago, she wrote about how we as women especially as moms tend to try to do it all, everything from being super engaged, super present, super productive, super successful. And then in addition having all these meaningful things, like change the earth, but then we often neglect our own self-care.
In The Fringe Hours, Jessica addressed why it was so important for women to make time for themselves and how to identify their own little pockets of time or what she calls “fringe hours” to practice self-care so that we are better moms, better wives, better employers and employees.
Her latest book, the one that we’re really going to dial into today, hits on some of the same themes. But as a committed working mom, she really went to task on serious research. She conducted interviews with thousands of other working moms to understand the overall experience of what that demographic looks like in America right now.
Listen, I’m telling you right now, you’re gonna get so much out of this conversation today. Jessica approaches this topic with a lot of grace and generosity, but a lot of expertise to it. It’s data-driven, it’s research-based. She’s really interested in delving into others’ experiences and teaching us what she has learned.
This is practical, this is pragmatic. We are going to put a lot of ideas in your hands today. If this area in your life feels like it’s out of control in any way, if you feel like you’re mired in guilt and you’re not managing any of it well, this conversation is for you. Help me welcome Jessica Turner to the podcast.
Welcome, my dear friend, Jessica Turner. Thank you for being on the series, thank you for being on the podcast.
Jessica: Oh, my goodness, it is my greatest joy, I’m giddy with excitement. And honestly, you’re one of my dearest friends and I’m nervous.
Jen: You are nervous.
Jessica: Oh, my goodness, I could hardly sleep last night. I was seriously nervous, yes. I feel so humbled that I’m included in this series.
Jen: Well, listen, you know what I have said to you a million times, and I am not joking around, that I just know everything because you tell me. You’re the person who tells me things. You’re the one who’s like, “This is how you do this better, this is how you run a business better, this is what you need to read.” And literally, you know that I obey you. Whatever you tell me to do, I do the thing. You’re so capable, your level of being a capable human being is so high.
That’s why I’m so excited you’re on this series too. We’re in the For the Love of Parenting series, and we were just talking offline about so many of the specific stressors around being a working mom. But as you just said a minute ago, not enough people are talking about this. I just don’t feel like there’s enough instruction and community around this specific messaging. This is one reason I love your voice so much as a working mom. And I personally, as a working mom, have benefited so much from what you’ve written and what you have said.
I think that a lot of us are really deliberate about that so-called “balance”—I’m literally doing air quotes with my fingers right now—of just motherhood and full-time work because I don’t honestly know if there’s such a thing as balance. I’m not even sure that’s the right word.
Jessica: I have lots of opinions on that word.
Jen: I would like to hear it. Let’s start there. What’s your opinion on balance? Don’t you feel like that’s just some sort of idea that was sold to us?
Jessica: Yep, it absolutely was. There’s actually research around that idea being sold and company is kind of embracing that notion.
I’ve read a book, I wish I could remember what book I’ve read, but the man who wrote it talked about instead of work-life balance, he talked about “work-life satisfaction.”
Jen: Oh, I like that.
Jessica: And I think that is such a game changer when you realize that there are going to be times in your life where work is heavier. There are going to be times in your life where kids are heavier, where marriage stuff is weighing on you more. And if you have satisfaction in all of those different areas, however you identify those areas in your own life, that is what we’re looking for. We’re looking for happiness and satisfaction, not necessarily perfect balance.
That’s how I look through the lens of things. There are going to be seasons where I’m working a lot and things might appear to be out of balance. But if it’s something that I’m really passionate about and it’s just for a season, that’s okay if I am satisfied in the work that I’m doing.
Now, if I’m working too much and I hate my work, then we’ve got an issue because that satisfaction isn’t there.
Jen: Oh, that’s a great toggle, I like that. I like that because you’re absolutely right. I don’t have any two months that are the same in a row, it’s a constant shift.
I’m thinking about this just this whole notion of being working moms, I think this is something that most of us have stared in the face at one point or another. We’re like, this enormous internal debate: Should I keep my job, should I work full-time? Should I be a stay-at-home mom? Am I harming my children by not making them the center of my universe? And then of course, for the majority of us, I would say that don’t have a choice not to work. I think that’s the majority story. Then the guilt even weirdly compounds.
I wonder if before we jump into all that you have learned and all of your research and all of your great advice, can you give my listeners a little bit of background on your journey as a working mom and what your mindset was? How did you approach work as you started having kids?
Jessica: Yeah. My husband and I live in Nashville. We’ve been married 14 years and we have three kids. They are 10, 7 and 3 and a half.
And for me, it was that I was always going to work because it was financially necessary for our family. My husband is a full-time writer, he writes kids books and is a photographer and freelancer. I also carried the benefits.
And I’m a bit risk-averse, we’ve been through seasons where things were really lean. I really like having that regular check coming in. I also really like health care and 401k and all the things. We decided that it made sense for me to kind of have the more traditional nine-to-five job. But also I didn’t ever really have that debate, I don’t feel like Jen, because I really like working. And I think I’m a better mom when I’m working, certainly with having three kids. I’ve had a couple major surgeries. There have been seasons where I’ve been at home 24/7, and it’s better for Mommy to work. There really was never the discussion of, Should I be a stay-at-home mom?
Now, certainly we’ve had discussions of, Should I leave my nine-to-five and do something that would allow for more flexibility? But ultimately, we’ve always come back to the fact that I really love where I work, the people that I work with, the type of work that I do. That just didn’t ever make sense for us.
And I think that is true for the bulk of working moms in America. Something like 75% of American moms work. This is a conversation that needs to be had, and it’s something that we all deal with in our own homes. And now figuring out what works best for you and your family’s needs and what you want is a very personal decision. But I think having conversations with other working moms about what is working well for them is really useful.
And that’s why in my book Stretched Too Thin, I talked to so many working moms because I knew that my own experience was not the same as other moms and why it was necessary to have lots of different types of working moms represented in the book.
