Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Good Enough is the New Perfect: An Interview with the Authors

Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern MotherhoodThree years ago I came up with an idea for a book. It was going to be a gentle nudge to my table top protector and shopping cart covering mom friends to say "Enough. Relax. Enjoy your kids. Haven't you heard? Good enough is the new perfect." I outlined the chapters and then remembered how much I prefer writing fiction so I wrote some of that instead.

Lucky for me, I then met two delightful ladies who have written the book. So yay. I'm off the hook on that.

They cover it all from being a "good enough" wife to being a "good enough career dog." They're out to show us all how we can have it "all," we just need to define the "all" for ourselves. 

Aside from getting my very own copy of Good Enough is the New Perfect, I've also been given my very own interview with the authors. Which I'm going to share with you right now. But not the book. You can get that on your own. Lucky you, it just came out today.

Q&A with Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple, authors of

1. You talk about two types of working moms in your book: the Never Enoughs and the Good Enoughs. Who are these women?

BECKY: We’re going to generalize here for a moment, but the Never Enoughs are the women striving for perfection at work and with their kids, the women focused on always being #1. We called them the Never Enoughs because many described themselves as constantly running toward expectations but rarely reaching them — or reaching them and deciding it wasn’t enough, or reaching them and then feeling like they’d completely failed elsewhere as a result. These women struggle the most to say no, they’re the ones who beat themselves up the most for making mistakes. In our survey, the Never Enoughs were the women who described themselves as having “a strong need to be the best at everything.” They were six times more likely than the Good Enoughs to say, “I try to be a superstar at work AND at home, even if it kills me.”

The Good Enoughs, on the other hand, told us that being the “the best” wasn’t important, as long as they were “good enough and happy” at work and at home. These were the women who had hopped off that hamster wheel and created their own definitions of success. They were more satisfied with their choices, and less likely to feel they’d sacrificed too much. They were also far less likely to describe their marriages as “a disaster” or “not very good.” They were better at making time for themselves, and at finding time to spend with friends and family. The part that surprised us? The Good Enoughs had given up very little ground at work to achieve this state of contentment.

2. So which ones are you? Good Enoughs or Never Enoughs?

BECKY: Depends on the day! We both have our Never Enough moments — you should have seen me the month before our manuscript was due — but we’re both more “Good Enough” than we’ve ever been. It’s an ongoing effort to embrace this philosophy. I’ve become better at knowing the difference between needing to be the best at everything — and choosing to throw my energy into something that means a lot to me. I’ve learned to accept my imperfections, which, frankly, saves me a lot of time. I don’t need to sit around second-guessing myself as much, and I don’t feel compelled to say “yes” to as many things. Of course, I still fall off the Good Enough wagon all the time. After all, I spent a lot of years trying to accrue “gold stars” — trying to be the best mother, the best at work, the best Downward Facing Dog in yoga class. It was exhausting, and it was pointless.

HOLLEE: I think I am pretty squarely in the Good Enough camp these days. The best example I can think of — which I detailed in the book — involved a kindergarten snack. This fiasco occurred three years ago, during my first foray into providing school snacks, and for some unexplainable reason (maybe a tinge of guilt about being a working mom), I felt a real need to outdo myself (and honestly, the other moms) with this contribution.

So when Gideon said he wanted me to make Oreo spiders (from a Highlights magazine) with pretzel legs for the 22 kids, I was all for it. Until two hours later … when I was still struggling to get the pretzels firmly entrenched without breaking the cookies! As my husband was nibbling on some “spiders” that I had rejected, he wondered out loud whether anyone would appreciate (or even notice) this effort!

Flash forward to this past winter, when I realized about 8 p.m. that I hadn’t made anything to send in for Gideon’s third grade holiday party. I really didn’t feel like making a late-night run to the store — and then I spotted an (already-opened) box of Oreos in the pantry. I sent them the next day, and the kids were thrilled! Lesson learned.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Another book by a working mom, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has garnered a lot of attention in recent months by advocating a rather extreme approach to motherhood. What do you make of this philosophy?

BECKY: You could call us “anti-Tiger Mothers.” We embrace a completely different approach to motherhood — one that allows women to succeed by accepting their imperfections and using that as a springboard to greater success. Amy Chua writes about demanding perfection from her daughters: no grade less than an A, practicing musical instruments for hours each day, never being anything less than the #1 student in every class, except drama and gym.

We think this is too narrow a view of success — and, frankly, we think it’s a bit lazy. Knowing our own passions, shrugging off other people’s ideas of success, figuring out exactly where to spend our energy — that’s hard work. It requires critical thinking instead of single-minded focus. The New Perfect requires constant recalibration, the ability to read cues and understand other people’s talents and viewpoints, and the ability to balance a bunch of goals simultaneously. It means knowing ourselves. Yes, Perfect requires the ability to prioritize, but the New Perfect requires something even harder: the ability to re-prioritize.

HOLLEE: Frankly, I felt disgusted when I first read about Prof. Chua’s approach in the Wall Street Journal. I remembered her darling girls from when I was a student at Duke Law School, and my heart ached for them. Having high standards is one thing, but conditioning love on performance and modeling perfection as the only option — those aren’t prudent choices.

Good Enough Is the New Perfect is available at bookstores nationwide and at Amazon.

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.

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