Author Interview: René Syler
Parenting magazine editor Camille Chatterjee sat down with René Syler, mother of two and former anchor of CBS's The Early Show, to chat about her book, Good Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting.
Read the entire interview below, or listen to our podcast.
What does it mean to be a "good enough mother," and how did you come up with that idea?
I've been a "good enough mother" since my second child was born. With my first child, I was still under the illusion that I could be perfect. I had friends who were killing themselves to provide perfect childhoods for their kids. I said, "You know what? I didn't have a perfect childhood, you didn't have a perfect childhood, nobody does. So it's okay to just be good enough." You still have to strive to be perfect. You don't get to be a slacker mom, but you cut yourself some slack when you fail.
Why do you think moms feel so much pressure to be perfect?
In this society we value perfection even though we know it's completely and totally unattainable. We look at the people on TV -- perfect hair, perfect teeth. We look at the people on Wall Street -- perfect bank accounts. I want to turn the tables and say, "It's alright to be imperfect!" You can show your children all your warts and wrinkles and they will appreciate you for that.
So many people have seen you on TV, and you always seem so poised and polished. Yet you say in your book that even you aren't a supermom in your own eyes. Was it difficult to accept that, or are you liberated by saying that to the world?
I'm very liberated by it. People would look at me on TV and have no idea what was going on in my home life -- that I was up until 11 o'clock at night working on my son's diorama, or that I had run out of the house with one brown shoe and one blue shoe on. It happens to all of us. I thought, it's time to pull the curtain back and say, "I am so not perfect, and if you believe that [I am], then shame on you."
In the book, your mantras as a good enough mother are "I don't care" and "If it ain't practical, it ain't happening." Can you talk more about experiences in your own life where you've used those mantras?
"I don't care" is the big one. That doesn't mean you don't care about your kids. "I don't care" is about coming to grips with your own parenting style. I have a parenting style -- it's not everyone's style, but it is mine. It doesn't matter what everyone thinks of it -- it"s about what I think and what my children think and what my husband thinks.
People will make judgments [on your parenting skills] based on what your children look like or what they're eating. My son, Cole, is 8 years old. He wears camouflage every single day. That does not mean I'm a bad parent. I am a path-of-least-resistance parent. I don't see the harm in sometimes having pizza for breakfast. Yes, [parenting] is probably the biggest job you'll ever have, but you have to have a sense of humor and laugh your way through it -- laugh with your kids, your spouse -- otherwise it's just going to be drudgery.
In the book, you share a very funny story about buying doughnuts for your son's birthday.
My son decides that on his birthday, he wants to bring doughnuts to class. I said, "That's awesome -- it's easy, there's a Dunkin' Donuts in our neighborhood." And he said, "No, these are not regular doughnuts. These are doughnuts in the shape of a '7,' just like Matthew Silverstein's mom did." I said, "How can Matthew Silverstein's mom be raising the bar for the rest of us?" [Apparently] you can order doughnuts in the shape of whatever birthday.
So I order the doughnuts. I call a week ahead of time: "Are they going to be there?" "Yep." I call the day before: "Are they gonna be there?" "Yep." I call an hour before: "Yep, they're going to be here." I get there, they're not there. And I am flipping out because my baby has told all his buddies that he's going to have doughnuts just like Matthew Silverstein in the shape of a '7.'
I ask the guy, "What am I supposed to do?" And he says, "Well we have some '8's here." At that moment, I thought, I have three options: I could do nothing; I could run down to the store and get cupcakes; or I could take the '8's and be happy with that. And you know what? I took the '8's to school and my son did not care because they got to eat doughnuts in class and his mother had done something special for him. I explained to him, "I'm sorry this got messed up, but this is sometimes what happens in life." That was a big lesson for him, that sometimes you just have to punt.
You've been on tour in support of the book. How have moms you met responded to the book?
Typically it's like a pep rally. [laughs] When I go to these speeches and engagements and the crowd is prominently working women, they're all in the background shouting "Yeah!" Some of the [feedback] I've been getting on the goodenoughmother.com website is so funny. One woman wrote, "I have three girls: 14, 13, and 3." (I thought, stop right there for a second because you were almost home-free!) She said, "With the 14-year-old I tried to do everything right. I played with her educationally and gave her organic baby food. With the 3-year-old, I don"t have any fight left. Every day she comes home, she puts on a bikini and cowboy boots, and I don't care!" And it was that attitude that I was trying to get across [in my book]. What is the harm if the girl wants to put on a bikini and cowboy boots? As long as it's in your house, it's no big deal. That's a woman who said, "I get it."
You reveal at the end of the book that you recently had a double mastectomy. How did your being a mother play into that decision?
Being a mother is one of the big reasons I did it. I did not have breast cancer -- I did this proactively. I had a mother and father with breast cancer so I was at extreme high risk. I had four biopsies in four years, and my poor kids, they'd watch me go through these biopsies and they'd want to come and hug me after and I'd say, "Oh, I can't, Mommy's sore right now." I realized after the fourth one that I couldn't continue on the way I was going.
I had a doctor who had been treating me for the last four years. We had talked about whether this was an option to substantially reduce my breast cancer risk. [Finally] we decided it was the thing to do. We did [the first surgery] in January and I had the second about eight weeks ago. Everything's great -- my kids were wonderful throughout the whole thing. Their big concern is, "Can you die?" I said, "Well, this is a big surgery but the reason I'm doing this is because I want to be with you for a long time."
My son was remarkably perceptive about the whole thing. When I came home from surgery and I had the big drains underneath my arms and the industrial-sized bra, he said, "Mom, I think you did the right thing." I said, "Really buddy? You do?" He said, "Yeah, because people die from breast cancer." And I said, "Yes, they can, if they don't catch it early enough." I thought, for an 8-year-old-boy to get that -- that was big.
It's great to hear that you're doing well in the aftermath. Are you home more now that you're not on TV, and if so, do you find yourself becoming more domestic? In the book you said you're not a big cleaner, not a big cook...
The biggest thing is that I'm there in the morning. My kids are thrilled about that. I make breakfast for them -- I can do breakfast. But just this morning they said, "Aw, pancakes again?" Even they"re starting to get tired. I'm going to have to widen my menu just a little bit!
But certainly I've been more present. When I say that, I don't mean physically, I mean I'm there there. A few years ago my daughter said to me, "Mom, I wish you didn't work so much." What she was saying was, I wish even when you were here, you were here. When she said that, it hit me right between the eyes. When I do go back to work, and I will because that's who I am, I will do a better job of straddling that line -- I hope.
That's a great note to end on. Thank you so much, René.
Get to know René at goodenoughmother.com.