Jen: I appreciate you saying right out of the gate that this was not in terms of like full-time work or stay at home was really never a debate for you internally. Because the truth is, I think there’s a lot of us that love our work. I would count myself in that category too. I love work and I’m better at my roles for working. It’s weird that we have to defend ourselves with that, it’s so weird. Men do not have to ever say that, that they don’t experience this conflict between doing what they’re good at and what they’re made for and their family. I find this a very gendered discussion in general, in that women like you and I who really love our jobs sometimes have to defend it.
I have had to defend it before and people will give me a side eye like, “Oh, your poor family.”
I’m like, “Because I work? What in the world?” Most of the world’s women work.
However, having said that, even those of us who really love our work still get in the weeds on all the things we’re going to talk about on this podcast because doing it well, it does hit some roadblocks sometimes.
I’m going to go back real quick before we get into Stretched Too Thin, I want to go back to your first book The Fringe Hours because in that one, you did a really great job of helping moms figure out how to carve out time for themselves amid all their demands—work, parenting, all of it. It was really practical, it was really empowering. You kind of gave us permission to say, “Hey, you know what, I can actually have a little bit of time for myself, and I’m not harming my children because I read a book for half an hour in my bedroom.” Just putting that sort of narrative out into the conversation was really useful for so many of us.
I wonder if, real quickly, you can just touch a little bit on that book’s themes and how you unpacked all the feelings that moms have about taking time for themselves and what are the barriers to that, the guilt that sometimes goes along with deliberate self-care.
Jessica: Yeah. I wrote The Fringe Hours [Amazon | Barnes & Noble] really because I had so many women asking me how I was doing it all. They were wondering, “How are you working full-time and throwing these great birthday parties, and blogging, and finding time to scrapbook,” and do all these things that I was doing. And really, they didn’t want to know how I was finding time to work, what they wanted to know it was, “How are you finding time to do things that you love because I’m not doing those things?”
The answer was those fringe hours, those pockets of time that often go underused or wasted altogether, I was using them to do things that I loved. I was getting up early in the morning to write and to read, and I was sometimes saying no to doing chores so that I could take care of me. Because I think there’s a lot of women out there who feel like they need permission to take care of themselves, when really we need to be living by that oxygen-mask philosophy that we’ve got to take care of ourselves before we can take care of everyone and everything else.
And that when we do that, we are the best version of ourselves. I’m a better mom when I’m taking care of myself. If I’m not taking care of myself, I am not a pleasant person to be around.
The Fringe Hours [Amazon | Barnes & Noble] is really about equipping women with some really practical advice of how can you find that time and make it a priority, just like you make so many other things in your life a priority.
Jen: Totally, you really do this well. I am not surprised to hear that so many women were coming to you for that specific counsel because you work full-time. And then you have all these side hustles too by the way, which you barely mentioned. You work outside of your typical job stuff. And then you have this very vibrant connected life because you’re such a good friend and you’re such a good mom, over-the-top good mom, so good. You really practice what you preach there. And I have learned a lot from watching you be just so deliberate and efficient with your time.
I want to dive into the topic of your new book, which kind of parlays really well out of The Fringe Hours, actually.
Your new book, like you mentioned, it’s called Stretched Too Thin: How Working Moms Can Lose the Guilt, Work Smarter, and Thrive [Amazon | Barnes & Noble]. Already, I love it. And just the title alone is so hopeful. It just feels like such a relief even to say that out loud.
What I love is that you’re perfectly fine to get down in the muck with everybody and commiserate about how we are all indeed stretched too thin. But then you kind of just hit us over the head with this truth and you lead us out of the mire with all this knowledge that we really can do something about it. And then you proceed to show us, and this is straight-up the way to my heart through research and data, that moves me. That compels me, that moves the needle forward in my life. You use all this research and data that we really can reject guilt, we really can work smarter, we really can’t thrive. I love your practical heart.
Will you tell everybody a little bit about some of the research you did to get to sort of the heart of the working mom experience kind of across our country, across genres, across different types of working moms.
Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. It was really important to me to write a book that wasn’t my story as a working mom, so research was the only way to do that. My day job, I work in health care, and so research is really important, in academic health care, actually. Research is very, very important in the work that I do, it’s kind of the only way I know to go about things.
I started out by conducting a survey online, made 2,000 working moms respond, which blew my mind. I used to get 500 to 1,000, I had 2,000 respond. Right there, that said to me, “Okay, this is something people want to talk about.” And it really touched on what are those major pain points of working motherhood. I had women rank their struggles and had some open-ended questions for them to share their own stories, and it was 500 pages of responses. And over and over, and over again, women kept saying that they were stretched too thin.
Let me describe these different areas, and it was our emotions, like guilt and comparison and all of those things that we’ll get to. It was finding time to invest in our marriages. It was feeling like we’re parenting well, it was boundaries at work, it was home management, it was self-care, it was friendship. All of these things that we could probably rattle off on our own or we could at least say a couple of those. The book takes each of those areas and kind of dives into the pain points and then gives some practical solutions.
I found these areas and then I field tested it with an online course. I created an online course called “Stretched Too Thin: 10 Days to Overcoming the Hustle and Thriving as a Working Mom” and had more than 2,000 women enroll in that course. We had 2,000 do the survey, then 2,000 do the course. And by this point, I thought, I need to go to even deeper than this.
That’s when I started writing the book and doing one-on-one interviews on each of the different areas, both talking with working moms and talking with counselors and specialists and home organizers and people with expertise. These are different areas, because even though I wrote this book, I still get stretched too thin. This is not to say that I’m thriving 100% of the time. I did all this research. The book has 100 endnotes. So many people that I talk to and the articles that I read and different things to speak into this, to really then put together a comprehensive kind of manual. If you’re feeling stretched too thin in any of these areas, you could open up the book just to that chapter or you could read the whole nine yards and find something in every single area, kind of whatever fit your story to create something that I hope is a really useful guide.
And certainly, every chapter could be its own book. You could write a book just on “stretched too thin in your marriage” or “stretched too thin just at work.” But I’m hoping that by doing it this way, it opens the door to conversation and real-life change for women in multiple areas of their lives.
