A good enough mother. When you think of that phrase – what does it mean to you? How would YOU use it? As a way to explain why you think you’re not perfect? Do you equate ‘good enough’ with NOT enough? Being a good enough mother is realizing that the perfect mother does not exist, and failing actually helps our children.
In a culture with a plague of often self-diagnosed ‘perfectionists’, it is tempting to think that ‘good enough’ is a platitude, used as a subtle way of apologising for why we are not or cannot be the perfect Mother: the perfect woman.
But what does being a ‘good enough mother’ actually mean? It is predominately about two things.
The Perfect Mother Does Not Exist: She is Good Enough
There is no such thing as a perfect – ideal – GOOD – mum. It is a myth! I will talk a lot more about this, but if you are comparing yourself to an idealized version of what and who a ‘good mum’ is, then I want this blog to help you shatter that illusion.
The ideal of the ‘perfect mum’ is a product of our patriarchal culture that has tried to keep women quiet, in their place, self-deprecating or loathing, anxious, and feeling as though they are ‘failing’.
Failure is inevitable if you’re trying to be the perfect Mum.
We do not have the option of being a perfect Mum. We are human and the perfect Mum ideal is constructed to be human-proof!
‘Failing’ Helps Our Children
Being ‘good enough’ means we are doing our best, most of the time, we are attentive, attuned, responsive, engaged, empathetic, conscious, and loving. We mostly get it right. But there are times – inevitably (everyday for most of us) – where we disengage, distract, ignore, express irritation, frustration, annoyance, anger, apathy… We feel like we let our children down and then there is inevitable guilt because of that.
But the thing is, being ‘good enough’ is not settling. It is actually serving your children.
The concept of the ‘good enough mother’ was actually termed by paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in 1953, who observed mothers adapt to their baby’s needs. He connects the process of mothering to the process of a child’s cognitive development. During the newborn and early babyhood stage, we are highly attuned as mothers and do our best to respond to and meet their every need. We are teaching our children that they are safe and will be responded to and cared for.
Winnicott noted that – obviously this level of attunement is not sustainable and as the baby grows into toddlerhood and beyond, the child needs to see and experience their mother or primary carer ‘fail’ them in tolerable ways regularly in order to support their development and resilience. There is lots of discussion and theorising relating to Winnicott’s work, but here is how I’m interpreting it on this platform.
Showing our children that we are not perfect mothers supports them in becoming resilient, strong, curious, empathetic, knowledgeable human beings.
Letting our children see that there are more parts to us than our mothering-selves shows them that we are HUMAN. Human beings who have cultivated strategies for resilience and growth in an inherently imperfect world, and who realize that their parents and caregivers are multi-dimensional, flawed, real people who are doing their best.
That the person caring for them knows how to recognise their mistakes, apologise, and model on how to do better.
This person knows how to regulate their bodies and emotions when they feel overwhelmed and angry.
They know how to express frustration, irritation and impatience authentically but healthily.
They model all the ways we as humans feel, fail, love, fall, rise, try again, and generally try and do the best we can with what we have.
The child has a person in their life who loves them more than anything in the world.
So many of us put so much into our mothering and want the “best” for our children. Acknowledging this, if we accept our own imperfections, we are showing our children they do not have to be these (impossibly) perfect beings. We are showing them that we will love and accept them for all of who THEY are – including their so-called imperfections.
We release our children from the pressure of trying to live up to ideals when we show them that those ideals are false.
Let’s show ourselves compassion and forgiveness the same way we show others compassion and offer forgiveness, and the way we want our children to experience compassion and receive forgiveness.