I remember years ago coming across the theory of the ‘good enough’ mother and it’s stayed with me ever since. Donald Winnicott came up with the concept in 1953. It describes the natural connection between mother and baby, which starts with the mother meeting the baby’s every need, being there immediately when baby cries, then naturally leaving the baby a little longer sometimes and not always getting it right. It really describes what happens in every day life rather than a conscious method of parenting. I can think of occasions when my own baby has had to wait longer than I’d have liked for attention because the dinner is about to burn or another child needs me. Winnicott theorised that these moments create small frustrations for the baby, and this process helps to develop their understanding of being a separate person in their own right.
Now Winnicott was talking about babies, not children, but as a parent I have found it immensely helpful as my children have grown. I like the concept of being a ‘good enough’ parent. And I believe that being a ‘good enough’ parent is healthier, both for me and for my children than anything more.
Dropping the impossible
We live in a culture of formulas. Even this post has a formula! Do things this way, follow these steps, avoid this, do more of that. Navigating parenthood can feel a little like walking through a minefield at times. There are lots of different opinions. Unfortunately whilst information is good, too much of it can make it easy to feel like you’re getting it wrong. The reality is that none of us are perfect. But we could be good enough. So reject that expectation to get it ‘right’ all the time. You cannot achieve the impossible. Take what you need from the information that’s out there and drop the rest.
When we accept that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, that we get things wrong sometimes, we accept that we are human. For me this is the essence of being ‘good enough’. We don’t have to get things right all the time. Instead we can accept ourselves as we are, and model this acceptance to our children. This might be hard for some of us. But really, it’s about aspiring to be ‘good enough’. Tell your child that you get it wrong sometimes, and that that’s ok. Own your mistakes and apologise for them. When your child does something wrong, of course parent as you choose, but perhaps also acknowledge that they are human too. Humanity, with all its messiness, is a gift, not something to be rejected. And if you can teach your child to embrace their humanity too, then you are teaching them something truly valuable.
Embracing this humanity means embracing kindness. If we aspire to be good enough, then we show compassion to ourselves, and to others, when we don’t look perfect. Kindness is a fantastic quality, and one I would rate highly above perfection.
So I challenge you to be good enough. Do your best and accept the reality that we all make mistakes. Get it wrong sometimes and show yourself some compassion.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. If you want more information about what we do at Imagine Therapy, or if you are looking for some support do visit our website or get in touch for a free 30 minute consult.