For the first 6 years of parenting my two boys, I felt the pressure to be the quintessential mother. I wouldn’t settle for anything less than (striving for) perfection when it came to parenting. I compared myself to a fictitious amalgamated version of what a mother should be – pulling the best of every mom around me into one unattainable version of “mom” that I relentlessly sought to be. But I did it all at the expense of my “Self” and my marriage.
Perhaps you have felt this pressure too?
Like you, my efforts and striving came from such a well-intentioned place…my deep love for my kids and my desire for them to have all all they could have and be all they could be – for them to know how much I love them and how important they are. I felt so responsible for their success and happiness in life that I forfeited everything else towards that end. We all want nothing but the best for our kids, right?
When my life fell apart and I nearly lost my marriage in 2009, I had no choice but to find another way. Making my kids my only priority was not going to work for the long run. In retrospect, I would call this other way “good enough” parenting. And I am now so grateful for the catalyst to give this gift of good enough parenting to my kids, and to myself and my husband. Let me tell you more.
This concept comes from Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst in mid-20th century Britain. In 1953, he developed a theory called the ‘Good Enough Mother‘ (based on how we understand it, this relates to dads, too). This is how he describes the “Good Enough Mother”:
“A mother is neither good nor bad nor the product of illusion, but is a separate and independent entity: The good-enough mother .. starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.”
These failures do not refer to major failures (such as abuse or neglect), but more the child’s perception that the parent is not fixing everything or fulfilling every need they have. So, the idea is that over time, we slowly stop trying to meet every need (as if we ever actually could in the first place) and fix things for them, and we allow them to learn how to take care of themselves. We teach them that the world does not revolve around them and how to tolerate a little discomfort and become more resilient.
We are raising adults, right?
Okay, so the enemy of “good enough” is perfection – if we try to achieve perfection (perfect kids or perfect parents), we will not only go crazy (like I did in 2009) because it’s just not possible….but we will likely totally mess up our kids striving for something we can never achieve. Damn, I hated to face this reality because I am a super high achiever and the idea that “perfect parenting” did not exist really pissed me off.
We are humans and humans make mistakes and let people down. We fail and we mess up. And that’s okay…no, it’s good…it’s real life and real life can be messy.
Let me be clear though, in my view, “good enough” does not mean that we don’t strive to be our best (but our definition of “doing our best” might change).
Do we cut ourselves and others more slack? Yes. Do we settle for crappy or irresponsible parenting? No.
Good enough parenting is very nurturing, proactive and intentional. Believe me, we really and truly care about our children and the relationship and bonds we form. I think good enough parenting allows for more real life to creep in – the acknowledgement of each person’s unique little personality, temperament, moods, emotions, and needs (parents and kids) so that there is less controlling and more coaching and guiding and acceptance. So while we are providing them with increasing opportunities to grow towards being resilient and well-adjusted adults, we are still very much actively parenting them.
A key thing to remember about good enough parenting is that it doesn’t sacrifice the individual or the marriage in a bid to make our kids’ lives better. Good enough parenting recognizes that our healthy love relationships (married or not) and our own life satisfaction and fulfillment are the foundation for a thriving family. Good enough parents care about themselves and their own health and happiness and learn how to manage their emotions, take responsibility for their actions, and strive to be a positive role model for how to be an adult in the real world.
And the best thing is that it’s never too late to take a deep breath and allow yourself to choose good enough.
At the Thriving Family Academy, we want you to be a “good enough” parent (okay, we will let you be a great parent) AND love your own life and have a wonderful love life.
For more information, read these articles “In Search of the “Good Enough Mother” (Psychology Today) or The Gift of the Good Enough Mother (Mindful Parenting)
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