April 26, 2011

Modern Motherhood: Good Enough is the New Perfect

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Good Enough is the New Perfect book image

 

I’ve been reading Becky and Hollee’s work/life balance insight for several years. When I first was introduced to Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Holle Schwartz Temple’s blog it took me a few reads to realize these are the same women I rush to read as soon as I get my American Bar Association monthly journal. WooHoo! Now I could read their insight almost daily!!!

And since that first discovery of Becky and Hollee’s blog, I’ve learned so much. No longer was everything couched in legal clothing. Instead, it was a rich and authentic approach to motherhood from a new perspective. It was one particular post that made me an almost daily commenter. A post that talked about how in certain professions moms, and women in general, in certain careers face even greater challenges. It wasn’t heated but it surely touched a nerve.

It was then I started to see more of the tension that existed within women brought on by both the needs of motherhood and the demands of being in certain types of jobs. Jobs where if you do put your family first the consequences are life-impacting. Doctors who leave their own sick children to tend to their sick patients. Lawyers who risk being fined or put in jail if they call in because they need to tend to an ill parent. Judges, for whom an absence due to an urgent meeting at school means inconveniencing many or possibly denying due process rights. Jobs where the utmost confidentiality is not only required, but also mandated and the consequences for breach are severe.

It resonated with me. A super Type-A who is more harsh on herself than any form of military torture could inflict. And as I got to know Hollee, through the blog and twitter, I began to understand why Good Enough is the New Perfect was such an important book. Besides the passion both Becky and Hollee share, it’s the message.

The message isn’t a one-size fits all roadmap to happiness. The book doesn’t give you metrics or fancy measurement tools. The authors recognize that there is no single way to define happiness, success or even ‘Good Enough’. Instead, you read the book and begin to understand that we, each of us individually, defines it for ourselves. Only we can allow ourselves the possibility of defining and accepting ‘Good Enough’.

There are a number of ‘hot button’ topics discussed in the book. I had the opportunity to ask them about some of these topics.

Are you telling moms that it’s OK to slack off?

HOLLEE: Absolutely not. The first line of the book makes that clear: This is not a book about settling. But it is a book about the challenges that this generation of women is facing, and how they can find a way to Have It All if they’re strategic in their choices. Good enough sometimes has to be good enough.

BECKY: Perfectionism can be a huge liability. In fact, in our data, that “constant need to be the best at everything” emerged as the single greatest obstacle to juggling work and family. It outweighed financial pressures, inflexible bosses, husbands who don’t contribute enough at home and more. Many of the most impressive and successful women we interviewed found their greatest success when they learned to let go of perfect. They weren’t slackers, believe me — we’re talking about CEOs, doctors, lawyers. They just weren’t spinning their wheels trying to achieve things that didn’t mean something to them. They’d made conscious choices and accepted that they could do, and be, everything.

Why is this generation of working mothers so obsessed with perfection?

We grew up being told, “You can do anything.” And many of us took that to mean, “You must do everything.” Many of the entry barriers faced by previous generations of women were gone when we entered the workforce, and we felt obligated to make the most of that. But even as we excelled in our careers, the barrage of messages about what was expected of us at home continued. The standards for maternal excellence were rising, and to lofty heights.

Our generation of moms was the first to professionalize motherhood. There would be no mistaking the contributions of at-home moms who approached their leadership in the home the same way they have handled their Ivy League educations and Wall Street power jobs. Moms who returned to work saw the standards set by their at-home peers, and a new power struggle emerged as we tried to make the “perfect” choices. It wasn’t the Mommy War we’d expected.

What are the “New” Mommy Wars?

HOLLEE: The “New” Mommy Wars are the latest development in the country’s evolving work/life story. In the previous Mommy Wars, at-home mothers were pitted against working mothers, and careers were considered to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Briefcase or stroller — you had to pick.