Jen: Let’s talk about those areas a little bit because it seems to me that you just nailed them, these are the exact ones that I would expect to see challenging to the working mom, what you heard, what you’re hearing and what you wrote about.
The number-one issue that you found across all your research was—and everyone’s going to be nodding their head when they hear it, I’m sure—is home management. So the cooking, the cleaning, the maintenance. I’m like, Of course. Who hasn’t had guilt about letting our kids eat two days of old leftovers because we just can’t do it. We can’t get home and also cook dinner and do it all.
I’m wondering what you’re hearing moms say about this specific area and how you’re sort of helping them put this in its proper place. What are some of your best practices in this one?
Jessica: Well, I will say I am with the 80% of women who said that this was an issue for them. I was really affirmed by how many women said that their houses were always a mess, that they never had time to clean, that it wasn’t just me. Because don’t you feel like when you go to somebody’s house and it looks amazing, you’re like, Why do I suck so much? Because if you came to my house right now, you can’t even eat at my dining room table because it’s a dumping ground from all the paper muck and all the things.
I’ll literally text you a picture of my dining room table when we get off this podcast, you will die.
Jessica: Please, please.
Jen: You cannot even see one inch of the surface.
Jessica: Yes, exactly. At first, I was just really affirmed. I was writing the book and I included quotes from the survey, directly from the survey, what people said about their houses. And I was like, I hope when women read this, they nod their head and say, “Okay, I am not alone. Don’t we sometimes just need to say, we’re not alone. I had one woman say that literally when someone comes to her house, she steps on her porch and shuts the door because she doesn’t want anyone to see in. We have all been there. I think that was really affirming.
I had to talk to a lot of experts because I’m not awesome at this. Systems and organization, obviously, is huge. And when you put those systems in place, it makes things really easy. One pain point specifically in my house was my linen closet. My linen closet is really deep and has these really big shelves. And every time I had to go in there, it was stressful to find. We’ve got twin beds, queen beds, king bed, baby bed. I cannot find it, it’s so overwhelming every time.
So I had a Thirty One party – Thirty One is this organizational company—and I sold enough stuff that I was able to get these bins all embroidered to say like king sheets, queen sheets, twin sheets. And my mom, who is amazing at cleaning and organization—we don’t know how I came from her womb—she came to town for the weekend and she set up that closet for me. And now, every time I go in that closet, I am never stressed.
Sometimes it’s tackling that mess to put a system in place that’s going to work for you so that then you aren’t going to be constantly overwhelmed. And it’s figuring out what those things are throughout your house. When you walk into our house, we’ve got some baskets by the door for shoes. I’ve seen you post, I still remember that picture you posted of all the laundry baskets. I will never forget that picture. I want that laundry room and all those baskets sorted by person and color. Have systems that are going to work for you.
One of the organizers that I talked to you, she said, “People really love those glass jars that you put your oatmeal in and your flour in, but some people get really overwhelmed by filling those jars and they never actually refill them. [If that happens] then that tends to not be a good system for you.” You’ve got to figure out what the systems are going to be that are going to be helpful for you and then move forward.
Also, you and I are huge fans of this: scheduling everything to be delivered so you never have to shop and you never run out of everything.
Jen: Oh, my gosh, preach. Oh, my gosh, yes.
Jessica: Because that as a working mom, not having to have the mental load to manage laundry detergent and soap and paper towel and just know that that is going to come to my house is huge. And yes, signing up for those things and getting it set up takes time. But once you do it, you never have to do it again and you don’t have to have that load. And that load that we carry, particularly as working moms. is so heavy and burdensome as it is that anything that you can do to streamline those processes is huge.
Jen: Yes. I like what you’re saying because none of this is complicated. None of those suggestions is beyond our capacity or something only fancy people can do. They’re kind of simple and ordinary, but the thing is they matter. They make a dent, they really do. I don’t sometimes realize how much energy, how much emotional energy I am giving away to chaos because it’s like this black cloud of doom over my shoulders that I can’t quite identify. I just feel like I’m behind on some stuff and I can’t get ahold of it. But just having them wrangled into really ordinary but simple systems, it really does matter. I can feel some of the pressure go out of the pressure cooker when I know I am never again going to run out of toilet paper. And the reason is, because you, my person who tells me everything told me about Grove. Now, just like you, all of my home supplies are delivered to my house. That’s it, it’s amazing, it’s just one less thing. It’s one less thing to manage.
I like all this very practical, Here’s how you just sort of start ratcheting down your chaos and stress and have a relief. Home management for sure, I’m like, “Hear! Hear!” when I read that.
Another biggie that you found in your research that working moms say they struggle with is obviously something you already know a lot about, which is self-care. You obviously addressed this really well in The Fringe Hours. Did you find that women in your research are saying anything specific about this area? How many of them are actually taking time for this? And can you give us a little insight on what your latest self-care practices pragmatically? How can we see this as being important to our well-being and our ability to do all the rest of our work better?
Jessica: Right. Nearly four out of five working moms who responded to the survey said that they struggled with self-care. And I think it’s because when you make the list of all the things that have to be accomplished in the day, the easiest thing for us to cross off, to not worry about, is ourselves, that we’ll get to ourselves later. And what happens is then we start running on empty, and then the other things fall off the track.
I spoke at a conference a few years ago and was talking about self-care and had everyone write down when the last time was that they lost track of time doing something that they love, which for me that happens every single week. I was up last night till 12:30 reading a book.
And this woman who I called on, I said, “When was the last time you did that?”
And she said, “Before I had kids.”
And I said, “Okay, how old are your kids?”
And she said, “My oldest is 14.”
She literally could not remember doing something for herself for 14 years, to the point where she had lost track of time doing it. And that just broke my heart.
I experienced a little bit of that after I wrote The Fringe Hours. I actually released The Fringe Hours and had a baby all within six weeks. That was a lot of birth, there was a lot of birth going on. In that year, I wasn’t doing a lot of reading. I was taking care of a newborn and I was working on book stuff and I was working full-time, and I was tired. Reading is my number-one thing that I like to do, that is my big self-care thing. And interestingly in the survey I did for The Fringe Hours, reading was the number-one thing women said they would want to do if they had time for themselves.
