Being a parent can be the most overwhelming job a person can have. It can plant a deep-rooted fear in you even before you have children. The idea that you won’t be a “good” parent or that you won’t know what you’re doing is probably one of the biggest worries a parent has. Parenting is difficult, but becoming a good parent comes with time and experience just like everything else in life.
As a parent you must try to rid your fear of making mistakes and not being the perfect parent. You’re going to make mistakes and no one will ever be able to declare himself or herself the perfect parent. You must understand that being a “good enough” parent is still okay and it is all you can be.
Donald Winnicott was a pediatrician and psychoanalyst in mid-20th century Britain and is renowned in the psychology world. Winnicott developed a theory in 1953 called the ‘Good Enough Mother.’ In Winnicott’s own words:
“A mother is neither good nor bad nor the product of illusion, but is a separate and independent entity: The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.”
The failure Winnicott refers to is not specific to things that parents do that affect their children, but rather refers to the perception of the child as the child grows and develops a sense that Mom or Dad is no longer able to “fix” everything or make it all better. No parent will ever meet every single need of a child. If that were possible then you would never see a child having a fit in the middle of a store and the whole toddler temper tantrum would cease to exist. But they do exist, unfortunately. Kids can get into some dramatic mood swings and can have some crazy demands. No parent should give into those demands, so that’s the concept of a parent’s “failure”. You can’t meet all demands, and you shouldn’t.
Being good enough for your child is all that a child needs. Going beyond what is needed will only spoil a child. As a parent you must remember that you’re human and you can’t do it all. The words – good enough – should be considered a life mantra. And in all honesty we all have lived a life of “good enough”, so why stop it with parenting? In school when it came to turning in papers or finishing test, it was nothing more than “that’s good enough” applied to course work. The gifts quickly purchased and wrapped just moments before they were opened were “good enough”. Throwing all the laundry into one load was “good enough,” cause who had the money or the patience for small loads of properly sorted piles.
This notion of good enough being okay should free you with its salvation from expectations. You never have to be the perfect parent; you only have to be good enough. If you read further into Winnicott’s theory, you will learn that going for parental perfection is just a sure path to screwing your kids up in epic proportions.
You must also recognize that one person’s version of good enough is going to be very different than your version of good enough. What is acceptable to one just might be considered neglect by others. So embrace the concept of your “good enough”. Make it your daily mental mantra. Let it relieve your tired, worried, fearful soul. You will make mistakes. You will. It will happen. What you should take from Winnicott’s theory and from every parent that understands what it means to be “good enough” is that it is okay. Being good enough is okay. Everything is going to be okay.