Work Life Balance

The Secret To Maternal Bliss? Stop Being Perfect

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In their recent book Good Enough is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, authors Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple insist that we get over our need for perfection. Instead, we should be focusing on what we really want out of life and then working towards making that happen. Sounds simple, right? Of course, it’s easier said than done, but Gillespie and Temple make a compelling point. They surveyed 905 working mothers and discovered that those with a ‘Good Enough’ mindset are happier, more confident and more successful than those with a ‘Never Enough’ attitude. We caught up with Gillespie to discuss how women can forget about having it all – and why that’s a good thing.

Your book, Good Enough is the New Perfect, explores why modern moms are increasingly unhappy. What’s causing this unhappiness?
We’re the first generation to reap the benefits of the feminist movement. We  have so many more choices and options than previous generations and yet we’re surprised by how difficult it is to figure out what you want to do. We grew up being told we could do anything. A lot of us took that as meaning we should do everything.

Can too much choice be a bad thing?
Only if we feel like we’re not able to actually choose. We need courage to choose. A lot of women we interviewed felt very alone and they were constantly second-guessing themselves. It’s that feeling that you need to be best at everything – all the time. The most successful women we interviewed were able to identify the unique realities and challenges of their lives – and make choices accordingly.

So how can we go about making the right choices?

Just because we have stacks of books on everything from potty training to nutrition to sleep habits doesn’t mean we have to read them all. We can set priorities and choose what feels right to us. That was a big issue among the women we spoke with – making peace with their own expectations and standards as a mom.

Most women set the bar pretty high, I would imagine.
Yes, they had to learn to stop trying to be a mythical supermom. There’s a difference between being your best and doing your best. Lots of women felt the need to be a number one mom while making partner at work, for example, and planning Italian lessons for their infant. (Laughs.) Women are struggling to figure out which of these things are important to them and which ones they can let go or just say, It’s good enough as is. A lot of the pressure is self-imposed, so it’s empowering to realize that by shifting our mindset we can impact our success and our level of happiness.

What’s the key to making this transformation?
Start by acknowledging that it’s going to be difficult. Every woman we spoke to worked very hard every day to make sure she was being true to her priorities. They were very deliberate about it – and active, too. They’d make lists of priorities and determine which things on the list are truly important and which things they’re just doing because it feeds their ego, or because they feel like they should be doing it, or because their child’s school pressured them into it. We also encourage women to look at things in terms of the positive: what do you want to accomplish as opposed to what you don’t want to accomplish. For me, personally, I wanted to feel fulfilled in my job and spend more time with my daughter; that meant having more control over my hours as opposed to working part-time.

You write about an internal “Mommy Wars” raging inside so many modern moms.

A lot of women, prior to having kids, had heard about stay-at-home vs. working moms. Then they’d go to work and realize, Wait a minute, even working moms aren’t part of the same camp. All these women felt like their challenges were unique to them. And they found themselves feeling very alone. There was this internal battle within themselves to see where they fit in. That’s the new mommy war: the battle inside our own heads to figure out where we fit and what our place is.

Many mothers are forever crippled by guilt. What advice do you have for them?
Let go of the guilt. Feeling bad about the choices you’ve made won’t help you make better choices. You have to accept that you’re an individual with individual choices and that it’s okay to choose differently than other moms in the office or from those down the street. Even if it’s not a traditional choice, it’s right for you.

How about those moms that program their kids to death and try and get you on board? How can you not let that pressure get to you?
The most successful women were able to tune out all that noise and not let it get to them. When my my first daughter was born – partly because I wanted to and partly because of pressure – I signed up for every Mommy & Me class on the planet. But then it got to the point where I didn’t want to be driving around my 2-year-old to five classes in one week. So I dropped out but was still getting emails from other moms saying are you going to do this or that program? Then I realized that these weren’t spending a whole lot of time wondering if I was a bad mom – they were just trying to figure it out for themselves.