Jen: Oh, really? Oh, that’s interesting.
Jessica: For me, that’s a big one is you can directly tell how well I’m doing in taking care of myself by how many books I’m reading at any given moment. At the end of that year, when I realized I had only read a handful of books, I said, “This has got to change, I cannot keep living like this.” And I read 50 books that next year, and I’ve continued to read at that 50-to-60 range. And that’s kind of the good spot for me, where I know that I’m reading about a book a week all year long.
Obviously, other big ones for people are exercise is a really big one. I wish it was a really big one for me, I’m sort of an exercise-ish person. We go in phases. I really want it to be, but it just never is. I got a bike for under my desk, so I feel like that’s something.
Jen: You got a what?
Jessica: A little like bike that goes under your desk, it’s just a pedal from a bike.
Jen: What the heck?
Jessica: Yes. Then when I’m sitting, I can pedal my feet.
I feel like I’m still getting exercise. I’m being very efficient with my time by doing that while I’m working.
Jen: Oh, my gosh, that is crazy. We’re going to post a picture of that. I did not know that was a product. I didn’t know that existed.
Jessica: It does exist. Mine, actually, I got on Kickstarter, so it’s the first social bike and I can download an app and see how other people are cycling compared to me. But I don’t know anyone outside of my social bike, but whatever. And then certainly there’s the things that we all think about like massages and pedicures and those sorts of things.
It’s also really life-giving particularly for women for relationships with people like me having time with my book club is huge for me. And just time together with neighbors and friends and dining together and that sort of thing. I can’t do those things exclusively for self-care, I’ve got to have that “just Jessica” time. But I think it’s important to remember that self-care sometimes is a communal thing.
Jen: That is such good advice because I think the term “self-care” has gotten a really, really bad rap because it’s just been attached to such . . . kind of indulgent and really, what’s the word I’m looking for? Unnecessary. . .
Jen: Selfish, yeah. All very luxurious, things that women can’t even really afford or whatever. But the truth is everything you just named, that’s my top tier list of actual self-care, which is reading, I’m just like you. Time with friends, I almost might put that top for me. That all counts as self-care too. That is what makes us healthy, it makes us feel connected, it makes us feel like we’re living a vibrant life. When you hear “self-care,” don’t automatically think that means a 90-minute massage. It might, it might for you. But that’s not necessarily, that’s a really narrow definition of the term.
I love that you continue to address this not because we are wanting to just build a me-first society, but because this sincerely makes us better people. It absolutely makes me a better wife, mom, boss, leader 100%. I’m like you, I can track seasons of when I am absolutely off the rails and I hate everybody and they hate me and I’m terrible and I can’t get on top of any of it, and all the things you just mentioned are absent.
My mom is an amazing painter, and I remember waking up—she would paint when we were in bed—and I remember waking up in the morning and being so excited to go to the kitchen table and see what she had painted while I was asleep. I don’t remember ever not seeing my mom taking care of herself, that was always part of her story. I grew up seeing creative expression around me, and so that was really natural that I would take time to craft and do those types of things with my kids being around. But I think we need to remember we’re actually our kids a disservice if they don’t ever see us taking care of ourselves.
Jen: Great, great, great point. Even as you’re talking, I’m thinking about my super high value on friendship and community here on the ground, in real life. My parents, that was always one of their top values. And I never ever knew a life outside of my parents and all their friends. That’s just what we did. We’d vacation together, they were at our house all the time. We were at theirs, we barbecued. I did not know that that’s not how everybody lived.
It is true that some of that really good modeling transfers to our kids and they grow up in healthy practices, isn’t it ironic too because typically when we are sacrificing all that, we think we are doing it for the kids. And you’re right, it actually does them a disservice. I don’t think it’s really healthy at all to have kids who believe because it’s true that they are the absolute centrifugal force of the universe. I just don’t think that’s good for kids at all. And then they just don’t grow up and know how to be an adult.
Jen: I want to talk about this, the third-highest challenge that you found among working moms that you surveyed was making time for their spouse or partner or significant others. I started nodding my head when I read that because sometimes truthfully, Brandon and I can absolutely operate like ships passing in the night. We’re more like co-managers, we’re almost more like roommates just managing, managing the kids, managing the house, managing our careers. And then we’ll be like, “Oh, my gosh! Hi, you. What are you doing? What’s going on in your life? I haven’t talked to you in six months.”
I wonder what are you hearing other women say, and how do you approach this in your own life, and what do you suggest to us in your book?
Jessica: Yeah. It’s so true and it’s so interesting to hear you say that because you and I are in slightly different stages of motherhood. I’ve still got diapers in my house, you’ve not had diapers for quite a few years. Both of us are citing that this is something that happens.
And it was interesting because in the survey, women talked about they’re just too tired, they’re just too tired. You have gotten work done all day, and then you come home and it’s dinner and baths and homework. And you just are dead by the time everyone goes to bed, it’s like you have nothing else to give. And you live like that for a lot of years and then all of a sudden, you’re like, “Who is this person?”
It’s really interesting. I was talking with a co-worker a while back and we were on a trip. And she was saying it’s amazing how 7 to 10 years, you’ll start to see a bunch of your friends divorcing. I was talking about that with a friend, how this other friend had said that, and she said, “Yeah, what’s even more interesting is,” and she was in kind of your stage of life where kids were in college. She said, “You’ll actually see that again when your kids go to college where 20, 25 years, and people start getting divorced because they realize they have nothing in common because they haven’t invested in their marriages at all.”
That was a powerful story for me to hear because I was like, I do not want that. You know what, your kids are going to go away and you are left with your spouse. You need to be investing in your spouse as much as you’re investing in your kids.
In Stretched Too Thin, I go through a lot of different options of ways to do this. For Matthew and I, date nights are really important. Living in Nashville, we’re spoiled that we get to go see a lot of live music and go to a lot of shows.
