You Don't Have to be Perfect: You Just Need to be a Good Enough Mother

You're a Good Enough Mother
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Every day, mothers all around the world criticize their shortcomings and tell themselves that their best efforts just aren’t good enough. They place constant pressure on themselves to be the best and they pride themselves on never putting their own needs first. These hard-working devoted mothers strive for perfection.

But in reality, perfect parents don’t exist. And even if you could be perfect, you wouldn’t be doing your child any favors.

Kids don’t need perfect mothers. They need loving, devoted mothers who are good enough.

The concept of the “good enough mother” was introduced in 1953 by Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. After observing thousands of babies and their mothers, he realized that children actually benefit when their mothers fail in manageable ways.

How You’re Good Enough

During infancy, you likely showered your baby with attention. You calmed him when he was crying and you proved that you’d respond to his physical and emotional needs in a timely manner. This taught your baby that he’s safe and that he’s loved.

Over time however, that level of attention can’t be sustained. It’s not possible.

Maybe you didn’t hear your toddler cry in the middle of the night because you were really tired. Or maybe your preschooler got pushed down by another child at daycare and you weren’t there to console him.

Either way, your child learned that you aren’t always going to be there for him.

And of course, there were times were you were the source of your child’s pain. You had to say no when he wanted to eat more cake and he cried for an hour. Or maybe you let go of his bike when he was learning to ride and he fell down.

But, those things didn’t scar your child for life. And neither will the other times that you let him down.

Perhaps you promised to take him to the park but then you had to cancel your plans. Or maybe you let him eat too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because you don’t feel like cooking. These aren’t the biggest parenting mistakes in the world.

How Being Good Enough Helps Your Child

Making a few mistakes could actually be good for your child according to the ‘good enough mother’ theory. Winnicott found that each mistake a mother made gave a child an opportunity to build resilience.

You can’t prevent your child from experiencing pain for his entire life – nor should you. When you let your child down, he’ll learn that he can handle the disappointment. And he’ll gain confidence in his ability to deal with his uncomfortable emotions on his own.

Kids need to learn how to deal with imperfect people. After all, his future partner, employer, and neighbors aren’t going to be perfect either.

Let Go of the Superhero Complex

Whether you decide you’re going to be the world’s best parent, or you accept that you’re going to be a good enough mother, the outcome will be about the same.

Like it or not, there will be times that you make mistakes and times when you completely fail your child.

But, if you’re holding onto the notion that you should be perfect, you’ll likely convince yourself that you just aren’t good enough. Being a harsh critic will only drag you down and hold you back. If you are prone to thinking you need to be a supermom, here are some strategies that can help you embrace the notion of being a good enough mother:

  • Use your time and energy wisely. If you focus all your resources on trying to be perfect, you’ll waste a lot of energy trying to avoid mistakes. Devote that same time and energy into spending quality time with your child.
  • Own your mistakes. When you make a mistake, view it as an opportunity to learn. And then, show your child how to recover from mistakes effectively.
  • Teach life lessons. Your child needs to know that everyone – including moms – fail sometimes. Teach him healthy ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings so he’ll be prepared to deal with his own failures later in life. Use it as an opportunity to talk about forgiveness.
  • Change the language you use. Pay attention to the times where you’re being overly critical of yourself. Remind yourself not to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend and practice self-compassion.

Give Yourself Permission to be Good Enough

I’ve never had an adult enter into my psychotherapy office claiming his “good enough mother” was behind his problems. But I’ve heard plenty of people say that growing up with a stressed-out mother who always tried to be perfect took a toll on their well-being.

Give yourself a break and remind yourself that loving, devoted mothers raise wonderful kids every day, even when they’re not perfect. So the next time you are tempted to beat yourself up because you didn’t serve a hot meal or you forgot to remind your child to brush his teeth, use it as an opportunity to help him practice navigating our imperfect world.

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