Good Enough vs. Never Enough: A New Mommy War?
An interview with Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple
I don’t need to tell you the existential angst that can accompany the very simple question: should you buy cupcakes for your child’s birthday treat at daycare or make them from scratch yourself? According to Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple, authors of the new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, issues like the cupcake dilemma–and the myriad other choices moms make in the name of “balance”—are actually part of a brand new Mommy War, especially for working moms. Do you take a side? — Jacqueline, TMC Content Producer
In your book, you describe a “new mommy war” affecting working mothers. Can you explain?
While researching “Good Enough is the New Perfect,” we conducted a nationwide survey of 905 working moms. From the results, we could clearly identify two types: those who described their approach to work and motherhood as needing to be perfect and “the best at everything,” and those who identified themselves as not overly concerned with being the best, as long as they were “good enough and happy, both at work and at home.”
This new Mommy War of “Never Enough” vs. “Good Enough” is really us at war with ourselves. Whichever side they more strongly identified with, many women told us they felt alone in their choices, and many were struggling to figure out where they fit in. Were there other “Good Enough” or “Never Enough” moms out there? Fitting in validates us. But, these days, it isn’t easy to find a group of women who have made all the same choices, and there isn’t a single “right” answer. So we find that we’re left to fight the battle alone, in our heads – ie “Have I chosen the “perfect” path for me?”
Why is it that so many working moms feel compelled to be the “perfect mom”?
Women in our generation grew up being told, “You can do anything.” But many of us have taken that to mean, “You must do everything.” Add to that our unprecedented access to information — via stacks of books, Google, 24/7accessibility via our iPhones — and you can begin to see this perfect storm of perfectionism. We feel obligated to put all these opportunities and information to good use; we think we have the means to be perfect. But actually, we don’t. So in the end, all we’ve done is raise the standards of maternal success to unrealistic heights.
So many of us watched our own mothers juggle work and family when women first entered the workforce in large numbers in the 70s and 80s. What lessons did this teach our generation? How has this contributed to the Never Enough “perfection problem” many of us now face?
Our moms’ generation struggled just to get in the door, especially in male-dominated fields like law and medicine, and even when they passed the entry barrier, they faced limited options. Today’s working moms struggle to make sense of all the choices that emerged when those barriers fell. For most Baby Boomers, there were two stark possibilities: work outside of the home or don’t work at all. For us, there are so many shades of gray; our big struggle is deciding. Funny thing is, because our moms didn’t have the luxury of choosing among so many options, we didn’t see this kind of choosing modeled for us. This is actually why we wrote our book; we wanted to create the manual we didn’t have and show women that there are great benefits to choosing what they want, rather than just continuing the struggle to Have It All.
So how can a woman raised to Have It All let go of deeply ingrained ideas about what success means?
It’s not easy. It takes guts. And a clear of sense of priorities. But there is so much to be gained. We found that the moms who let go of their Never Enough attitudes were so much more satisfied at work and at home. Some of us worry that letting go of “perfect” means settling for less or aiming lower. But it doesn’t. It’s really about having the courage to filter all those outside messages and choose what really fits. Letting go of “perfect” means rejecting unrealistic expectations so we can focus our energy on the things that matter most to us. In other words, if it comes down to buying cupcakes or not getting enough sleep because you need to stay up late to bake, just buy the cupcakes. You will all be better off in the long run.
From our survey, we also found that Good Enough moms were actually more successful. Moms in our survey who were focused on being happy at work and at home actually outpaced their Never Enough counterparts in many ways. The Never Enoughs made a bit more money, but the Good Enoughs had better marriages, felt they had made less sacrifices, and were better at taking time for themselves and the things they loved. Who wouldn’t want to join that camp?
As moms, we have more information than ever before about child development, learning, nutrition… How has new thinking in these areas raised the maternal stakes? How does it feed into the Never Enoughs vs. Good Enoughs debate?
We feel compelled to put all this information to use. So we Google our children’s symptoms, buy stacks of books on everything from sleep to potty training to nutrition, some of us even read about all the latest studies on infant brain development. The Never Enoughs struggled most in this area; they didn’t want to risk “getting it wrong,” so they tried to take in, synthesize and apply as much of this information as possible. There is nothing wrong with educating ourselves, but we also need to stop and decide where and when and how much of this information is actually useful. This is where the Good Enoughs had a leg up: they weren’t afraid to decide when the research was important — and when it was simply time to turn off the internet and listen to their own instincts.
Is achieving work/life balance just some pie in the sky ideal? Can you give women some practical tips for finding peace and contentment both at home and on the job?
Well, first of all, we need to adjust our expectations about balance. Balance doesn’t mean devoting an equal amount of time to every aspect of our lives everyday. A lot of women despise the word “balance” because it’s just another thing they feel as though they are failing to accomplish. So, we need to start by accepting that there is no perfect work/life balance. We’ve found that life tends to move in seasons — a season when we’re a little bit more devoted to family, seasons when we’re a little bit more focused on work. The key is focusing on our own priorities, and accepting that they will change from day to day, week to week, year to year. Some other tips:
- Yes, you can do anything, but that doesn’t mean you should feel like you have to do everything. Choose what is important to you.
- It’s OK to delegate and say no.
- There’s a difference between “being the best” and “doing your best.”
- Don’t let guilt, fear or other women’s choices dictate your own.
- Good Enough isn’t about settling or slacking off. It’s about knowing that what’s good enough for one woman isn’t necessarily what’s good enough for another.
Lastly, BE BRAVE. Choosing your priorities takes guts. It’s hard — even for the women who make it look easy. Stick with your instincts and do whatever it is that makes you feel happier and more satisfied, whether this means cutting back your work hours, changing jobs, leaving a job to stay home, or not signing your child up for a different activity every night of the week. It is worth taking that leap!
Becky Beaupre Gillespie is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Chicago Sun-Times and USA TODAY, among other publications. She and her husband, Pete, have two daughters. Hollee Schwartz Temple is a journalist-turned-lawyer-turned-professor at West Virginia University College of Law, where she directs the legal analysis, research and writing program. She and her husband, John, have two sons. In addition to coauthoring Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, Becky and Hollee blog about work/life and parent issues at TheNewPerfect.com.
originally published July 2014
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