Why Good Enough Parenting Is Better Than Perfect Parenting

Our kids are watching

They watch everything we do – every decision we make, every reaction we have, every time we raise our voice. They are watching, and they’re learning from us.  Our actions affect how they learn to engage with the world themselves. As if that’s not enough pressure, now that most of us are home all day during “Stay Safe, Stay Home,” our kids are watching even more. They’re watching how we navigate work conflicts on conference calls we take from home, how we handle the stress of not being able to get food and supplies from stores whose shelves are empty, how we deal with the exasperation of being trapped in close quarters day in and day out.

Maybe you don’t have to fix all the problems (Photo by Josh Willink)

It’s okay to be “good enough”

Many parents feel overwhelmed by pressure to be a perfect parent for their children during these times of unprecedented uncertainty. Not only is this goal impossible to achieve, but many experts on child development agree that “perfect parenting” doesn’t yield the outcomes for our children that we think it does. Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst, argued that children who grow up with parents who do everything “just right” and fix all their problems don’t have the opportunity to learn how to deal with hardship or letdowns. When these kids grow up, they lack the internal coping skills to figure things out for themselves.

A little rain is okay (Photo by lucas souza)

Instead of being a perfect parent, Winnicott advocated for being a “good enough” parent– the kind of parent who generally protects their children from overwhelming distress but isn’t always perfectly attuned to their kids’ needs. For example, “good enough” parents don’t always have to have the perfect activity planned to entertain their children while schools are closed. In fact, not always having an answer to the question, “What now?” encourages children to go explore on their own. Having to figure it out for themselves fosters independence, creativity, and resilience. Children who both get a good deal of support from their parents and are given some opportunities to fend for themselves learn to adapt and are better able to navigate distress when they grow up.

“Good enough” parents don’t always manage stress perfectly.

Speaking of distress, it’s not the end of the world for your kids to see you cry or hear you yell (from time to time!). You’re allowed to be human. What matters more is what you do with those emotions. Instead of hiding them from your kids, explain what you’re feeling(in kid-friendly language) – teach them that it’s okay to sit with uncomfortable feelings.

If you’re feeling sad or worried, talk to them about what could help you feel better, whether it’s taking some deep breaths, going for a walk, watching your favorite TV show, or asking for help. Then you can talk about what helps them feel better when they’re sad or worried. If you lose your temper, show them what steps you take to cool down. Talk to them about what you might try to do differently the next time you feel mad. Instead of trying to hold it together all the time, be a real life emotion model for your kids. It helps them learn what to do when they feel those same big feelings!

Nothing in life is perfect

Learning that life isn’t perfect is a valuable lesson for children to learn. It’s more valuable than having a parent who meets their every need immediately and with a smile; and more valuable than having a parent who never shows the slightest signs of stress or fatigue. Rather, being a parent who guides them in learning how to deal with life’s imperfections and hardships could be the best parent a child can have.

They’ll find the pacifier (photo by Arie van Ravenswaay)

Case in point: as I write this post, my four-month-old baby whimpers from her crib. She’s been in there 20 minutes and is bored of staring at her mobile. At first, I feel a pang of guilt for staying at my computer to write, but then the whimpers slow. After a few minutes, she turns her attention to a pacifier several inches away, and a new objective takes over her growing brain. She spends the next five minutes trying to reach her pacifier and self-soothe. She succeeds and is thrilled with her accomplishment. As soon as I’m able, I swoop in with a hug and confirm that she’s okay. She is glad to have my attention, and shows no wear and tear for having to figure things out on her own.

Cut yourself some slack

The key here is to cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to get everything just right in order to support your kids. Aim for “good enough,” and your kids will thrive!

About Sasco River Center

A multidisciplinary practice offering a range of diagnostic and therapy services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families; specializing in Collaborative & Comprehensive Testing, Psychotherapy & Sensory Processing.

We are a merger of Sensory Kids & The Southfield Center for Development