But with the changes in technology and the shift in mindset toward increased work/life balance, the Mommy Wars have found a new battleground — this time inside the minds of today’s mothers. This generation, groomed from birth to believe they could Have It All, obsesses and overanalyzes and overthinks every parenting and career-related decision. With our unprecedented access to information, we often feel overwhelmed by our ample inheritance, fretting over what’s the “right” or “best” thing to do for our children and our careers. This internal battle becomes even more complicated because there are so many different ways to work and parent today. We have work-at-home moms, freelance moms, hybrid moms … the lines aren’t as sharp as they used to be, and that’s very hard on women. Moms want to be validated and they want to belong. Instead, one of our most surprising findings was that many women said they felt utterly alone in their work/life choices, that no one else was quite like that them. And that made the self-questioning, that new Mommy War, even more difficult to fight.

BECKY: This loneliness was particularly apparent in some of my early reporting. One week, I did a string of interviews in which every woman issued the same complaint: “I’m the only mom in this town who works.” It was funny because these women all lived in the same town. Later, the same thing happened in a different town, too. I pointed this out to one of the women, and it didn’t make her feel any better. She still felt like the odd one out because her jobs, her work arrangement and her attitude differed from the other working moms she knew.

Shouldn’t this shared loneliness bring women together?

BECKY: Many women don’t speak up. Some don’t want to admit that they’re struggling, that they don’t have things figured out. Others don’t want to seem ungrateful and whiny. Our generation has been told over and over that we have advantages our mothers and grandmothers could never have imagined. As a result, many of us are reluctant to admit that, despite this, we’re still having a hard time. Or worse, that we don’t appreciate what we have.

What do you hope moms will take away from this book?

HOLLEE: We hope Good Enough is the New Perfect will be the manual that we didn’t have. Through the inspiring stories of the moms we interviewed and the experts who shared their experience, we hope our readers will learn that they don’t need to be perfect in every aspect of their lives. A lot of very successful women have achieved what they have by honing in on their main priorities and saying “enough” to the rest. Sometimes good enough is good enough. And it can be a lot happier way to go.

BECKY: And we hope it will expand the discussion about balance. Women need to feel OK opening up about these issues.

Good Enough Is the New Perfect is available at bookstores nationwide and at Amazon. I have enjoyed reading it and I think you will too. Not because it’s from women whom I’ve come to adore personally, but because this book is our key to accepting that we define Good Enough and that by accepting ‘good enough’ that we’re not settling.

About the authors:

Becky and Hollee are the work/life balance columnists for the ABA Journal, the nation’s premiere lawyer magazine. Both graduates of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, they first worked together in the early 1990s, when Becky was Hollee’s first editor at The Daily Northwestern. Like so many of the working mothers they interviewed, they forged non-linear career paths, taking detours in their quests to balance work and family. They blog about work/life and parenting issues at TheNewPerfect.com.

Becky is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Chicago Sun-Times, The Detroit News, USA Today and the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N.Y. In 2001, while on staff at the Sun-Times, she co-wrote a groundbreaking investigative series on “failing teachers” that led to statewide reforms in teacher testing and a crackdown on teacher quality in the Chicago Public Schools. The three-day series, which began one week after the birth of her first child, gave Becky her first experience at balancing motherhood and career. She lives in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood with her husband, Pete, an employment litigator, and their two daughters.

Hollee is a journalist-turned-lawyer-turned-professor at West Virginia University College of Law. After graduating at the top of her class with a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Hollee headed to Duke University School of Law. She graduated in 1999, and then began a four-year stint as a litigation associate at an international law firm. After her first son was born in 2002, Temple returned to her firm on a part-time basis before joining the WVU faculty the next year. Hollee lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, with her husband, John, an author and journalism professor, and their two sons, Gideon and Henry.

Disclosure: I am personal friends with Hollee. Our relationship is based on honesty, as is this review. The included links are affiliate links. By clicking on them you are supporting many women! In addition, I was provided a copy of the book to facilitate my review. And, I am mentioned in the book! Twice! Squee!!

 

Sara

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