That can kind of force us too because for live shows, you’re buying tickets forever in advance. We might be really busy and tired, but we bought those tickets so we’re going out and kind of have that forced date night. But I think buying tickets is a great way to ensure that you have that regular date night.
And for some people, going out is cost prohibitive. You don’t have to go out to say, “This is going to be our night.” I spoke with a marriage therapist for the book and he talked about for a lot of people, Sunday nights are kind of a couple’s night. And they just know that that is going to be the night where they’re going to really invest in one another and kids go to bed on time, or that’s the night where kids are going out or whatever it is, Saturday or Sunday night. But have that regular time.
I know Matthew and I have a couple of shows that we both really like that’s on Sunday nights, The Walking Dead. Sunday night, the kids know, 7:55, everyone is in bed. No one is coming downstairs no matter what. This is Mom and Daddy’s night.
And then, let’s be honest, getting naked, that can really help invest in a marriage. And I feel like when we aren’t doing that often, that is impacting our marriage. We both recognize that and we both need that, making time for that physical intimacy. You might be like, “Oh, I’m tired,” but it doesn’t take long to get not tired, let’s be honest.
Jen: Right. Nor does it take that long to get to the end.
Jessica: Make that happen. And then show kindness to one another. Sometimes, I feel like poor Matthew gets the short end of the stick. When I am tired and overwhelmed, he is the one that gets the very worst version of myself. And I hate to say that, but it’s true. And I think if most of us are honest, that probably would be true in our lives as well. Recognizing that and apologizing and being polite and being kind and practicing active listening where you aren’t already preparing what you’re going to say back, but you’re really listening to what your spouse has to say can make such a big difference. Looking up from your phone, putting your phone down, having eye contact, being in the same room when you’re talking.
And then asking for help. This is such a huge one I found specifically with working moms is they feel like they need to do all the things. And sometimes, I feel like our spouses just need to hear that we need help with that area, that we just need to say, “Hey, can you do this for me? It’s really overwhelming for me to do the dishes and do the kids baths,” or whatever that thing is.
In the marriage chapter, I have this citation about this list of different types of intimacy, and the intimacy list is well beyond physical intimacy. It talks about emotional intimacy, it talks about work intimacy, and conflict intimacy, and all these different ways that we share intimacy. There’s 13 different types. And the work intimacy I thought was so interesting because if I come home and Matthew has folded a load of laundry, I feel so loved. And that’s so bizarre to me until I did this research and had this therapist talk about this list, I was like, “Oh, that’s so true,” because I feel seen when he does that thing for me.
I think going through that list and figuring out what those things are in your marriage can be really powerful and make a big difference.
Jen: Oh, I think that’s so good. Everything you just said is underrated.
When you say the word intimacy, I think a lot of people of course immediately jump to sex, which is one form of intimacy, for sure. But everything else to me, that is all the soft tissue that makes the whole mechanism work. Just the basic kindness, just basic eye contact—it’s not fancy, but just making that 100%. When I am dissolving or disintegrating, Brandon gets the worst of me. Those little steps, they make such a big impact in intimacy, which ironically, typically means that sexual intimacy gets its own gas in the tank. Those things fuel that space, which for women is sometimes the last priority.
I’m really grateful that you included that section because I think again, just like self-care tends to probably get kicked to the curb. I think intimacy with our partners and husbands and spouses does too. I think that is what we just kind of think, You know what, this thing is just going to go on momentum or it’s just going to keep itself on the tracks. But then you’re right, all of a sudden you look up at 25 years, the kids are out of your house, you’re like, “I don’t even know you. We are disconnected.” That’s really profound advice.
Jessica: I do want to just give a shout out to the moms who are listening who are single moms. I really thought about whether or not I should include marriage in there. And ultimately, I included it because so many women cited it, it was something like 80%. But the moms who are out there doing all of this and working who don’t have a spouse have their own set of challenges. I just want to recognize that this is not going to be everybody’s story. I just wanted to be sure that I said that, and I should have said that at the start of the conversation.
Jen: That’s a great point, there really is no one-size-fits-all here in this space. You and I both have a ton of readers and listeners who are single moms. And then they’re eventually going to have to sort out how to date, can you even imagine?
Jessica: No, so stressful.
Jen: They need their own book for how to date and be a parent. I cannot even imagine.
I love that you gave them a shout out too because for a lot of our listeners, there is no sharing the duty, there is no, I’m going to come home to a laundry basket full of folded clothes. That’s a special kind of load to carry, and so many women are doing that with so much grace and courage. They’re pretty fantastic to watch.
I want to talk about something else that you brought up, that you discovered in your survey. I identify with this a lot because I struggled with this, and it was that a lot of your working moms said they struggle with how to leave work at work.
I think for a lot of us, our work is such a big part of our life. For some of us, our literal soul is mirrored in our work and we find a lot of definition from what we do. It can be really hard to put it all on the shelf once we’re home and be fully present for ourselves, for our families.
For me, this is added, it’s more complicated because I work from home. I don’t even have a signal to my brain like, I’m getting in the car and going away from this location to my home. It’s all the same for me. And my work is not traditional, I don’t have an eight-to-five job like you. All of a sudden it’s, “Why am I working at 10:45 at night?” I struggle with this.
I’m curious what are other women’s experience here and how would you walk us through what it might look like to leave work at work?
Jessica: Yeah. What was really interesting was that the data from the survey, I didn’t feel reflected real life because I think a lot of us struggle to admit like you have that we struggle with this. We’re like, “Oh, yeah, I’m fine, I’m totally present,” when actually we are still checking our phones 500 times, or we still are responding to that email in the bathroom, or we’re looking at our phones before we’re even out of bed. I think it’s really important for women to be honest about what this is like in their life, whether they have a nine-to-five like me and they don’t have a side hustle, or they’re working full-time at home like you are and those boundaries are more difficult maybe to establish is really be honest about how you’re spending your time. And one way to do that is to track your time for a week and see where you’re investing your time, and be really honest about the email and the conference calls and all the things. That’s going to give you a partial picture, but then just start paying attention and recognize where you need to put those boundaries in place.
