01 Feb

Good. Better. Best.

Posted by Jenna, Under Personal

I’ve found that I like to take on too many projects at once. I want to grow my blog to the point that I make some money doing what I love, I want to build Jenna Cole up to the point where I am contributing significantly to the family income, I want to have a have an amazing meal on the table each night when husband gets home (and I wish I would make him breakfast each day and pack him some lunches as well but that never happens), I want to graduate, I want to learn to sew, I want to have a sparkling clean house, I want to fit in long slow workouts that will help me reshape my body to better handle labor, I want to spend more time with my girlfriends, I want to be the woman who shows up on your doorstep with a loaf of banana bread “just because”, and so many other things.

It’s possible that with some incredible prioritization and time management skills that I could fit all of these things into my life, but could I be the best at all of them? No way. There are some areas in life where we are the best, others where we are better, and some where we just have to settle for good. If we want to live a balanced and varied life we cannot be the best at everything we try to do.

That’s not so hard to accept, right? There are times where settling for mediocrity is necessary if we want to survive without finding ourselves curled up into a ball under the covers, fingernails chewed to the quick and tears streaming down our face because we just. can’t. survive. another. day. like. this.

Unfortunately defining what is best in any given situation is not so easy, because as I see it there are two types of best. The first is largely tied to science and theories and hypothesis and statistics and proof. This best (which I will call the “science best”) consists of truths/logics that are widely accepted and adhered to. No infants riding unrestrained in a car, for example. The absolute best thing you can do for your baby when riding in a car is to restrain them properly in an infant car seat. Keeping babies on their backs while sleeping is another example of a “science best”. The data available to us today shows that this action can drastically lower your chances of dealing with the devastating effect of SIDS. Though there will always be those who can argue anecdotally that doing things differently is best for them, they are the exception rather than the rule, and if we are looking at things objectively I think “”science best”" should be judged based on what delivers positive results for the majority, not the minority.

The other type of best is a lot tougher though, the “personal best”. “Personal bests” deals with practices that don’t have solid data to back them up (or maybe there is solid data, but it’s so strong for both sides of the argument that choosing one side or the other becomes something that should be evaluated individually). In parenting, “personal bests” include deciding between a sling or stroller to carry baby, which bottle to feed with, what bedtime is best for your child, and so many other choices.

Sometimes you hear person A arguing that they have the “science best” and that person B is using the “personal best” to justify their actions. The debate surrounding the safety of home birth is a prime example of this and is unfortunately just a part of life. At some point we just have to say “I respectfully disagree” without turning to hurtful attacks to get a point across.

I’ve learned recently of a beloved phrase in America, involving the word best:

The best you can do is what is best for you.

Or some other equivalent of the phrase (do what is best for you, do what is best for your family, all that matters is that you do your best). Is this grouping of words as beloved in other countries as it is here? It’s the ultimate catch-all! Whether we don’t know what to say, or we don’t want to disagree, or want to lend support, or we agree with the reasoning, or we are just trying to be a shoulder to lean on we toss this phrase out to the point where I think the meaning has been twisted to mean “Whatever you think is best IS best“. In some cases, like with the “personal bests”, this is most definitely true. You figure out what works best for you, and you go for it, no matter whether others determine differently.

The problem with this phrase is that we sometimes use it as justification when we feel guilty for choosing something other what can be classified as “science best”. Breastfeeding is a perfect example of this. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the World Health Organization (and many, many other respected organizations) all agree that breastfeeding is best for babies. Breast is best has become a bit of a rally cry for breastfeeding advocates, but some fight for opposing viewpoints because it’s tough to hear that choosing different may not result in the cream of the crop results we wish we could always achieve. Many formula feeding mothers feel judged when it is suggested that the choice to use formula isn’t the best thing they can do for their baby. As will possibly be the case with myself, for some breastfeeding isn’t an option due to biological/emotional/economical reasons. Though we may determine that breastfeeding isn’t the best choice for us, statements by others reiterating the evidence that breast is best do not need to be taken as a personal attack.

