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The first time someone described me as a work/life balance expert, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Me? I said and snorted. The woman who just raised her voice to her darling 6-year-old son for dawdling on his way to bed. The one whose husband got frustrated because she had spent so many nights talking to strangers via her computer — instead of spending time with him!
I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I have learned a great deal from the hundreds of parents and experts I’ve interviewed over the past four years, as I researched and wrote Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (Harlequin® Nonfiction, spring 2011). I was heartened to find real moms and dads who had found happiness and success by adjusting their attitudes about work and life, and they convinced me to change my own thinking.
Lesson Number One. Work/life balance is a misnomer, and it’s elusive — I mean, on top of everything else we’re trying to do well, should we really be worrying about allocating an even number of minutes to work and play? I don’t even like the term — it seems like just another thing that moms feel guilty about not executing perfectly.
For me, work/life balance is all about seasons. I recognize that there are times when my life will be more heavily focused on professional obligations, and times when I am more ensconced in activities at home. For example, in the weeks surrounding the release of my book, I spent most of my time in airports or at speaking engagements. But I was OK with that because I knew the Summer promised plenty of time for baseball games, afternoons at the pool, and snuggling with my guys.
Lesson Number Two. There’s a difference between “being the best” and “doing your best.” As a go-getter who had always aimed for the top rung in whatever I was pursuing, I didn’t see this distinction for a long time, but when it finally sank in, I felt a great sense of relief.
This was particularly true when it came to the Motherhood Olympics! Early in my journey as a mom, I fell victim to the comparison game. For example, when I saw a mom serving the perfect mix of organic vegetables or enrolling her 18-month-old in Mandarin Chinese lessons, I was sure I had failed in the competition.
Later, I realized that I was OK making my own judgment calls about what my kids needed, and that doing my best was the most I could ask of myself. I learned to trust my own instincts, and I’ve stopped modeling perfectionism for my kids. It was a bonus, then, when the child development experts I interviewed told me that was the best thing I could do for them!
Lesson Number Three. Perfection isn’t possible, and sometimes good enough really is good enough! Some of the moms we interviewed didn’t like our title, in part because they associated “good enough” with settling or mediocrity.
But that wasn’t it at all. Our research showed that when moms focused on their own priorities — and stopped defining success by other people’s standards — they found greater happiness and success. And that made sense. As a result, I decided to focus on the aspects of motherhood that fit with my professional obligations and personal interests. I wasn’t going to be able to attend every field trip (sometimes I’d have to be teaching), but I could serve nice meals (I enjoy cooking) most nights. And that was good enough for the Temple family.
Readers: When it comes to work/life balance, is “good enough” perfect for you?
Hollee Schwartz Temple is a professor at West Virginia University College of Law. She is a work/life balance columnist for the American Bar Association Journal, the nation’s premier lawyer magazine, and blogs about work/life issues at http://thenewperfect.com. Hollee is the coauthor of Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood.