The "good enough" parent

 
Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?
— George Carlin

The phrase "the good enough mother" was coined by the British paediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott in his book Playing and Reality. It is described well on the website Psychology Today and it is how mothers need to alter their parenting from a complete focus on their baby (perfect) to one that allows the baby to start to develop cognitively (good enough). This allows the baby to start to understand a world that is separate from their mother.

 
 

I’m not going to dive into the theory here, as it is not my area of expertise, but the concept can be used for most, if not all, parents. And it goes a little deeper than you may first think.

By being a good enough parent, and not striving for perfection, allows us, at the very least, to take a breath and relax. We can’t be perfect anyway, although it seems we strive to achieve it on a daily basis, so we just need to be good enough. Don’t sweat the small stuff and have fun.

At a deeper level though, striving to be the perfect parent has, it seems, negative consequences for our children. They don’t get to experience all the things they need to in order to be fully equipped to survive and thrive in the world. They become “spoilt” and reliant on parental support, unable to “make it” on their own. You certainly don’t see this in nature. Parents of all species make sure their offspring “have the opportunity” to survive and thrive. If they didn’t, they are producing dinner for the offspring of parents that did. Nature is completely ruthless in that way.

I’m sure we’ve all seen or heard of examples of parents basically baling their children out of trouble and helping set them up for future failure. Remember the parents who took their son's school to the high court so they could row at a regatta? The children breached airport security and were rightly disciplined by their school only to have their parents take the school to the high court to overturn the decision. The lesson for those children, if you have money or influence you can avoid consequences.

I have recently witnessed two episodes of this phenomenon, one of parents and one of the children it produces. In the parent’s case, a teenager goes overseas on a two-week holiday of a lifetime with friends. The teen becomes homesick and so the parents decide to fly their boyfriend over disrupting the whole balance of the trip. Clearly more dollars than sense.

The child example, now an adult in age, has been given everything because his parents are wealthy and simply does not understand how the world works and how he fits into it. He (or at least his parents) have literally bought him a career and he remains completely unaware of his all too obvious short-comings. The business will sadly fail and no lessons will be learnt.

So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that doing everything for your children, or money, will give them the best start in lives. It won’t. You need to be a good enough parent to make sure your children are ready to take on their own challenges where they will win some and lose some. That's life. If you try and be a perfect parent they won't become someone’s dinner, but they will never reach their potential.

 

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