For a woman to say she is searching for a “good enough” life is not failure — it is maturity and self-knowledge.
I’d also tell her, if she marries, to work hard on her relationship. It’s not only much easier than getting divorced, it’s more rewarding and more fun. Love. Full stop. That’s what matters.
When my daughter was 4, she came up to my home office one evening around 6:30. I was on a deadline and had been for days. She had two big bags filled with her stuff, her pajamas tucked in her backpack. She declared that she was not leaving the room until I came downstairs and played with her. I was frustrated and told her I was never going to be able to finish unless she left, and then I marched her down to her father.
The next morning I wrote a letter to myself. I recently found the note, dated Feb. 8, 2001: “Today is the day I decided to change my life.” My solutions weren’t perfect, but I tried to rearrange my work life so that I would be available when she came home from school. (I knew I had it better than most women. I had full-time help and could afford the changes, too, a luxury not available to all.) I had been in such a hurry for such a long time that “no” had become my default answer to her. Now it would be “yes.” I wrote less and cut back on traveling for stories. I turned down assignments and job offers. I adopted a slower pace. It was not always easy, but it was the right choice. It did not matter much to the greater world when my next article appeared, but it did matter to my daughter that I was nearby. And it mattered to me.
A couple of years later, my daughter came home from school one day and announced that she’d had the best day of her life. When I asked what had happened, she said it was just an ordinary day. I pressed — certainly something different must have occurred? She shook her head. Intrigued, I called her first-grade teachers and asked if anything special had happened in class. No, they repeated, it was just an ordinary day.
It took a minute or two to sink in. All this effort to create the big moments that working mothers everywhere strive to produce, all the bells and whistles I was madly trying to clang, and my daughter said the best day of her life had been an ordinary day. A good enough life.
Motherhood is not a job. It is a joy.
Elsa Walsh is the author of “Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women.” She is a former Washington Post reporter and New Yorker staff writer. This essay is adapted from a speech she delivered at St. Mary’s College of Maryland on April 5.