When it comes to motherhood, there’s nothing that will send you straight to the depths of despair faster than seeking perfectionism! Besides, there are no perfect mothers.
I recently had a conversation with my oldest daughter about my youngest daughter. There are just over sixteen years between my oldest and youngest. We chatted about my youngest daughter entering the teen years and the beginning signs of her pulling away. It happens. I mentioned that it would be nice to finally get it (mothering a teenage girl) right for the first time. (I have four daughters.) More on this later…
So what does it mean to be a good enough mother?
Don’t confuse good enough with “not enough” as that would be to miss the point entirely. So what are we talking about when we say good enough mothering?
In 1953, Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician, and psychoanalyst who studied child development coined the term good enough mother. The term came about when Winnicott realized that babies and children benefit when their mothers fail them in little ways.
D.W. Winnicott always argued that mothers knew better about the needs of her baby than experts. He suggested that there were,“very subtle things that the mother knows intuitively and without any intellectual appreciation of what is happening, and which she can only arrive at by being left alone and given full responsibility…” (Winnicott1988, p64). Good Enough Caring
We start out during pregnancy full of expectation and anticipation. We’re going to get it right, so we read stacks of books on parenting and how to be an excellent mother. Our mom board on Pinterest is packed with useful tips, tricks, and strategies. We’ve got this! Then the baby is born and we are hit with the reality that the perfect mother does not exist. If she does, she certainly isn’t staring back at me when I look in the mirror.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not putting myself (or others) down, and this is not urging you to stop putting forth an effort. On the contrary, we are aiming for small incremental changes as we grow up with our children, learning as we go. The Kaizen philosophy is at the heart of good enough mothering.
Good enough is not mediocrity. It has to do with rational choices as opposed to compulsive behaviour. The good enough approach is a way to drive ongoing improvement and achieve excellence by progressively meeting, challenging, and raising our standards as opposed to driving toward an illusion of perfection. To Be Good Enough
Raising Healthy Children
Raising a child who is mentally and physically healthy doesn’t require a degree or even input from “experts” in any field. The concept of the good enough mother is that mothers naturally have instincts that guide them in mothering. You can raise children who feel loved and cared for even if you make mistakes. In fact, those blunders are what makes you a better mother!
Mistakes and imperfections make you human.
In the thirty years that I’ve been a mother, one thing I have found that cements the bond with my children is the admission of failure. My shortcomings have taught my children that everyone makes mistakes. A parent who hides or denies every shortcoming will set their children up to feel not good enough. By admitting your mistakes, you will also be modeling honesty, humility, and forgiveness.
We live in an imperfect world and parents who are authentic in their parenting will raise happy, well-balanced children who are ready to deal with the problems life will throw at them. Yes, you can still achieve supermom status. What makes you a supermom? Achieving perfection in everything you do, or having everything done well enough for now?
Up at the crack of dawn and working long into the night, this heroine magically creates extra hours each day juggling kids, schedules, chores and career. Navigating jungles of toys and mountains of kiddie stuff she prepares tasty-yet-healthy snacks, tames dust bunnies and banishes stubborn stains. With an invisible third arm and a never ending pursuit of work / life balance she can help with a school project and answer an all-important business call while wrist deep in dirty diapers. Part teacher, part doctor, part chauffeur, part boss… she’s all SuperMom. Meet Super Mom
I’ve met plenty of supermoms in my lifetime. They’re women in every corner of the world doing the best they can to raise mentally and physically healthy children. My guess is you’re one of them.
The new mother
As the mother of a newborn, you likely have already learned that it is impossible to meet your baby’s needs immediately every time the little cherub makes them known. Even the most devoted mother will find it impossible to have a perfect track record when the infant’s needs are demanding.
According to Winnicott, children are very attuned to their parents’ feelings and needs.
So being a “good enough mother” is fairly complex. It involves a balancing act between two equally important processes for a child’s healthy cognitive development and even his future happiness: 1) At first, the mother or caretaker must devotedly attend to the infant’s every need; 2) The mother must gradually allow the baby to experience a need apart from its immediate fulfillment–although naturally this time period must be very short at first and increase with time. In sum, with good enough mothering, a child has the ability to live in two worlds: the world of illusion, fantasy, and magic, on the one hand, and on the other hand, a world that does not always conform to his wishes. Psychology Today
These small frustrations that a baby might feel upon having to wait a few extra minutes before mom can answer a cry are indeed part of the process. Child care is exhausting and even the most energetic mother will start to feel run down when seeking perfectionism in parenting.
