Moms seem to have this idea that they need to get it right every time. We carry the worry that we should never ever disappoint our kids and that if we happen to make a bad call, then we are simply bad parents. Actually this is all backwards. Being perfect was never the plan for parents and in fact, when we try to get it right every single time, we deny our kids important lessons about living.
Why being perfect doesn’t apply to parenting?
Before kids came into the picture, society encouraged us to get as close to 100% as humanly possible. At school we were encouraged to “do our best” but also our “best” was then ranked against our peers in alphabetical order and those who achieved top marks were rewarded publicly. Whatever type of student you may have been, that experience was probably laid down inside. It then followed us into the work world, where achievements are ranked in the form of a raise or promotion. And then we had kids and we somewhere carried over this idea that we need to achieve high results as parents as well. Except that these rules don’t necessarily make sense in the parenting arena, and that is where us parents start to feel really confused.
Why “good enough” is great for moms
In his time, Psychoanalyst and Paediatrician Donald Winnicott saw many thousands of mother/baby couples. Through his interaction with these families, Winnicott coined a revolutionary term “good enough mother”. He explained that “good enough” parenting means that you are sensitive, warm and empathetic to your baby, meeting their emotional and physical needs. This results in the baby feeling safe, contained and held and sets the baby up to be responsive and adaptive to future challenges. But Winnicott also understood that no parent can be consistently responsive and the absolute perfect container for their child. Not only on a practical level, but emotionally too, a parent may not always be able to tolerate their baby’s big feelings of frustration or discomfort. And so sometimes a parent may try to be overly responsive to their child, creating a seemingly perfect environment in order to prevent their baby from experiencing these difficult feelings. This will in turn safeguard the parent from also feeling overwhelmed by their child’s big emotions. But in doing this, they then offer their baby little room to express negative emotions which means that they have no practice with feeling frustrated when it eventually does happen.
In contrast to this, a “good enough” parent realises that a baby needs to be responded to in an empathetic and quick way in those early stages so they may feel big feelings, but not become overwhelmed by them. This then gives the baby an experience of what happens when they feel intense emotion and then are soothed, laying the crucial blueprint for self-soothing later on. In this way a good enough parent does not protect a child from big feelings, but rather responds timeously and empathetically to them without trying to take away the cause and effect.
The bottom line
This idea will hopefully be comforting to moms and dads who strive for perfection and painstakingly try to remove all pitfalls out of their child’s path. It proves that while we can’t protect them at all costs, if we show up consistently enough, if we respond with just enough empathy and send a message that big feelings can be tolerated, our kids will then learn to manage the feelings of upset that comes with the ordinary business of being alive in a world that won’t always meet their needs. Hopefully with this in mind instead of striving for an “A” for parenting, we can rather achieve an “E” for enough, and be seriously proud of that.