The Good Enough Parent

When I first read Donald Winnicott’s phrase ” the good enough mother” years ago, my first reaction was, “I don’t want to be just good enough!  I want to be a great mother!” Through years of experience as a mother and child therapist, I now appreciate how important the concept of “good enough” parenting is.

With so many books, courses, television shows and yes, even blogs, about how best to parent your children, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  Listening to other parents can be very supportive unless the conversation turns to what is “best” for children. Then it can feel intimidating, at best, and critical at worst. We all want to give our children the very best, but what does that mean? Private lessons? Tutors? Camps? This can become very expensive very fast, especially when you have more than one child. How much structured activity is enough, how much is too much? Even what we feed our children can become a source of stress. Sugar? No sugar? Organic? Who can afford all the “shoulds” we hear about when it comes to taking care of our children?

There is no “best” way to be a parent. There is no perfect parent. And, much to our frustration at times, there are no perfect kids, at least none in my house. We all learn as much as we can,and  remember the best of our childhoods, and try to offer that to our children. We also remember what we didn’t like about our experience as a child and try to do it differently this time around. “Try” is the important word, because so many times, the words we hear coming out of our mouth sound very much like what we heard as a child!

Parenting is also value laden. We are teaching our children values every day. The importance of sharing, being organized, being healthy, working hard, these are all common values. Then there are the more personal values about religion, sexuality, money, helping the less fortunate, nature and even things like risk taking, questioning authority, and respect. Our political views get transmitted to our children, without us even trying, as do our opinions about many things. So many personal aspects of our parenting style have nothing to do with right or wrong, and everything to do with who we are as people. We are imperfect and our parenting will not be perfect.

This time of year, there are so many options for after school activities. How much is enough? How much is too much? Diversity in parenting needs to be stressed. Different parents have different needs. Some parents need to work, others feel the need to stay home. Some parents, like some children, thrive on lots of activities, or else they feel bored. Others prefer a calmer, simpler existence, or else they feel stressed out. Children are the same, some love lots of activities, others prefer more down time. There is no “right” or “wrong” about this. The important question is “What works best for our family?”

We stumble along doing the best we can and if we do our jobs, it will be “good enough” and our children will leave us. In the end stressing about the best way to parent is a waste of time and energy. Think “good enough”, and leave the stressing to be perfect to others! Focus on what works for you as a parent, and your children, knowing you are doing the best you can. That is what you expect of your kids, why expect more of yourself?