Plus... Bonus interview with the authors!
Since my first-grader was on Easter break, and I had two projects to complete at my day job, plus grocery shopping, holiday baking and Easter-egg dyeing to get done, I wasn’t able to start reading Good Enough is the New Perfect as soon as I wanted to.
That’s startlingly ironic, considering what the book is about.
Hollee Schwartz Temple and Becky Beaupre Gillespie make it clear from the outset that Good Enough is the New Perfect is not a book about settling. It is a book about how working mothers negotiate the largely-uncharted territory of balancing family and careers without making too many unpalatable sacrifices.
What they found is that for working mothers there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Largely, as a result, many, many working mothers feel isolated and alone in their predicaments, unsure where to turn for advice.
Good Enough is the New Perfect may serve to fill that void for a lot of women.
The book is culled from two years of research based on a survey of 905 working mothers born between 1965 and 1980, most of whom (92 percent) have college degrees. The authors note that they intentionally chose such a narrow portion of the working mother population.
The authors identify two basic types of women from their research: the “Never Enoughs” and the “Good Enoughs.” The Never Enoughs “felt a constant need to be ‘the best’” while the Good Enoughs weren’t as worried about being “the best,” but strove to be “good enough and happy at work and at home.”
What the pair found most often was that the women they surveyed felt alone, believing that their experience were so far removed from their peers that no one would understand their struggle to keep everything afloat.
And, Good Enough is the New Perfect is full of stories from women who don’t want to feel like they’ve wasted time and energy investing in education and a career path that doesn’t work once they’ve started a family.
The women who seem to be managing best are the ones that realize career paths aren’t always vertical; often there’s a “lattice” wherein workers can move up down and laterally, but still remain professionally viable. Even though husbands only officially get one chapter in the book, the women interviewed reiterate frequently that they would not be able to attain any kind of work-life balance without the support and encouragement they receive from their spouses.
The book looks at the experiences of such varied women as a pediatrician, a CEO, a casting director and a high-powered attorney. Each struggled to figure out her own version of balance, all arriving at the conclusion that “perfect” just doesn’t exist. But, each forged her own path, and hammered out her own version of what her career would look like, and what kind of mother she wanted to be.
Perhaps the most poignant moments in this enlightening read are the ones where Gillespie, a journalist, and Temple, a lawyer, recount their own personal experiences trying to find balance.
Temple’s struggle included her husband John’s life-threatening heart condition, which forced her to realize that hard work and a plan don’t always mean things work out the way one wants them to. Gillespie learned the hard lesson that the Queen Bee isn’t always right: that just because her husband Pete didn’t scrub the kitchen the same way she did, didn’t mean he was doing it wrong.
The most refreshing thing about Good Enough is the New Perfect is its tone. Much of the “self-help” literature aimed at working moms is fraught with judgment, and wastes no time telling women how they’re “doing it wrong” (whatever “it” may be) and will inevitably screw up their children as a result. It’s all about guilt, and is no wonder that so many working women second-guess themselves to the brink of insanity.
But, Temple and Gillespie genuinely seem to want to offer guidance and help, not only demonstrating how the hotshot women in their book have figured out what works for them, but giving tips at the start of each chapter, with practical advice and suggestions for women seeking their own elusive work/life balance. And, the authors don’t offer their book as the definitive word on the work/life balance topic, much like they realize there’s no one size that fits all working women.
I recently tried to explain to a childless male colleague what part of the appeal of so-called “mommy bloggers” is for other mothers. Put simply, it’s shared experience. When your children are taxing every ounce of your patience and making you feel like you’ve failed at the basic biological tasks of motherhood, or when you feel the disapproval coming from your boss as you leave work early for a child-related matter, it’s extremely reassuring, and empowering, to feel that you’re not alone. So if mommy bloggers are the village that other women seek, then Good Enough is the New Perfect may just be the how-to manual.
****I was also able to have a conversation with Temple and Gillespie and ask them about what impact they believe their book will have on working mothers in this country.****
Here is what they had to say:
Q: Did the final version Good Enough is the New Perfect look anything like what you envisioned when you started the project? What surprised you most during the course of your research?
T&G: Not really! When we initially conceived of the book, we were working with The Boomers’ Daughters as a tentative title; we were more focused on the generational differences between Baby Boomer moms (our moms) and their Gen X daughters (us). But as we got immersed in the research, we began to see perfectionism emerging as a theme. It came up again and again in our interviews with moms from across the country, and it didn’t really matter where a mom was in her career path. She could have been on a career break or at the peak of her career and still, perfectionism was at the heart of the work/life struggle.
We were most surprised to learn that in our national survey of 905 American moms, the biggest roadblock to juggling work and family was unrelenting perfectionism. We expected women to tell us that inflexible employers or financial concerns or spouses who didn’t contribute enough were the biggest problems, but we soon learned that we had become, in a sense, our own worst enemies.
Q: In the appendix, you specifically address the title of the book, including concerns from friends and women featured in the book, and you've been pretty adamant about the fact that the book isn't about "settling." Were there alternate titles considered, or was this title the one you intended all along?
T&G: We wanted a provocative title — something that could spark a movement, or at least make a cute T-shirt! And, we’ve certainly found it. People really love the idea of giving themselves permission to choose when they’re going to pull out all of the stops. You can’t continue to try to do everything perfectly and expect to be balanced and happy. The title seems to resonate.
Q: Was it difficult when you turned the focus of the book on your own struggles with finding work-life balance? There is some fairly personal detail in there; was it hard to decide what to include?
T&G: We were both trained at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in the 1990s, and at that time, journalists did not insert themselves into stories! It was unheard of. But, things have changed, especially with blogging and social media, and as we honed in on the themes of the book, it seemed that between the two of us, we had grappled with most of the issues facing our generation of moms. So, even though it made us a bit uncomfortable, we decided to let ourselves be the glue that draws the reader from the beginning of Good Enough Is the New Perfect to the end.
Q: What would be the main thing you hope working mothers take away from this book?
T&G: Our hope is that moms will realize that even though women today can be anything, it doesn’t mean that they have to be everything to everyone. That’s a recipe for disaster! We hope moms will see glimpses of themselves in the stories that we share, and that they’ll find inspiration in the moms who have figured out their priorities and decided to live according to their true intentions. And, we hope they’ll give themselves — and each other — a break!
Q: Which of the other women interviewed in the book did you identify most closely with (both or either of you can answer this) and why?
T&G: That’s a hard one. We chose each of the women for different reasons — we wanted the final book to be a fairly complete snapshot of the American mother at this moment in time.
Becky connected with Dr. Jennifer Canter, the child abuse pediatrician with four kids and a toy company on the side, because they both had tried entrepreneurial pursuits. Becky admired the way Jen was so confident with her decision-making as a business owner — she had struggled with that part of entrepreneurship — so the two forged an easy friendship.
Hollee found a lot in common with the two lawyer moms featured most prominently: Pittsburgh attorney, Libby Windsor, and Atlanta law professor, Nikki Adcock Williams. They had all experienced the pressure of working in competitive law firms, and all had found a way to find happiness in the law.
Q: What's the sequel or follow-up going to look like?
T&G: Hard to say right now — we need Good Enough Is the New Perfect to be a blockbuster first! But, we’re both fascinated with perfectionism and its role in society today, and especially its impact on our children.
Get your copy of Good Enough is the New Perfect HERE (just in time for Mother's Day!)
Follow Hollee on Twitter HERE
Follow Becky on Twitter HERE
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