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Why Good Enough Parenting Is Great for Our Kids

Child jumping on parent's bedIt seems as if this past year has been a big one for parenting issues. We’ve read about “tiger moms” and how to bring up bébé in French style. Time dedicated a magazine cover (May 21, 2012) to the battle over attachment parenting complete with controversial photo. We seem to have become polarized as a country about the “right” way to raise our kids. People are firmly committed, even entrenched, in their ideologies, certain that if they can do it correctly, somehow they will raise the perfect child.

What exactly, though, does the perfect child look like? What is perfect parenting? Are these concepts even achievable? Parenting is not fool-proof. You cannot create a simple recipe or step-by-step instruction booklet. Different strategies will work for different parents. Different strategies may be needed for different kids in the same family. For those who turn to books and experts seeking THE answer for how to be the BEST parents, they can be left with feelings of frustration and helplessness.

There are, however, some words of wisdom that I believe can help parents raise healthy, capable, well-adjusted kids. Primarily,let go of the idea that there is one perfect way to raise kids, and try to be “good enough” parents. Do the best you can and feel good about it. Figure out what works for you and your family, and know that what works may change as your family changes. Becoming the best parent you can be requires letting go of the myth of the perfect parent. In this lies the heart of good-enough parenting.

I believe it is essential for every parent to know, accept, and even embrace the fact mistakes will be made. You will not be perfect. Your kids will find something to complain about. You will fall short of their expectations, and your own, from time to time. This is natural. This is expected. This is inevitable. This is great! Hopefully, many of these mistakes will be on the smaller end of the spectrum (forgetting to pack dessert in a lunch box, for example), but some will be bigger.

What can be damaging to kids, parents, and their relationships is not the presence of mistakes, but our intolerance for making them. What shapes our character is not our success or failure, but how we respond to each. Are we gracious when we succeed? When we fail, do we accept responsibility? Do we take steps to fix what can be fixed? Do we find new solutions? Do we learn from our experiences? Do we forgive ourselves and others?

Much of childhood and adolescence is spent testing things out. Kids try out behaviors; teens try out identities. They test their assumptions about the world. If we hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that is unattainable, that sends a message to our kids that making mistakes is not OK. This can make childhood and adolescence an even more stressful and anxiety-filled time. When kids feel there is no room for error, the pressure they place on themselves can be paralyzing and can manifest as anxiety and depression.

When we model for our kids that we try, sometimes fall flat on our faces, and get up and move forward, we help teach them resiliency. When they see us struggle and persevere, we teach them that life may not be easy, but that we have the confidence in ourselves to keep going. When we forgive ourselves and others for falling short, we teach them generosity of spirit and acceptance. When we do all of these things, we teach them that they will be loved based on who they are, not what they achieve.

So often, our striving to be “perfect” parents comes from a desire to raise kids that are harm-proof. It is natural as parents to wish to protect our children from difficulty and pain. But when we try to insulate them completely from the slings and arrows of their own outrageous fortunes, we deny them an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop the skills they need to navigate the world. By trying to protect them from pain, we unintentionally communicate to them that we don’t believe they can handle it. Eventually, they believe us. We effectively deny them the chance to develop confidence in their own abilities to handle whatever life dishes out and not only survive, but thrive in the face of adversity.

Our job as parents is not to shield them from every blow, but to be a soft place for them to land when they fall. We can teach them to strive to do their best, even when it feels really hard. We can teach them to be proud of their efforts. We can teach them to love themselves even when they fail. We can teach them that they are capable of persevering. We can teach them how to ask for help when they need it and offer it when it is needed. We can teach them self-acceptance and resiliency, but only if we practice it ourselves.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC, Family Therapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dr. Brosh

    November 29th, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Wonderful words of wisdom. I see so much unhappiness stemming from the need to be perfect. It just leads to chronic disappointment in the self and others because it is truly impossible to sustain. Admitting and embracing our flaws is vulnerable, but ultimately very fulfilling. Thank you for your post!

  • michelle

    November 29th, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    so true.when I try n go for the highest and give myself no time it often ends in disappointment.I think the real way ahead should be try and try until you succeed.nobody can be perfect.and as you have described,no one method of parenting is perfect lessons begin very early and we are really sending out a message to our kids all the time.what we do is what they learn.and showing them that failure is only a stepping stone to success can be the bets gift a parent can give to her child.

  • nena

    November 29th, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    Oh thank you!
    I have always felt such pressure to be this perfect mom and perfect wife and perfect everything that it has gotten plain tiring!
    I don’t know if I can stop cold turkey, but this lets me know that sometimes “good enough” really is good enough. I don’t have to be that super women except when I really feel like it. My family will still survive and thrive without all of that.

