A Mother’s Day Gift to Ourselves: Defining ‘Perfect’ On Our Own Terms

Beth, Becky & Katie - Susan Ryan Photography

This guest post by Becky Beaupre Gillespie, co-author of a wonderful new book, powerfully says  what I wish for every mom. Personally, fighting the demon of perfectionism helps me every day. Power to the Imperfect!

By Becky Beaupre Gillespie

My grandma wanted to be a lawyer. She was ambitious, creative, vivacious and smart — she had what it took.

Except this: She was a young woman in the late 1930s, and her father thought pursuing a law degree was unrealistic and, worse, inappropriate. So she never went to law school.

She did, however, insist upon earning a bachelor’s degree and working for a few years as a journalist; after all, she’d never been one to go down without a fight. But when she became a mom in 1947, Betty Luker Haverfield bowed to tradition — she gave up that career she’d wanted so badly and became a housewife.

Flash forward several decades, and here I am: part of the first generation to reap the full benefits of the women’s movement. I’m a mom and a journalist, and I have more choices than Betty could ever have imagined. I grew up hearing, “You can be anything.” And, like so many of my peers, I took it mean that I had to be, and do, everything.

Perfectionism is our generation’s greatest liability when it comes to balancing work and motherhood. That’s what Hollee Schwartz Temple and I learned when we surveyed 905 working moms for our new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (Harlequin Nonfiction, Spring 2011).  The “constant need to be the best at everything” outweighed all other factors, including financial pressures, inflexible bosses, and spouses who didn’t contribute enough at home.

But Hollee and I also discovered that the women who were willing to define success on their own terms — to let go of outside expectations and make choices that inspired their passions and fit their own families’ needs — were able to overcome this hurdle. These women, who told us that “being the best is not important” as long as they were “good enough and happy,” were more satisfied with their choices. They were less likely to feel they’d sacrificed too much and half as likely to describe their marriages as a “disaster” or “not very good.” And what’s more, they’d given up remarkably little ground at work to achieve this state of contentment.

These Good Enoughs weren’t settling or stopping short of the finish line. They were deliberately picking the finish line they wanted to cross. They’d given up (or perhaps never embraced) the Never Enough attitude that left some of their peers racing for an unattainable goal and feeling as though they’d failed to measure up. Instead, they focused on the things that mattered to them, and they channeled their energy in a way that brought them even greater success.

For me, this meant giving up my job as a newspaper reporter so I could spend more time with my daughters — and then gradually rebuilding my writing career in a way that fit my priorities and made me feel whole. For Hollee, it meant leaving a career as a litigator at a top-tier law firm so she could teach legal writing — and, eventually, pursue her dream of writing a book. For others, the changes were even simpler. Some found their New Perfect by giving themselves permission to let the house get messy, or refusing to sign up for every volunteer request at school, or simply accepting that there are many “right” ways to be a mom. The answer is different for each of us.

We have more choices than previous generations of women. And my wish for all moms this Mother’s Day is that we’ll have the courage to identify our unique talents, honor our own passions, and  reject the idea that there’s some “perfect” way to blend motherhood and career.

I want us to choose.

From Nancy: How do you choose to be a “Good Enough Mom?” Add a comment – when we share about this we help all moms.


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