We want to always provide what is best for our babies, we want to always make the best choices in life, but it’s not possible to always do so. Sometimes we do what is better, and other times we do what is good. The women who chooses good or better this time around when it comes to nourishing her infant isn’t bad. The mother who breastfeeds may also be the mom who puts Sprite in her toddler’s sippy cup, and the mother who chooses formula may be the one who further down the road takes the time to get a full serving of fruits and vegetables in her child’s mouth every single day. Best, better, good, and sometimes even bad, our choices through life are always going to be all over the board.

I’m going to keep writing posts about what I have determined are “science bests” and “personal bests” (for who would want to read a blog with posts detailing information and attempts at mediocrity?).  But when I say I think something is best, I don’t necessarily mean the alternative(s) are bad, or that choosing something other than best makes you a horrible person. Sometimes you are indeed the exception to the rule for whatever reason, other times we disagree because I think I’ve found a “science best”, and you consider it a “personal best”. I freely admit that there are areas in life where I choose good rather than better or best, and I think I would find far less anger and hurt in my comments section if others agreed to do the same.  I think we all could benefit from developing our ability to step back and say “Today I chose good, and I’m okay with that. Yesterday I chose best. Tomorrow I’m going to work to do better.”

Life is a sum of all your choices. Albert Camus

LDS readers likely have the voice of Elder Oaks bouncing around in their head due to this talk presented in general conference in 2007. I am in now way trying to say we shouldn’t follow his counsel and I am constantly working to reevaluate and figure out what areas I can take from good, to better, to best. And keep them that way. :) Happily, living the teachings of the Gospel is a little more cut and dried than I’ve found most parenting and lifestyle decisions to be!

30 Comments


  1. I generally agree with almost everything your saying here. Although I am really instrested in what the economical reason would be not to breastfeed? Seeing as it’s free and formula is pricey.
    I have friends that couldn’t breastfeed and their number one gripe with formula was the price.

    Brie Reply:

    I don’t know what Jenna meant here, but if I hadn’t been able to spend hundreds of dollars in the beginning to insure my ability to breastfeed, I wouldn’t have been able to (but I personally would have exclusively pumped). My daughter is 7 months and has never had formula or even a bottle, but without health inurance to pay $300 for a tongue tie clipping, or the money to pay $240 out of pocket for an awesome LC, or the $150 for my sister to send me her breastmilk when I couldn’t exclusively pump enough, or $70 to rent a hospital grade pump (you get the picture), my baby would have had formula at some point or ended up getting it all the time. I can see that not being possible for some people.

    Brandy Reply:

    Oh yeah. You have a point there.
    I wouldn’t think about any of that though because other than the Breast Pump everything else is covered by my Canadian Healthcare coverage.
    I always take for granted that I don’t have to pay for anything health care related out of pocket.

    Evelyn Reply:

    I think there are a number of mom’s who don’t have a lot of money but are able to get formula through WIC and even food stamps. I’m recalling information from memory (which is rather dim, due to pregnancy and distractions due to a toddler), but I believe some of the worst breast feeding rates are in the lower-income bracket. Also, mom’s that are working one or two part-time jobs or working a full-time job that isn’t high paying aren’t always able to afford the nice dual motor b.p. for fast pumping during breaks, and some simply don’t get sufficient breaks (# as well as length) to be able to pump enough, and some have difficulty finding employers who are willing to work with breast pumping needs.

    Brandy Reply:

    Out of curiousity how long is the average Mat Leave in the US? I know I will be getting a year off work.
    Is it much shorter?

    Evelyn Reply:

    Oh you’re gonna love this… it’s 6 weeks. Not always/often paid leave either. Normally a woman can take 12 weeks during a year without getting fired, but that sometimes depends on when you were hired, your position, the company, your contract, etc.

    Brandy Reply:

    Whoa I am shocked, I can’t even fathom how that is not illegal! It seems cruel to basically force a new mom back to work after only 6 weeks, it must be so hard.

    Jenna Reply:

    I think many women decide that returning to work is a must for them financially, and working full time and breastfeeding exclusively (especially in the US) is just about impossible. This is what I was referring to when I noted economical reasons to use formula. (Although you are right, formula is EXPENSIVE)

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  2. You should have posted this gentle side of yourself ages ago. This is a much more forgiving, intelligent-sounding, understanding, meaningful post than most of the others where you discuss viewpoints/opinions.

