Every parent strives to be a good parent, if not a perfect one.
Before becoming parents, they disapproved of other people’s parenting.
They vowed never to repeat the mistakes they had witnessed.
But once they became parents, they began making similar mistakes and worried if they were bad parents.
The pursuit of perfection makes them feel guilty, shameful, inadequate, and despairing.
It’s because they confuse good parenting with perfect parenting. They are not the same thing.
To be a good parent, you don’t have to be perfect. When you are good enough, it is actually the best.
What is good enough parenting
In the 1950s, psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the phrase “good enough mother.”. It described the importance of being good-enough rather than perfect for our children1.
While the focus was on mothers, this concept could apply to both mothers and fathers.
Winnicott recognized that demanding perfection of parents, or human beings, was unrealistic.
In his view, a good parent begins by being very responsive to their infant’s needs, and as the infant grows, the parent’s response gradually decreases based on the child’s ability to accommodate their parents’ failures of instant response. The failures, in fact, help the child comprehend and adjust to realities.
Why good enough is the best
The principle of good enough is an old idea among software developers. The essence is to choose good enough over perfect.
Being good enough in everything you do is better than being exceptional in only a few things while poor in others.
Getting something done is better than never finishing anything in pursuit of perfection.
Good enough is not the same as mediocre.
Good enough parents aim to make rational parenting decisions rather than perfecting every detail excessively.
Your child does not need a perfect parent.
Your child doesn’t care if you are a perfect mother who makes the perfect cupcakes for the school bake sale.
All they need is a good-enough mother who provides simple nutritious meals to meet the child’s needs.
Good-enough parents reduce their responsiveness as their children grow so they can become independent and be ready for adult life.
Good enough parenting is good parenting and it is the best for child development.
Because if you never let go, they will never learn to take on responsibilities.
This means attempting to meet your child’s every need perfectly all the time actually harms their development.
And it will negatively affect your own mental health.
How to practice good enough parenting
Accept that your child is not perfect either
Although it may seem obvious, being good enough also means not expecting perfection from our children.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent or perfect child.
Accepting our kids’ imperfections doesn’t mean we don’t expect good behavior or outcomes from them.
rBut there is a fine line between what we want our kids to do and what our kids must do.
We must be patient if they make mistakes.
People learn at different rates.
A simple task or behavior from an adult’s perspective may require a child to form a new neural pathway or learn a new skill to accomplish.
Therefore, don’t expect perfection and be patient while they learn.
Making mistakes is not the same as defective parenting
When it comes to mistakes, parents need to give themselves some grace as well.
We all make mistakes at some point in our lives.
This does not automatically imply that you are a bad parent.
Bad parenting involves consistently putting one’s own interests ahead of their children’s.
If you are simply making mistakes on occasion, you are not a bad parent.
Parents must take good care of themselves, and good enough parenting makes that possible2.
Healthy adults make better parents. Having emotional stability promotes good parent-child relationships.
Taking care of yourself is not being selfish.
In real life, before a good mother can help her young children, she must put on her own oxygen mask first.
A refreshed parent can provide a home environment that is good for their child’s emotional development.
Plan self-care into your schedule so you can commit to it.
Being good enough means you don’t strive to do everything perfectly in the parenting process.
Different aspects of parenting are prioritized based on your parenting goal.
For instance, many working parents have limited time to spend with their children.
Often, they spend that time doing chores, such as shopping for groceries, cooking, and cleaning.
While some of these tasks are essential basic needs, such as cooking, others are not.
Think about the following questions when making tradeoffs for different things.
What is your parenting goal, keeping a pristine house, or spending time with your children and giving them a happy childhood3?
In twenty years, will you regret having a dirty house or being a stressed-out parent who never had time for family life?
When in doubt, choose the parent-child relationship
Making tradeoffs is not an exact science. No one has all the answers.
There are times you must guess or make assumptions.
When in doubt, always put your relationships first.
Good relationships can help you get everything else in a positive way.
Your child’s relationships with the parents are extremely important at every stage of their life.
Growing up with a loving and caring relationship with parents predicts a child’s success and well-being later in life5.
When you have a good relationship with your child, they care about your feelings and are more likely to listen to you.
So prioritizing relationships in your everyday life will set your child up for success and happiness.
- 1.Winnicott DW. Transitional objects and transitional phenomena; a study of the first not-me possession. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 1953;(34):89–97. https://pep-web.org/browse/document/IJP.034.0089A
- 2.HOGHUGHI M, SPEIGHT ANP. Good enough parenting for all children—a strategy for a healthier society. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Published online April 1, 1998:293-296. doi:10.1136/adc.78.4.293
- 3.Hastings PD, Grusec JE. Parenting goals as organizers of responses to parent–child disagreement. Developmental Psychology. Published online 1998:465-479. doi:10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.1245
- 4.Hong YR, Park JS. Impact of attachment, temperament and parenting on human development. Korean J Pediatr. Published online 2012:449. doi:10.3345/kjp.2012.55.12.449
- 5.Landry SH, Smith KE, Swank PR. Responsive parenting: Establishing early foundations for social, communication, and independent problem-solving skills. Developmental Psychology. Published online July 2006:627-642. doi:10.1037/0012-16126.96.36.1997