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Perfect Parenting Isn't Good Enough

12/09/2016 13:51

Society these days wants perfection. Most of us try to achieve it and becoming a parent adds a whole new dimension to this self-inflicted torment.

You may have come across the phrase "a good enough mother". We have Paediatrician and Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott to thank for this - the result of working with thousands of mothers and babies in the 1950's. Fast forward to present day and we can interject "mother" with "parent" or perhaps another primary carer.

Being good enough in Winnicott's eyes was the provision of physical/emotional care and security for your child. He talked about making sacrifices, feeling pain and of course, experiencing failure.

Let's face it - not many parents manage to avoid ballsing up, we all do it.

What encompasses a good enough mother seems to be someone who tries again despite failure - just like all those inspirational memes that flood your Facebook feed every day. So, it sounds like Winnicott has basically described each and every parent that I know. You know the type, people who get stressed out, cry into their wine, have their own needs and sometimes, just sometimes, parents who need a bit of time out from their children.The crux of it is the trying again part. You try to be the best that you can be.

We generally don't start out like that. Being a good enough mother is a developmental process. We need to strive for perfection when our babies are newborn, we need to respond to feeding cues and cries. We do this instinctively, Winnicott calls it "primary maternal preoccupation". The progression to becoming good enough follows the escalating line of more complex needs as our children grow.

As the needs of our children become harder to meet (chocolate for breakfast, wearing a swimming costume to Sainsburys etc. etc.) we begin to disappoint them. Don't get me wrong here, we are not talking about repeatedly and purposefully ignoring the needs of your child because you can use the excuse of being a good enough mother. We are talking about small things that happen every day. Perhaps when you "encourage" sharing, or when you make your pre-schooler walk instead of carrying them.

Without this experience of being challenged our children would never have the ability to manage the problems that will inevitably crop up later in life. They won't know that it's normal to feel bored or sad. It's about building resilience. Unintentionally. Perfect parents don't raise children well. Perfect parents will not provide realistic experiences for their child to develop necessary life skills. Children need to experience disappointment.

So what now?

We need to stop idealising parenting and projecting these unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others. A parent who has nothing to learn isn't providing their children with a role model. Children need to see that we are crap sometimes too, how else can they rationalise their own failures? So forgive yourself for having bad days, the bad days provide balance. Parenting is steep learning curve. Rid yourself of the pressure and perfection. Be the best you can be and you will be good enough.

This blog was originally published on the Vesta Birth and Parenting website where Sarah provides pregnancy and parenting support.

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