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Guest Posting: Help! My Wife Needs Good Enough Mother Therapy


Karen is a wonderful wife and an even better mother. Our marriage has survived, and thrived, through nearly 30 years, two children and several career changes. As a couple, we are as rock solid as they come. And yet, here I am seeking help.

Why? Because Karen is in desperate need of “Good Enough Mother” therapy. If the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have one in the first place, then she’s still crawling.

It’s not that she doesn’t get the concept. I’ve seen her laugh and nod in agreement while reading articles promoting the lifestyle. She simply is not wired with GEM circuitry. For much of our life as parents, that has worked out well for me. Growing up, my children were always clean, well-fed and well-dressed. And, I had little responsibility for any of it. I was involved, but often in an “I’m here, but I really don’t get why you are doing what you are doing,” detached kind of way.

On the rare occasions I was left in a decision-making capacity, I made different (in her eyes, wrong) choices that were, not to belabor the point, good enough. A cookie was a much more effective tonic for a fussy kid than a nutritious snack involving the dreaded combination of washing, chopping and vegetables. And the occasional puke stain on a shirt was never enough to warrant a partial, let alone, complete change of clothing and chemical decontamination Karen thought necessary.

I always thought that as our children grew, Karen’s need for perfection would ease. But despite an emptying nest, Karen’s GEM aversion continues. Despite my constant example, I have been unable to convince her to cast away the shackles of perfection and embrace the liberation of sufficiency.

Being a Good Enough Mother means giving up control and accepting less than perfection. My wife has this absurd notion that any job worth doing is a job worth doing well. She will not accept corner-cutting: not in her career and never with her children. And, my frequent attempts to take shortcuts are met with looks of disapproval. But the greatest obstacle to becoming a GEM is that Karen would be putting herself first, at least once in a while.

To be perfectly honest, my wife does not ignore the GEM principles entirely. She has a healthy love of wine so she follows the first principle, “The World Stops For Wine-Thirty,” at least in part. Karen observes Wine-Thirty with notable frequency. But her world never stops. There is little my wife hasn’t done, or at least tried to do, while holding a wine glass. So even when she recognizes the wisdom of following a GEM Principle, she does so in a way that violates its spirit.

She is “all in,” however, when it comes to the eighth principle which declares that “Good Food Can Come From A Can,” or a bag, or a pizza joint, for that matter. It’s not that she doesn’t cook or cook well; it’s just that cooking is not elevated to the level of an Olympic sport.

But that is the extent of her courtship with the GEM Principles: 1½ out of 10. The five principles she most ignores are listed below. I think it will be clear why therapy is needed:

3. Learn The Meaning Of – And Practice Saying – “I Don’t Care:” To Karen, no detail is insignificant. She cares about everything. That attitude has allowed her to rise to the top of her profession while raising two children. Her navigation of career and motherhood has been masterful. But caring about everything prevents her from identifying and then looking past the truly insignificant. I, on the other hand, have perfected the art of indifference.

4. Take Yourself OFF The Bottom Of The List: Putting others (family, friends, career, the dry cleaner) first, tends to put you last. There is always something to do or someone to please. There is little doubt that Karen enjoys making others happy. But she often does so at her own expense.

5. Do Your Best And Accept That Is The Best You Can Do: Karen’s motto is “my best is never good enough.” It is a virtuous trait which can become a drag without some perspective. Her professional and personal success is attributable, in large part, to her constant effort to “do better, be better,” as she is fond of saying. But sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.

7. Cultivate Interests That Are Yours And Yours Alone: Karen has few interests, hobbies or distractions of her own unless you count Merlot and taking care of others. I play golf; Karen hates golf. I watch sports; Karen can watch only in very short spurts. I play video games; Karen—well, you can imagine how she feels about video games. Recently, she has begun to take daily walks, usually with our spoiled, 5-year-old miniature dachshund, Gracie. Right now, she approaches these walks with her typical zeal, but it’s a start.