    Kindness and respect of others viewpoints is something you’ve asked for readers to do for you for a long time… and now it looks like you may be starting to do the same for them… I hope, anyway. :)

    I am proud if that’s what this post means.

    Hannah Reply:

    I have to agree with this – I honestly had tears reading it. Kudos to you, Jenna, for articulating this to your readers. I hope it does indeed mean what I think it does.

    Erin Reply:

    While I too like this post, I disagree that this is the first glimpse we’ve seen at Jenna’s “gentle side.” Further, I don’t think she is just now starting to show kindness and respect. Your comment comes off as such a back-handed complement. You are complementing the post, but insulting Jenna.

    Like so many of us (me included, you?) Jenna is judgmental AND introspective and her posts show growth. I disagree with Jenna on quite a list of things, but I don’t disagree with her because she “lacks kindness and respect”. Quite the opposite.

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  3. Why will you be unable to breastfeed? Just curious

    Kelli Nicole Reply:

    Hopefully Jenna will appreciate my response since I know she doesn’t have time to respond to all the comments immediately, so I’ll give a bit of an insight here. In case you never saw her posts about her breast reduction…she had a breast reduction. Due to potential damage to the nerves and glands, it’s possible that Jenna would have difficulty or be unable to make milk. From what I’ve read on her blog it seems that she absolutely will do her best to try though!

    Laura Reply:

    Oh of course, I forgot about that. Thanks for awnsering

    Jenna Reply:

    Kelli is spot on. My breast reduction could have severed important nerves and ducts and I’ll have no idea until I actually give breastfeeding a try.

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  4. Sorry I was MIA for months… I’m just now playing catch up and even commenting :)

    I absolutely agree. We all need to find what is the best for us – honestly – without judging ourselves. Related to Elder Oaks’ talk – we need to budget our time, but I think in the LDS church we have a tendency to judge ourselves for not be perfect far too much. None of us can do it all. None of us have the perfect children lined up for church, treats for our perfect lesson, and perfectly pressed skirt on every Sunday. What you don’t see is that woman you think is perfect in the ward has kids who run in the house sometimes and has days when make up just doesn’t happen. We just need to work our best and work steadily on personal improvement and balance while still being happy with the product we are able to accomplish.

    Just as each mother will make decisions for her family or each person decides what our individual choices and priorities are – we should take them as that… choices and personal situations. Love this article and love that you put this out there!

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  5. I loved this post, but I have one question, have you seen scientific proof that back sleeping is safer? I haven’t and I am curious to read what you have if you have found an experiment that details such (if you’ve taken stats, you know that studies don’t actually prove anything. They are very useful, but don’t prove something scientifically).

    Jenna Reply:

    I admit I haven’t researched this topic as much as some others because the things I’ve read/heard consistently quote that SIDS deaths were drastically reduced when the recommendation changed to supine sleeping. I didn’t see any other connection that could have applied, but would love to know what you have found if you have anything.

    And no stats for me. I am very, very incompetent when it comes to math.

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  6. “I want to be the woman who shows up on your doorstep with a loaf of banana bread “just because”

    I want to be that woman too, but it never seems to happen.

    On an unrelated note Sean and I watched the Business of Being Born and we loved it, and we watched it randomly because it was on instant queue and we thought it was more about insurance and health care. Regardless, I learned so much. Sean wants our friends to watch it as well. We were talking to our friends about it and we were talking about when we have kids how we want to have them at home or a birthing center and you would have thought that I said I was going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. I was literally told I am going to die, and these are all very educated people. All of us are a few years away from having babies and I thought that they would be excited and want to learn more, but they literally thought that Sean and I had lost our minds!!

    Jenna Reply:

    Sorry you had to deal with that! I wish I could tell you it won’t be like that in other situations if you choose to pursue that route when you do hit the baby stage of your life, but I’ve found that isn’t the case.