  • NATE

    November 29th, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    Although this sounds like a good thing,I don’t think it’s too easy to follow in practice. Every parent would want to provide the best parenting for his or her kids. So where do you actually stop? And I for one would always have doubts as to whether I’m being too laid back in the process. There is no well defined space which says going beyond this is unnecessary, this is good enough. I would love to hear the experiences and feelings of other parents out there.I personally believe that without trying to provide the best to our kids we really cannot give them the best.

  • Erika

    November 29th, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    @Nate- I think the key word is trying – inherent in that is the possibility of things not turning out as we envision or hope. It means accepting that we are doing the best we can as often as we can given our circumstances.

    I strive to be a patient parent. I don’t always succeed. Some days I am shorter tempered than others – but I try not to waste time/energy berating myself for falling short of my own expectations- I try to do it better the next time. I also dream of preparing hearty meals every night – but if I work late and don’t have time to make it happen (or am just too tired)- better that I focus on enjoying dinner time together than getting distracted by how I fell short. Accepting “good enough” can allow us to let go of the negativity we often bring on ourselves and truly be present with our kids- and that is actually pretty great.

  • stressmom

    November 30th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    Personally, I think that it is not enough to be good enough. I think that my kids deserve more than that. I think that saying that something is good enough is just an excuse to stay lazy. I know that there are times when it has to be enough, but I want my kids to know that for the majority of the time I am giving my all to them (which is my job) in the same way that I expect them to give their all to the things that are important to them. I just don’t feel like saying that good enough parenting is something to aspire to is actually setting a very good example for our children.

  • mabel

    November 30th, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    there is only so much you can do as a parent,Nate.a lot of different factors play a role into how a child develops and parenting is not the only factor.although it can be said that parenting is the biggest factor,I think it is unrealistic to aim for perfection.

    not only are you over-burdening yourself but are also sending a wrong message to the child.I think this is the message the author is trying to convey in the post.all the best.

  • lola

    November 30th, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    I guess I’m always so afraid that the mistake that I make will be The Big One that scars my kid for life. You know how you remember a mistake your parent made and they can’t even remember it? How am I supposed to know the difference between a mistake that will be forgotten in 10 minutes versus the one they cling on to the rest of their days, no matter how insignificant it may be in the great scheme of things?

  • Vince.H

    November 30th, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    Parenting is no joke.Having been through all of the ups and down of parenting my children who are now 10 and 14 years old,I can definitely say that every parent will try to be the best parent.Problem is that certain lessons of life are forgotten in that pursuit.We could also be sending our children a wrong message in that pursuit,as the author has rightly pointed out.

    I think the key is to knowing the difference between a reasonable level of parenting and I-am-going-crazy-and-the-kids-need-to-be-taught-everything.The latter feeling actually drives a parent towards trying to make everything perfect for their children.t doesn’t work that way.

  • bethany

    December 1st, 2012 at 2:13 AM

    as mentioned here,there is no one way of doing things as a parent.and even different children in the same family may require different actions from parents.the aim should not be for the BEST because that is hardly if ever achievable) but the aim should be the best possible,the most appropriate level of parenting for the child individually.that is what makes a good parent!

  • Joanie

    December 2nd, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    My daughter shared this with me, this is one of the most balanced articles I’ve read on parenting. Not like I’m still doing it, my son is 40 & daughter is 34 years. I have found that there is Plan A, when we start out, but expect Plan B,C…and never give up on your children, always love them, but not the wrong act. We went thru the ups and downs and came out the other end, up!

  • Bizytravelmom

    December 8th, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    Amazing post! I love the concept of a parent “being a soft place to land.”

  • Adam

    December 13th, 2012 at 6:08 PM

    Perfectionistic standards always increase anxiety. Though it’s understandable why parents want to be perfect, Winnicott’s thesis on the ‘good enough parent’ offers a more relaistic and hopeful scenario.

  • Leona Jewett

    March 8th, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    There are so many parents out there that struggle with perfectionism. As a daycare provider I see it all the time. To those parents I’d like to ask one simple question. When your baby was born, what were his/her list of accomplishments? The slate was completely empty. There wasn’t a single accomplishment required for you to love that baby. So please, relax. The most important thing your child will ever accomplish is passing on the love you gave them.

  • Erika Myers

    March 8th, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    @Leona – what a great perspective! Thanks for sharing. I’d add that there was no list of accomplishments for the parents required for that baby to love them. Kids don’t see our imperfections the way we do. If they hear us as critical of ourselves, we foster self-criticism in them. If we are kind to ourselves, they are more likely to be kind to themselves.

  • Emily

    January 5th, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    I agree…. and this whole article reminds me of all the ways my parents FAILED. I’ve created a beautiful life for myself because I steered away from all the things I saw in my parents, and I was very lucky to find in-laws that showed me exactly what to do. The reality is that not all parents are good enough. There are those that really should not have kids. They are the ones who can’t take care of themselves, let alone other human beings that depend on them for decades.

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