9. Learn What Really Matters Versus What Will Wash Off In The Shower: Everything matters to Karen. And showers are for…“hey, the shower is dirty, I need to clean it now.”

They say that opposites attract and that for every yin there is a yang. I suppose life would have been more difficult had Karen and I been more alike. We would either be buried amidst the constant clutter I find perfectly acceptable or competing to be the first to clean the toilets. Either way, it would not be pretty.

There is a balance and symmetry to our life now. I find inspiration in her tireless search for perfection and believe I have begun to teach her that a job adequately done sometimes has more value than one completed perfectly.

I still think there is hope for Karen and for others who have not yet seen the wisdom of living a Good Enough Life. As the enlightened one in our marriage, it is my duty to continue preaching to her the GEM Gospel. I’ve seen the chinks in her armor of perfection and I know that if I just keep chipping away at it, I will break through.

But, I’ll get to it later. There’s a ballgame on TV right now…

So what do you suggest everyone! How can I help Karen become a Good Enough Mother? How do you learn to trade Perfection for Good Enough… I’d love to hear you advice so we can stage our own GEM intervention!

John Marchese

John Marchese is an attorney, writer, imperfect father and husband of a perfect wife and mother. He is a shareholder at Colucci & Gallaher, P.C. in Buffalo, New York and a frequent contributor to The Disney Driven Life. John may be reached, followed or ignored at and on Facebook and Twitter.







  1. Auntie Lisa

    April 21, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I would have to agree with Karen on the puke. Any puked-on garments need to go in the laundry ASAP, if only to avoid stenching up the whole house! :-S

    I agree with you that some work on Item 7 is in order. She needs a hobby! What do YOU think she would be interested in? You know her best… try to draw her out. When you find something she may be interested in, help her get started. Give her time and space to work on the new hobby. Send her links to articles about it. Encourage! It might just catch on!

  2. Diana Monaco

    April 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Don’t rock the boat! Wake up each day, and say to her “I have no idea how I got so lucky, kiss her, and move on.”

  3. Kim

    April 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Karen is perfect just the way she is. Sometimes this uncontrollable need for perfection in all you do can leave you feeling like you belong to a small and isolated group of individuals who truly understand you. As someone who also belongs to this exclusive club, my advice is to love her, hug her and appreciate that her craziness makes your life easier because you will never change her!! At least that is what I keep telling my husband anyway. Great post John. I agree Karen is amazing!!

  4. Pam R

    April 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. I found that I am similar to Karen in many ways. I’m working on that though!!! I think that once people are set in their ways it’s just too hard to change. It’s too hard to let it go….however it’s possible. My mother is almost a replica of what I was reading and now she has toned it way down and become a GEM. I can’t say how she did it really, I just noticed that she noticed that it really didn’t take ALL of what she was doing to get things done. Some corner cutting is fine…is what she came to know…it’s what I am coming to know. So she has all but mastered the GEM qualities and when she needs to kick it into gear she does. I am my mother’s child though and so one day I will chill out!

  5. Irene

    April 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Love the article but I am wondering something??? Is all this bothering you more than her???

    At the end of the day all we can be is good enough in our own unique ways…John sounds like you have struck gold in many, many ways…

  6. m.e. johnson

    April 22, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Agree with all the above. Let her be. You are the beneficiary of all that golden goodness, so enjoy. Turn it around… could she change you into a perfectionist? Does she want to?

  7. John Marchese

    April 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I really appreciate all of the wonderful comments and the fact that everyone sprung to Karen’s defense. Rest assured that I could not be more thankful for Karen’s perfection. I really would not want her to be any other way.

    Karen would be the first to admit, however, that she needs to loosen up a little. For her own sake, not mine. And, she would be the first to point out that I need to clean up my act. Again, for her sake, not mine.

    I have learned: 1. There is a very fine line between growth and acceptance; and 2. I have no idea where that line is.

    If anyone is able to pinpoint it, please let me know.

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