Every parent strives to be a good parent, if not a perfect one.
Probably not so long ago, before becoming parents, they watched other parents “parenting” with disapproval and vowed they would never do the same thing.
Having made so many parenting mistakes they promised they would never make, many parents are starting to wonder if they are bad parents.
The pursuit of perfection makes them feel guilty, shameful, inadequate, and even despair.
In most cases, parents confuse good with perfect.
They are not the same thing.
To be a good parent, you don’t have to be a perfect parent. When you are good enough, you are a good parent.
What is good enough parenting
In the 1950s, psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the phrase “good enough mother.”. It describes the importance of being good-enough rather than perfect for our children1.
While the focus was on mothers, this concept applies to both mothers and fathers.
Winnicott recognized that demanding perfection of parents 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 the external realities.
Why good enough is the best
The principle of google 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 and poor in others. Getting something done is better than never finishing it in pursuit of perfection.
Good enough is not the same as mediocre. A good enough mother aims 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 make the perfect cupcakes for dessert or if you bake for the school bake sale. All they need is a devoted mother who provides them with simple nutritious meals like sandwiches and pasta.
Good enough care also means reducing your responsiveness as your child grows so they can become independent and be ready for an adult life.
They will never learn to take on responsibilities if you never let go. This means that attempting to meet your child’s every need perfectly all the time actually harms their development. Additionally, it will negatively affect your mental health.
How to practice good enough parenting
Accept that your child is not perfect either
In spite of its obviousness, implementing it can be difficult for the vast majority of parents.
Taking into account that our kids are not perfect does not mean we don’t expect good behavior and outcomes from them. We must be patient, however, when they make mistakes.
Our children should keep learning and improving.
People learn at different rates. A simple task or behavior from an adult perspective may require a child to form a new neural pathway or learn a new skill before it can be accomplished.
Therefore, be patient.
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, not just making mistakes.
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, such as cooking, others are not.
Think about the following questions when making tradeoffs.
What is your parenting goal, keeping a pristine house, or spending time with your children and giving them a happy childhood?
In twenty years, will you regret having a dirty house or being a stressed-out parent who never had time for family life?
Good self care
Parents must take good care of themselves, and good enough parenting makes that possible.
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 you can help others, you must put on your own oxygen mask.
Build self-care into your schedule so you can wind down regularly and reliably.
When in doubt, choose 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.
For infants, they benefit from responsive parenting because it helps them form a secure attachment and a close parent-child bond2.
For children, ample evidence suggests that growing up with a loving and caring adult carer predicts success later in life.
Relationships are important at every stage of our lives. Prioritizing them in your everyday life will set your child up for success.
- 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.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