book review: overwhelmed – work, love, and play when no one has the time


3star5starAKOSMED Book Review Series Presents: Overwhelmed — Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014)

I know you should never judge a book by it’s cover, but I was totally seduced by this one. While engaging, funny, superbly written, and well-researched, the biggest drawback about this book (and the primary reason that it clocked in at 3 stars overall) is the narrowness of its intended audience. If you are a woman living in America with a full-time career and trying to juggle a household containing children and possibly a husband, then this book gets 5 stars for you! It is an excellent resource for individuals fitting that description and I highly recommend this book as required reading. Overall I found it to be a very interesting take on American culture and society, but you should probably know if you fit the intended audience or not ahead of time.

Schulte spends much time discussing and dissecting a central concept in her book: “The Ideal Worker” in American culture. This theory of the ideal worker lies at the heart of much of our insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and chronic stress related to the process of trying to achieve a balance between a career, family, and much-needed leisure time.

“The ideal worker doesn’t take parental leave when a child is born. He doesn’t need a place or time to pump breast milk. He has no need of family-friendly policies like flexible scheduling, part-time work, or telecommuting. The ideal worker doesn’t have to find babysitters, deal with school closures on snow days, or otherwise worry about child-care responsibilities. The deal worker doesn’t mop up after the child who barfs up her breakfast Cheerios or the green Saint Patrick’s Day cookie of the night before. He wrinkles his nose, says, “Good luck with that,” and waltzes out the door. The ideal worker doesn’t get interrupted by repeated calls from the school because a child is acting out or daily 3PM calls from kids begging for playdates instead of the scheduled after-school program, like mine. The ideal worker never has to think about researching good assisted care facilities for Mom and Dad as they get older, whether they’re getting the best treatment in the ICU, or how to get his sister to her next chemotherapy appointment. It’s simply not his job.

Instead, the ideal worker, freed from all home duties, devotes himself completely to the workplace. He is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He is rarely sick. Never takes vacation, or brings work along if he does. The ideal worker can jump on a plane whenever the boss asks because someone else is responsible for getting the kids off to school or attending the preschool play. In the professional world, he is the one who answers emails at 3AM, willingly relocates whenever and wherever the company directs, and pulls all-nighters on last-minute projects at a moment’s notice. In the blue-collar workplace, he is always ready to work overtime or a second shift.

So tied to his job is the ideal worker that he works endless hours, even if it costs him his health and his family.

Obviously I’m exaggerating. This is a stereotype. But stereotypes reflect deeply held beliefs — accurate or not — and this notion of the ideal worker wields immense power in the American workplace. We are programmed to emulate him at all costs, or at least feel the sting of not measuring up.”

Schulte does offer several bright spots scattered throughout her book, however. She gives examples of progressive companies who are implementing flex-time and family-friendly policies for both men and women. She shows us how the people of Denmark — among the happiest in the world — manage to achieve the seemingly unobtainable work-life balance that so many of us strive for. She gives up hope for cultural change in America. If you are one of the many mothers out there feeling totally overwhelmed and out of control, this book is like sitting with a smart and  sympathetic female friend who will listen and give you a new perspective on changing your circumstances for the better.

AKOSMED Rating 3/5 Stars (5/5 for working mothers)

Overwhelmed — Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time is available in hardcover, paperback, and audio versions from the online sellers Amazon and Audible.

Table of Contents

PART ONE: Time Confetti

  1. The Test of Time
  2. Leisure is for Nuns
  3. Too Busy to Live
  4. The Incredible Shrinking Brain


  1. The Ideal Worker is Not Your Mother
  2. A Tale of Two Pats
  3. When Work Works


  1. The Stalled Gender Revolution
  2. The Cult of Intensive Motherhood
  3. Dads Want to Have it All Too


  1. Hygge in Denmark
  2. Let Us Play

PART FIVE: Toward Time Serenity

  1. Finding Time
  2. Toward Time Serenity

About the Author

Brigid Schulte is an award-winning journalist for The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine, and was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize. She is also a fellow at the New America Foundation. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and their two children.

One response to “book review: overwhelmed – work, love, and play when no one has the time

  1. Pingback: #timebank @Stanford | akosmed·

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