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  • What Does it Mean to be a Good Enough Parent?

    It has been a struggle lately to feel confident or successful in much of anything. I’ll admit that finding the energy to get through the day has been tough and frustrating.

    Every morning is wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth and hair and get to school by 7:40am. In my household we also have to remember to take the necessary medications, put on the braces that help my daughter walk, and bring extra materials to school to help with some of the medical needs she has.

    Any parent with a child in school knows too that there are additional requests and needs made by the school – volunteer to help with fundraisers, philanthropic endeavors, child activities, teacher appreciation, supplying materials, join the PTA or a committee, and this is just a few of the opportunities available. 

    Never mind if your child is struggling in any way with friends or academics. Now, there’s extra emails and meetings, awkward hello’s with other parents, tears, anger, sadness, shame, power struggles, and everything else. It’s exhausting!

    And, what about extra-curricular activities? Aren’t we supposed to have our kids in one to two sports or physical activities, maybe a music lesson, most definitely a private tutor once per week? Right? Shouldn’t we be really thinking about the food we feed our families?

    I should probably be making all of our meals and reading the food labels thoroughly while grocery shopping – no gluten for us and isn’t red dye bad for you? Or is it yellow?

    I should find the perfect balance between bathing her too often and not enough, making sure she gets enough sleep, that she eats enough protein, making sure the house is clean, organized, and everyone has what they need, and be available to my spouse, friends, and family when they need me too.

    It’s probably important that I am getting some exercise, and eating right, and scheduling doctor’s visits and dentist appointments for myself. If I could add in yoga once per week, that could help with mindfulness and self-care.

    I would also like to contribute to the household financially and work a job that is fulfilling.

    I’ll stop here, but I wonder how many of you reading this have a similar dialogue that goes through your head daily?

    Being a parent is hard. Being a perfect parent is impossible.

    Photo by Liza Summer on

    Sometimes we take on all of this messaging, and believe in the “shoulds,” as a way of avoiding the emotional needs of ourselves and our children. It’s not intentional of course. We want to be good parents and we want to meet their emotional needs. It just might be difficult to do so.

    It’s a common reaction to focus on the things we can change and physically impact – things like scheduling tutors and reading food labels.

    It’s more difficult to sit with the things that we can’t control, like our child’s sadness, their worries or frustrations. We try to manage it away by focusing on a problem and potential solutions.

    This can also happen when a parent focuses on being perfect. Sometimes, we as parents, have a tendency to see our children as extensions of ourselves. Or, at least, we believe that others think this is true about us.

    When our child or children are happy and successful, we are good parents. When they are struggling, getting into trouble, or feeling a negative feeling, it’s because we aren’t parenting good enough.

    This is a common belief with parents, but it simply is not true. You can be a perfectly good parent and still have a child who gets into trouble and feels anxious and sad.

    The thing I’ve experienced with some of the parents I’ve worked with as a family therapist, is that this feeling of failing as a parent is so painful, it’s very difficult to even have a conversation about it. Many parents end treatment when we get anywhere close to this topic.

    We all want to be good parents and it’s very likely that a parent who focuses on being perfect heard this message starting as a very young child. You see, the expectation of perfection, is often related to attachment and how we experienced our own relationship with our own parents and caregivers. That’s what makes this conversation so painful.

    This perfection is driven by the parent’s own upbringing. They might have gotten the message from their own parents or caregivers that perfection and accomplishment were the most important things and that being perfect was what made others love and care about them.

    It’s easy to pass along this message to our own kids without meaning to. Sometimes we just need to stop and reflect on what is driving this need to do everything right, in order to really help our children and to feel closer to those we love. We need to stop filling in the space with things we should do and reflect on what we are feeling and what are kids are feeling.

    There is plenty written about the good enough parent. D. W. Winnicott developed the phrase “the good enough mother,” to describe how a mother can respond to her baby to develop a sense of being loved, cared for, and safe. This pattern originates in the infant-parent relationship but maintains relevance all the way into adulthood.

    Parent’s do not always do everything right, but if they are trying their best and checking in with their kids about their feelings, what it is they need, and if they feel safe in the world, they are probably doing good enough.

    This often means trying to see things through the eyes of your child, taking the time to reflect on what they are showing you, and thinking about what you might be subconsciously suggesting to your child.

    It isn’t easy being a parent. We carry things with us from our childhood into our parenting. Depending on how we were raised, we might avoid feelings and focus on doing instead. It is ok if you missed the school fundraiser, or if you order take-out for dinner, or if your child is struggling in some way. It’s ok to slow down and allow yourself and your child to be good enough.

    Additional Resources

    If you’d like more information about parent education or therapy supports check out our services page to learn more. We often support parents through this challenging time. Services

    April and her husband Peter have also created a journal to support parents as they consider their child’s behavior and play activity.  So many parents have expressed frustration around play (“it’s boring, it’s strange, I don’t know how to do it”).  Check this journal out if you’d like support in this area.  Play Journal