Feelings of inadequacy
A new mom may feel empty, emotionless, or sad for a few days which can be an indication of baby blues. These feelings may persist for more than a few weeks during or after pregnancy. This may indicate signs of postpartum depression. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.
Motherhood is often overwhelming. Trying to meet your own needs along with those of you newborn can exacerbate the feeling of being stretched too thin and too far.
Accepting the fact that a small disappointment here and there will contribute to the well-being of your child, will go a long way towards being a good enough parent! Baby will learn that on occasion it might take mom a few minutes to answer his cries, but she is there for him. His delayed gratification will help him cope when he is older and has to wait for what he wants.
Don’t beat yourself up when you try something that doesn’t work with your baby. Besides, even the “experts” can’t agree on what is the best way to parent. Sleep training vs. attachment parenting and other such debates are a clear example.
Your mental health is of great importance to your children. If you run yourself ragged your child will suffer in the end! Taking time for self-care will not only be good for you but through an extension of your well-being, it will be good for your children.
We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.Phyllis Diller
Growing as a Mom
After the first decade of mothering, it’s easier to settle into a rhythm. You begin to feel comfortable setting boundaries, not only for your children but on your own expectations. A mother who attends to every request from her child will raise a human who cannot handle the slightest adversity.
Being a good enough mother is to be a good mother, whereas the attempt to be the best will guarantee that you won’t be (indeed, you may be a highly damaging mother). Source
Trying to meet every need or being available to your child 24/7 while sacrificing your own needs is setting your child up for major disappointment in the future. Your child will encounter many people in life who will not put him first. There will be times when a teacher makes him wait or a friend takes sides against him.
In fact, giving your child everything they ask for could turn him into a tyrant! It may be uncomfortable or even painful to say no. However, doing so from time to time is good for your child. Working towards something that we want is part of the growing up process. If your child never has to wait and wish for something, they’ll be missing out on a valuable opportunity to grow.
Mom to Teenagers
During the teen years, even the most devoted mother may find herself wavering! Parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart. No matter how hard you try to be a cool mom or to be friends with your teens, you’re still the mother. You will say the wrong thing, or hug them at the wrong time. There will be times when they will quietly break your heart.
This teen phase is one where thick skin will be of great benefit. Proceed with caution. Your efforts at mothering may easily backfire.
Can an all-or-nothing, type A personality, mom learn to accept good enough mothering? That’s what I began asking myself when my oldest children were teenagers.
Having been raised by a perfectionist father whom I very much wanted to please, I always set the bar high. I rarely forgave myself for my perceived failures. After a conversation with a friend about how crippling it can be to seek perfection in parenting, I started to accept that no mater how hard I tried, I would not achieve perfection.
Good enough began to look like this… I didn’t get ALL the laundry done but everyone has something clean to wear: Good enough. I didn’t finish that horrible math curriculum we bought this year, but we had so much fun and we learned so much in all our other subjects… I’m buying a math curriculum that I hope we will love and I’m starting it this summer: Good enough. Learning to Accept Good Enough
After all, striving to be a perfect mom is, in its own painful way, a failure. Doesn’t it teach our children that unless they too are perfect, they will never be enough? Aren’t our our frustrated attempts at doing it all and being all demonstrating to our children that they need to do the same?
Is our desire to be better than anyone else born out of pride? Perfectionism becomes an idol. A perfectionist seeks an impossibly high standard and often will expect the same of others. When these expectations go unmet, the perfectionist falls apart. This failure to achieve may bring about feelings of guilt and self-hatred. Dissatisfaction with life and general unhappiness is often the result of perfectionism.
My personal good enough mothering
After thirty years of motherhood, I’m content to be just an ordinary mother. Having my fair share of mistakes and failures, but a decent list of successes and celebrations. My children have been through a lot with me and they know I have a tendency to set high standards. Each of them have taught me many valuable lessons. Particularly during the late teen years!
I especially enjoyed (read sarcasm) age 17-through “I’m moving out.” Maybe you can relate to this stage if you have a teenage daughter.
School was fine. He’s not my boyfriend. Stop trying to give me advice. Stop asking about my day. Stop moving your mouth in that annoying way where words come out of them. Stages of Your Relationship with your mom by age.
All kidding aside, parenting is hard enough without the unseasonable expectations. Cut yourself some slack and see if you can practice good enough mothering.
During the pandemic, moms have been expected to put on yet another hat as in the United States many schools shut down due to covid. Mothers must now take on the role of teacher. They may be parenting 24/7 instead of dropping a child off at daycare or school. When you crumple in an exasperated heap of sweat and tears at the end of the day, your child will learn compassion.
That’s why it’s even more important than ever to give yourself a pat on the back for your attempts.