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!