For me, I noticed that I was picking up my phone a lot at night when I got home and looking at work email. I put the plug for my phone in a different room. It wasn’t in the main room that I was in where I didn’t have that super easy access to it. I think somebody that I talked to you said that they had automatic lights in their home office that turned off at 5 o’clock so that they would stop working. They have a way to establish that boundary for themselves.
Sometimes it’s when we go on vacation and we’re still checking work email every single day. My boss will actually delete Outlook from her phone when she’s going on vacation. And she says, “If I need to be reached if something is an emergency, please text me because I am not going to be looking at email while I am on vacation.”
Figuring out how you can establish those boundaries, and sometimes it is pretty radical, like leaving your job and going somewhere else so that you can have better boundaries. That was actually something that I ended up doing.
Jen: Oh, you mean a career change?
Jessica: A career change. Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. In my case, I left the agency that I was at because I did not have good boundaries and just the way in which we worked and hustled at that agency, which I loved my time there, I learned so much. But I knew with my growing family that I didn’t want to have the boundaries that I had there. I found a job where I could really leave my work at work and I could just be there 8:30 to 5:00.
Also, I think we really need to be better about speaking up and saying no.
Jen: Yeah, I do too.
Jessica: We never will regret saying no, but we often will regret saying yes. Just say no at the front end and make your life a lot easier, and frankly make your colleagues’ lives easier, make your own work-life easier by not having that on your plate. Even if it is a “no, not right now” and you decide you don’t want to come back to it.
But say if you’re overwhelmed, have those honest conversations with your boss or with your team and say, How can we make changes so that I can be a better coworker? How I can better steward the work that you’ve given me and do that really well? That means we sometimes have to have the courage to speak up at our jobs.
And then I think identifying flexibility. That’s going to look different depending on the type of career you’re in. For the nine-to-five kind of traditional space that I’m in, in Corporate America, my work is a huge, huge company, one of the largest employers in Tennessee. And they have the option where you can work from home one day a week. That is something that I take advantage of. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m doing things I shouldn’t be doing while I’m at home, but it does save me that hour of commute time. I’m able to start working the second my kids leave for school, and then I’m able to end working a little sooner. And instead of taking my lunch break with colleagues and chatting in the kitchen, I’m throwing in a load of laundry or whatever, and that’s made a huge difference in my work-life balance satisfaction discussion.
I think identifying if you need flexibility and what that can look like and having those types of conversations is also something that’s really important in this area.
Jen: That’s so great. And you know what, for people listening thinking, Well, how nice for you, you might be surprised what your employer would consider.
My sister, you see me posting my nephew constantly, my brother and my sister-in-law just had a baby. And I just can’t, I have no chill. I can’t find a lower gear, I can’t gear down. But she works full-time, but she went to her employer and essentially said, “I want to put in a proposal and basically do it on a probationary period in which I work from home two and a half days out of the week.”
And she was like, “Let’s just track my productivity. And if my work is slipping, if I’m missing deadlines or whatever, then let’s just pull it off the table.”
And he was like, “Okay.”
She was the first person to ever suggest it in her workplace. It wasn’t in place, it wasn’t a conversation that’d ever been had. But because it was sort of a low-risk scenario for her employer because she essentially said, “If my work doesn’t stand up, then we’ll just scrap it all together.” And he agreed to it. I think people listening, you may just be surprised what your opportunities could be or what chance your employer may take on you if you put in a pretty decent proposal.
I would also say, back to something you just mentioned about boundaries because that’s where I hemorrhage. And it’s where I’ve had to learn the most. My assistant Amanda helps me with this because I think on a lot of our boundaries, we as working moms would benefit from foresight. In other word, sometimes the tail for me just wags the dog. Somebody asked me something in February, it’s not going to be till September and I just say yes because it’s so far away and, oh, my gosh. And then I get to it and I realize, This was a terrible yes.
My assistant, she’ll say to me, “What do we need to block off? You’ve got May, you have a graduation season. How about we mostly block off the end of May and beginning of June?” And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, that’s smart. She helps me think ahead so that in advance when some of those options pop up, I already know, “Oh, wait, I’ve already carved that out. I’m already going to say no to that.” And then when I get to it, I want to go back and kiss my own self on the mouth that I made that decision six months earlier.
I think there’s also this sense of being proactive here not just constantly reacting to all the things that. We have to lay in the bed that we made. Everything you’re saying right now is zinging my head. These are all the things that actually make life worth living. When our, what did you call it earlier? Work-home satisfaction?
Jessica: Work-life satisfaction, and I think what you were saying regarding your sister-in-law and asking is so, so important and something that women really need to hear. The research shows again and again, and again, study after study after study, that people are more productive when they work from home and they have flexibility. You can find a lot of data to back-up a proposal like what your sister-in-law did saying, “There would be value in this.”
We actually piloted it for two weeks at my office because we were doing a remodel and everyone worked from home. And everyone was extremely productive during that time, so that’s what then gave the push for our department to get that regular work from home day.
Jen: I love that. You know how many women’s brains are on fire right now thinking like, Oh, my gosh, I’m going to propose that I work Fridays from home. And then of course you’re actually motivated to be, if not equally productive, even more because you don’t want to lose your work from home day. I’m not surprised at all to hear the data suggested this is a smart move by employers.
Jessica: Although I’d caution the Fridays, because Fridays can be perceived as like, “Oh, yeah, you’re really taking a three-day weekend.” My work from home days are only Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, just something to be mindful of when you’re doing that proposal.
Jen: That is a great point actually. Even internally, I would be like, “Do you know what? It’s noon, isn’t it weekend yet?” You’re right, Tuesday would be a much more productive day.
I think in all these conversations you and I are having right now, just women in general tend to give in to guilt a lot. Much ink has been spilled here, but our social media culture is a part of this. We are constantly inundated with other women around us who seem like they’re doing everything better than we do because that’s what you can do on a curated social media feed. This has been a lot of my bread and butter as a writer is talking about mom fails, for crying out loud. Those are real, and although we joke about them, I think in the deepest recesses of our hearts, we actually do often feel like we’re doing it wrong. Whatever “it” is, we’re just doing the things wrong.
