In Pursuit of Good Enough

A blog about therapy, parenting, and life

In Pursuit of Good Enough

It is rare that I don’t get a parent client who questions their skills and aptitudes for parenting most moments of the day.  And from my experience as a parent and clinician, I have learned that this is not a function of being a parent who seeks therapy but a function simply of being a parent. Kids test our boundaries, limits, priorities, feelings, triggers, knowledge, hard-won wisdom, and just about everything else we thought we knew and believed was clear and right in the world prior to having kids.  In return, we love them madly and deeply and yet often feel so conflicted about the base with which we provide them: Are we being firm and consistent enough?  Are we being too hard and rigid?  Are we being loving and supportive enough?  Are we being too soft and too much of a push-over?  In a nutshell, are we being “good enough”?  Ever?

This phrase, this idea of being a “good enough” parent comes from psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s belief that being a good parent is not about being a perfect parent, one who is seamlessly attuned to the child’s every need and want and always in some Zen state of mind that prevents scolding, snapping, or otherwise reacting in a way that the child might find uncomfortable.  Rather, being a parent who is “good enough” is being one that has flaws and makes mistakes, has emotions and goals of one’s own, and also one that is kind and warm and patient enough at least some part of the time to reflect on those blips and missteps and to make an effort to repair the mismatches between parent and child that can occur when we are separate human beings.  After all, your job as a parent is primarily to get your child ready for the real world; while you can interpret that to mean many things and put pressure on yourself to give him or her every opportunity to succeed, it will not help in any way to always be perfect around your child every moment of every day (even if that were possible).  Because, of course, no one else is going to be perfect to your child and won’t that be a rude awakening when your child realizes that you’ve been providing a very thick padding over life’s realities?  We all want to be helpful and kind and give our children better chances than we had, but the irony is that the harder you work and the less work your child has to do, the less he or she may appreciate and value what he or she achieves in life.   Disappointment can also be a big teacher.  While you don’t want to set your child up for disappointment, allowing them to drive the boat on a project or goal and then standing by their side while they deal with the consequences of their behavior or choices, whatever comes, can be challenging but also particularly bonding and informative for both of you.

You may have chosen to become a parent or find yourself being a parent in some other way, but you are still a human being and the best way, really, to teach other human beings how to develop in this world is to listen and help and try to be your authentic self.  It’s not easy to do one of those things, much less all of them at the same time, but that’s okay, because you don’t have to be perfect at it, just good enough.

Posted 168 weeks ago