Being a 'good enough' parent

by Mieke VanderBorght
Family Advocacy Program

Welcome to the new year. Right about now is when many people take stock of where they are in their lives and compare that to where they'd like to be. Resolutions for a better you abound as we think about what we can improve upon.

Parents are no different. Anyone out there thinking about how they can be better parents? Good for you! This is a great time to examine your parenting habits and think about whether there's anything you'd like to change. Don't forget to talk about it with your children -- in an age appropriate way of course -- so they're in on the game and are aware of any changing rules or family dynamics.

As you keep goals to be better parents in mind however, consider another kind of parenting resolution: to be as forgiving with yourselves as you'd like to be with your children.

We all know you're the perfect parent: Every meal is nutritionally balanced and home cooked (even baby never eats food from a jar), you custom sew Halloween costumes, you've never lost patience or raised your voice, and your children are always lovely little angels that get top-notch grades, always listen, and have never failed or been disappointed, right? No? Well join the club!

Now that we're in touch with reality, let's consider the distinction between the perfect parent and the "good enough" parent, first introduced by psychoanalyst and pediatrician, Donald Winnicott. The perfect parent never falters and is the shining ideal we'd all like to be. But life gets in the way.

We're sleep deprived, children whine, stressors get us down, children will inevitably make mistakes, and dinner needs to somehow magically appear on the table. That's when the good enough parent steps in. Don't reach your ideals all the time? That's okay; in fact in may even be better for your children.

By recognizing that we aren't perfect ourselves, it's easier to understand that our children aren't perfect either. They are flawed human beings, just like we are. We love and accept them both despite of, and because of, their flaws. When we're not hovering over our children, doing everything perfectly and at the ready to fix every problem, we give them the space they need to learn for themselves. Children need to step up, develop a sense of personal responsibility, take risks, make mistakes and learn from them.

Let's be clear: This is not an argument for mediocre parenting. Rather, it's a reminder that, though we should always aim for being the best parents we can be, sometimes that best isn't perfect. Sometimes we're tired or stressed out or distracted, or we just don't know how to handle a situation and muddle our way through it. Don't beat yourselves up about those moments; We're parents, not superheroes.

If you're keeping your children safe, and the majority of the time they are surrounded with love, compassion, good guidance, loving discipline, and a good dose of age-appropriate stimulation for learning and growth, rest assured you're doing good enough. So by all means, think about how your parenting can better match your children's needs, and make changes if necessary. But also give yourselves a pat on the back for surviving through the toughest job there is.

Strive for perfection, but be ready and willing to accept good enough.

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