I write about this a lot, and I think about this a lot too because I really want to encourage women who feel that way. And I honestly think we’re all doing a much better job than we think, than we are giving ourselves credit for, than we are going to be remembered for. I think there’s a lot of room for grace here.
I wonder what your thoughts are on how women can sort of step through these weird, murky feelings of guilt and shame and sort of get to the other side of that?
Jessica: Right. I think it’s recognizing where the guilt is coming from, and is there something there that you should listen to, or is it just a lie?
For instance, if you feel guilty because you are missing your kids’ soccer games every weekend because you have to work, is there a way for you to change your schedule so that you can be at that soccer game and you won’t feel guilty? Or if you can’t, do you need to have a conversation with your child? Do you just need to have a conversation with yourself about why your work matters, and how you can’t help that you have to miss those soccer games, and this is what you’re called to do for helping your family because you’re passionate about it? And that is the story for this particular season.
I think it’s recognizing where that guilt is coming from, and is there something that is teachable, or is it just flat-out a lie?
I have felt guilty because I volunteered to bring cupcakes for the bake sale, and I think, Oh, goodness, I have to make the cupcakes from scratch. Then I get myself all stressed out and make the cupcakes. And I take them and then everyone else has bought cupcakes from the grocery store. That is guilt that I put on myself that has no truth. There’s nothing to be learned from that except, my goodness, you do not need to do what you see on Pinterest every single time.
I think of recognizing where that is coming from, and is there something that you need to do to change that, or is it something that there really has no basis for that and you’re making your decisions based on people’s highlight reels on social media instead of what actually is true for your own life?
Jen: That’s such good advice because you’re right. Some of it is positively invented. It is not real, it has no merit. All that is doing is stealing joy and energy away from reality.
And I liked, to your other point, in some cases, if there’s just a continual guilt point, maybe there is an easy adjustment to make. Maybe there is something you can just toggle or switch a little bit and really get relief in that space or rearrange.
I just like this. I like everything that you’re saying because we’re not just victims of our own life. And I don’t like when women think that we are, that, Well, all this is just happening to me and I have no control. I can’t make any meaningful changes here, and I can’t propose something new, and I can’t re-envision another way.
Frankly, that’s just not true. There are a lot of levers to pull here in the working-mom-and-home life that we can pull. And even if they are small adjustments, they really can make a monumental difference in our emotional health, in our family life, in our work life.
And I think your book is just chock-full of these ideas, of these levers. And like you so beautifully mentioned at the top of the hour, not every working mom needs to pull every lever. But the places where we’re like, This keeps rubbing. And so, it needs a little bit of attention. I just love, you just dropped so many good ideas in our lap to say just try this. And you what, the worst thing that happens is it doesn’t work. What have we really lost?
Jessica: Absolutely. I think sometimes we just need to say to somebody that, This is how I’m feeling, and have somebody else validate it for you.
When my little girl was in kindergarten, you know how in kindergarten they love to do packets where the kids draw pictures and tell stories. It was the end of the year, and we’ll see if I can get through the story without crying because I cry almost every single time. She brought home this packet and she had to draw her three favorite moments from the year—I can feel my throat welling up—and one of the pictures that she drew was Matthew coming to her class and reading to her class. And you know who wasn’t in those pictures? It was Mommy. And I just wept.
And I just wept, and Adeline was right there. I lost it when I saw that little picture. Her little five-year-old hand stroked my cheek and she said, “Oh, Mommy, I’m sorry. I should have drawn when you came for the Valentine’s party.”
And she left and Matthew was like, “You are a great mom. She is not going to remember that you weren’t there.”
But that moment to me is the guilt moment. That moment makes me feel like, Oh, did I make the right choice, loving my work? And I know that I have. I can give you a million examples of why I should be right where I am, but that is the one that brings up that feeling. And sometimes we need somebody else to come alongside of us and say, “You’re a great mom,” whether that’s your spouse or that’s a friend or it’s somebody on social media, whatever. Sometimes we just need to hear it.
You have been someone who’s affirmed that in my life. I think it’s okay to admit sometimes when we feel guilty—it’s always okay to admit it, not sometimes. But if that is real, talking about it sometimes can be the only way to overcome it.
Jen: I loved that, instead of tucking it away in this private shame chamber of our heart but to bring it out. I’m so glad that you did that because Matthew then had the opportunity to tell you, he probably could have listed 1,000 beautiful moments that you had engineered as a mom just in that calendar year. You gave him the opportunity to combat that, that sort of insidious light.
Thank you for sharing that. I have had so many moments like that too. And I’m so grateful for my own husband and my own friends and colleagues who can come in and say, “You’re kind of telling yourself a story right now that’s not really all the way true.” This is an embellished, invented story. I’m like, That’s how I do, that’s how I made a career, embellishing and inventing.
Listen, we’re asking a couple of wrap-up questions for every guest in the parenting series. Here’s the first one, as a parent, I wonder if you could give us two moments. You know what? You really just gave us the underbelly moment. That was a sincere low moment for you, so I’m going to skip that one.
Give us a moment where you were just like, You know what? I nailed this like. I absolutely nailed this as a parent, I got this exactly right. And you have so many, but what’s one of your favorite moments as a mom?
Jessica: This might feel kind of shallow, but I feel like I nail it every Halloween.
Jen: You do, Jessica! It’s so over the top.
Jessica: I love Halloween. If you don’t follow me on Instagram, I’m @jessicanturner, and you should be following me right now because Halloween prep is really gearing up. And I realize it’s still summer. But we, for the past five years, have done family Halloween costumes and my biggest regret as a mother is that I didn’t start then when my first son was born. I don’t know why I waited so long. But we’ve done Little Red Riding Hood, we’ve done Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz. Last year was the epic Mario Brothers, which people have already said to me, “How are you going to top Halloween this year?” And my friend, I think we will this year.