    I also wish I could tell you some good responses, but I don’t have them yet. I work every single time to remain calm and not get worked up. Going off into a tirade never helps for some reason. You can use your mad legal skills to argue your side though!

    Erin Reply:

    My very educated friends have the same reply. They think I’ve become a crazy Californian for wanting a natural birth in a birth center. :) (I should note that while they are “very educated” – they have no children and are not educated with regards to all matters birth).

    Emmie Reply:

    Sean just responded with the “culture of fear” argument and tried to lay out the history and compared it to something that were relevant to them and that kind of soften them but the conversation still ended with you are going to die.

    I just laughed. I told Sean that it was a good trial run when we decide to have a family because it is likely that my families head will spin around multiple times. They don’t even acknowledge that I only eat fish. They made lamb the first night I was home.

    Thank goodness we have several years…hopefully not too many!

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  7. I really love this post, and I hope I can keep it in mind whenever I find myself getting frustrated, judging, or feeling like I’m being judged by that seemingly innocuous word, “best”.

    For me it really seems to be an issue of context. In an entirely neutral setting, there are some scientific absolute facts about what is best. But in real life there is always context that affects cold, hard, facts. All things being equal, breastfeeding is best. But for some Mom’s with medical, time or sanity issues, using formula really is the best thing for her circumstances – not just good or better. So I suppose I mostly agree with everything you said – I would just tweak it and say that I really do believe that some things, even scientific bests, can vary for what is best for individuals and their circumstances. The same choice can be a better, best or good depending on the individual circumstances.

    …which come to think of it is probably almost exactly what your getting at. So I’m probably just quibbling about nothing.

    Jenna Reply:

    I just wanted to say “If I think something is best, it doesn’t mean that I think you’re bad.”

    Hopefully people can remember that. :) At the very least I wanted something to refer to when things get crazy in the future.

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  8. The opportunity to have 2 children now has made me WAAYY less judgmental! We generally have NO idea what influences people’s decisions or why we are sometimes driven to make the choices we do – the outside perspective is often very incomplete when we start judging mothers around us.

    If desire and gung-ho-ness to breastfeed made breastfeeding easier…it would have been SUPER easy for me, but those things aren’t as related as I wish they were. I just finished with K – he’s 6 months. I planned to go a year before he was born, but after all the struggles, I knew I couldn’t go that long. But in line with the idea of Good-Better-Best: yes, it would have been best to go longer, but 6 months was BETTER than nothing or quitting much sooner. Even just 3 months would have been GOOD (I for one think that those early months are the most important anyway for breastmilk, so if you know you can’t last longer than that, at least try that if you can).

    I hope you have success with nursing! I know for sure how frustrating it can be when it doesn’t just happen easily (like it seems to do for some!). Since I gave myself permission to realize I don’t have to excel in everything and be in the BEST category in everything, my life is much easier and Kyle has a less emotional, happier mother!

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  9. Yes, I immediately thought of Elder Oaks’ talk. I LOVE that talk. I also thought of a quote I think I heard President Monson use in a conference talk: “Do your duty; that is best. Leave unto the Lord the rest.”

    I like the way you differentiated between scientific best and personal best, and I think you do a good job of representing what you feel is your personal best here.

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  10. With some health issues that keep me from being the energetic, gung-ho person I feel I am inside, I can really relate to this post. I wish I could always give my best, but for me my best is often someone else’s “good.” But I try! So thanks for this.

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  11. Your first paragraph perfectly sums up my frequent mental state and it often results in me becoming paralyzed because I don’t know where to begin! I’m glad someone else feels like this. I want to be the best neuropsychologist, and the best mom, and write thank you notes with in 2 days of a thank worthy activity, and have a perfectly clean house, and workout daily, and and and…. I’m not even pregnant yet, and I can see how adding a kid would be challenging with this mentality. I’m hoping my blog will help me sort out where good enough is just fine :)

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  12. Big hug, dear friend. That is all.

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  13. If you’re unable to breastfeed, here’s a great site with a homemade formula without all the chemicals and junk in it: http://www.cheeseslave.com/2008/09/29/how-to-make-homemade-baby-formula/

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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