I often wonder what some of my now-adult children think about my blog posts, given that they lived through many of the mistakes that I have made. I imagine them rolling their eyes and saying, “It would have been nice if she had done that way back then.” And they are right. It would have been much easier for all of us if I had known, and had practiced, what I now preach. Even now, when I know much more about the effects of trauma, it can be hard for me to be patient and hold my tongue. Many of these blog posts are not about what I actually did, but what I wish I had done with my kids.
The good news is that none of us is perfect, and that fact is perfectly OK. Of course, I’m not talking about serious failures, such as abuse or neglect, but about the myriad small ways in which we fail to measure up to our own standards. Those standards can be incredibly high, particularly when we hear so much well-intentioned advice from therapists, counselors, or more experienced parents. The good news is that we don’t really need to be perfect parents. Good enough parenting will be just fine.
I know. We automatically recoil from the idea. None of us wants to be just a “good enough” parent. But social science actually is showing that less-than-perfect parents can be the best parents for kids to have.
I first ran across this concept in the writings of Dr. D.W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician, who argued that a “good enough mother” actually helps children develop skills to navigate a less than perfect world. I have never parented infants, but I’ve seen similar effects in older children. We know, for example, that the children of highly-involved parents have less resilience, lower trust in their peers, fewer social skills, and more difficulties in self-regulation. In short, if we protect our children from all of the negative aspects of the world, they never learn how to navigate life.
To circle back to where this started, there is nothing wrong with being an imperfect parent. We can model for our kids how to be less-than-perfect and still succeed. Imperfect people just like us, and just like them, can accomplish great things. Of course, we’ll have to swallow our pride and admit to them that we make mistakes. We may even have to apologize to our kids along the way. The important thing is to show them how to keep moving forward and to keep doing the best that we can. At the end of the day, good enough is both good and enough.