Jen: Oh, I believe you.
Jessica: I think this might be even better than Nintendo. But I just love Halloween. I hand make somewhere between 50% and 80% of the costumes. It is so much fun for me, and it is so much fun seeing everyone’s reactions and my kids seeing everyone’s reactions because my husband and I dress up to take them trick-or-treating. And it is such a blast. And I believe fully that they will remember it very fondly from their childhoods. And I just really think I nail Halloween.
Jen: You nail Halloween. And for those of you listening to Jessica and you’re new to her, I also want you to just go ahead and peep your eyes at her feed at what she does for birthdays because you are also write-a-book good birthday mom. You nail holidays, you are really good at the grand moments.
Jessica: I really love all the things like that.
Jen: You do, and it’s fun to watch you.
Jessica: Thank you, it’s so fun.
Jen: Is it too soon to tease out your Halloween costume? Or is it going to be a surprise reveal?
Jessica: It is going to be a surprise.
Jen: Okay. We’ll just have to watch and see.
Jessica: I always kind of let the cat out of the bag on Instagram Stories because I’m like so proud of the working on them. And I usually just work on them in October, but because of the book this year, I started them in the summer. Instagram Stories is where you might be able to find a sneak peek. It’s worth it this year, it’s good.
Jen: Okay, I don’t have any doubt about it that it’s good.
Last question, I asked everybody this one. Barbara Brown Taylor quote, what’s saving your life right now?
Jessica: Books are saving my life right now, books are always saving my life. Good fiction writing, really good storytelling. I just cannot get enough of really, really good, good books.
Jen: I didn’t prep you for this, but can you just rattle off maybe the top books that you’ve just recently read or that you’re reading right now that you would recommend?
Jessica: The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah’s new book, I absolutely loved, I loved it so, so much. The memoir, North of Normal, I’ve really loved. I loved Educated, which is another memoir. An American Marriage, oh, my goodness, An American Marriage, such an important, important book for people to read.
An old book that I continually recommend, one of my favorite historical fiction books, is Someone Knows My Name. And that came out, gosh, I don’t know, multiple years ago. But that’s still one of my favorites. I just love good fiction. And I really love good fiction that is really well researched. The Heart’s Invisible Furies, that will probably be my top book of 2018.
Jen: The Heart’s Invisible, what, Furies?
Jessica: Mm-hmm. Yep.
Jen: Can you hear me typing right now? I’m literally typing as you’re saying it typing, I’m typing all these titles. You know I buy everything you say.
Jessica: Yes. And it’s 600-plus pages, and I read it in three days while working a full-time job.
Jen: Why have I never heard of that?
Jessica: I don’t know why you haven’t.
Jen: Is it historical?
Jessica: It is about a gay man’s life from I think, it starts in the ‘30s. And every chapter, seven years has advanced.
Jen: Oh, interesting structure.
Jessica: It is really, really amazing. It’s written by the same author who wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. And it is so, so, so phenomenal.
Jen: Okay. Well, I wrote every one of this down.
I just read a book you recommended to me a couple of months ago, This Is How It Always Is. It is heart-rending. But just so well written with such a compassionate and a gentle hand. Anyway, the reason I always do what you say is because you have really good taste in books.
Guys, listen, we’ll link all that up over on the transcript page so you can check out all of these books if you didn’t get to type them down as Jessica was talking.
Real quick, will you just tell everybody kind of how to find you, how to find your new book that is just about to come out, where to find you on social, all that?
Jessica: Yes. On social, you can find me @jessicanturner on Instagram and Twitter. You can also find my book Instagram account @booksnobbery on Instagram. On Facebook, I am facebook.com/themomcreative. And then the book, Stretched Too Thin [Amazon | Barnes & Noble], you can find information about that at stretchedtoothinbook.com.
And what’s really fun right now if you pre-order the book, you’ll get the course that I mentioned, the 10 day video course, Stretched Too Thin and the audiobook for free. It’s really awesome deal, hardback book, it’s less than 20 bucks. And then you’ll get the course and the audiobook for free. Awesome deal if you pre-order that. All of that is on the blog or at stretchedtoothinbook.com.
Jen: Fabulous, perfect. Okay, my friend, you know I just love you to pieces, just a bits and pieces.
Jessica: Oh, I love you.
Jen: Thank you for just being who you are. You’ve been such a good friend to me, really such a good friend. I know I tell you that a lot because it’s true. You Matthew both too and so close to Brandon and I at just such a crucial time. And do not imagine that we will ever forget that as long as we live.
I’m hopeful that all my listeners are running to pre-order your book today because it’s just going to be useful. I think they’re going to get to the end of it and feel so relieved and so able to steer their own ship, that they have a lot more control than they think they have. Anyway, I just love you friend. And I’m just cheering you on, cheering this book on. I hope it’s just a smash, just a huge smashing success.
Jessica: Thank you so much, Jen. And you know I feel the exact same way about you and Brandon. Thank you, thank you.
Jen: All right sis, bye.
Jen: Great conversation, you guys, really, really great. I am always energized after talking to Jessica. She’s just one of those friends, she literally makes me better. She just does. She makes me better, she encourages me in my own space, in my own career, in my own family. I hope some of that was practical for you.
Listen, if you even liked 1/10 of what we talked about, all that stuff is loaded in her new book, absolutely loaded to the gills. She just sincerely cares about women who work and helping them manage their lives well. Go pre-order her book, get all the free goodies that she’s offering with it. You will not regret it, that I can promise you.
Thanks for sticking around all this time, you guys. You’re such good listeners and you’re so loyal. And we are so grateful, my team and I—my producer Laura, my assistant Amanda. We love doing this podcast for you. We love working hard for you.
And thank you for your feedback. Thank you for reviewing and rating the podcast and sharing it and talking about. We are a grateful team, you guys.
We’ve got more to come on this amazing parenting series. If we haven’t hit your sort of specific space yet, just come on back, we’ll hit it the next week. You guys, have a great week as always. I love being your friend and your online host. And I will see you next time.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!