By Lynne Ticknor
Mistakes are good. Failure is fine. Being “good enough” is, well, good enough!
The number one way for people – all people – to improve is by making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and trying a different way of doing things in the future. There is no such thing as a “perfect parent”, and if there were, they wouldn’t be human! Keeping children safe, providing a secure environment, soothing them when needed, and teaching them life skills – all while making mistakes along the way – is exactly what children need. Children need “good enough” parenting, not perfection.
Alfred Adler, a doctor, psychotherapist and founder of individual psychology says, “Do not be afraid of making mistakes, for there is no other way of learning how to live.” If we never make parenting mistakes, how do we learn to do it more effectively in the future?
It’s all too easy to feel like a failure when our child has a temper tantrum in Walmart or our teenager breaks curfew for the third time in a month! If we were a better parent (i.e., a “perfect”), our kids would behave differently, right? That’s not true. Children get frustrated and angry, teenagers break rules … that’s part of normal child development.
Being a “good enough parent” is not a new concept. First coined in the 1950’s by Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, it requires parents to transition from the early stage of responding immediately to an infant’s expression for basic needs (hunger, thirst, temperature) to allowing older children to experience some level of frustration or pain before jumping in to respond. This allows a growing child to develop patience and tolerance of discomfort and frustration, all important characteristics to develop before adulthood.
As long as parents provide safety and responsive care of children and teens, “good enough parenting” recognizes that there is no perfect way to raise a child. Only you know the temperament and unique needs of your child, so trusting your innate nurturing abilities will provide a roadmap that works for and with your child. The “good enough parent” relaxes their responsiveness to their child’s needs in a healthy and gradual way as the child grows and learns how to help themselves.
If you’re a neat freak, does everyone else in the family have to be? Of course not! Once you’ve taught your children how to do their own laundry, put their clothes away, run the vacuum cleaner and wipe down surfaces, let them keep their rooms the way they want. Kids need to learn those skills so they know how to clean, but if they choose not to clean, live with it. One day, they’ll have their own place and mostly likely will mimic the example you set as a role model.
Unless you have an active tween or teen, a nightly bath or show may not be required. Do the “smell test.” If there’s no body odor that would offend others, a good wipe down with a washcloth may be all that’s needed.
There’s no need to spend hours every day in the kitchen preparing elaborate meals for your family to enjoy. Some nights, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while watching Harry Potter together on the coach is the best use of your time. And they’ll probably enjoy it more than if you had concocted the perfect Beef Wellington.
Remember the old saying “haste makes waste?” Well, more times than not, rushing around like a crazy person trying to get out the door on time during a bad morning that followed a poor night’s sleep, is only asking for more complications. I know one mom who was rushing everyone out the door, screaming and yelling, with a sippy cup and hot coffee in her hands. She sped off and, when she hit the highway, she realized the “thump” she heard was the car behind her running over all the contents of her purse that had spewed across the road (including her new phone!). In her hurried state, she left her purse on the hood of the car without realizing it.
Be aware of what’s happening in your child’s digital lives and, as they age, renegotiate limits and rules. Keeping track of every hour your child spends on their phones might not be worth the stress. Researchers at Michigan State University found children whose parents restrictively disconnect them from the internet report lower self-esteem, while children whose parents are media-supportive and instructive report higher self-esteem and spend more time with friends and family.
Always read the “comments” written by the teachers of each class before looking at the grades themselves. If your child is putting in effort, helping other kids, being kind and considerate, and working to improve, pay less attention to the grade assigned. Those qualities will get them further in life than an A. If grades are suffering because your child doesn’t understand the work assigned, take advantage of tutoring services your school or community offers, but stay away from bringing the hatchet down.
No one can please everyone all the time. Just. Stop. Trying. It’s exhausting and stressful. Leave all the tasks that you can’t take on to the person who’s trying to be a perfect parent. When “good enough parents” say no to unrealistic demands, their children learn that it’s OK to say no, too. Unless raising little “people pleasers” is your goal, stop being one yourself.
Jumping in mud puddles is fun! Sliding off the sled into melting slush is exciting! Wearing athletic shorts in the winter is cool! Don’t stress over the little things that, in the long run, won’t matter. Ask yourself, “will I even remember this situation five years from now?” If the answer is “no,” let it go.
Giving up the notion that parents must be perfect is incredibly freeing. “Good-enough parenting” allows parents to have realistic expectations of themselves, their partners and their children. Being a responsive parent, allowing yourself to make mistakes, and making better choices in the future makes for a happier family and a more confident you!
This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Washington Parent magazine.
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