Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Are you a "good enough" mother?

I was introduced to the concept today of being a "good enough" mother (or father, whoever the main caregiver is).  Like many Mums I've done it all, breastfed for a year, beaten myself up about not using reusable nappies, beaten myself up for not going to enough Parents and Tots groups, beaten myself up about being tired, beaten myself up for not breastfeeding for longer.  There's a lot of beating that goes on in households nowadays, fortunately not of children but it's still potentially harmful.

Irrespective of what you think of the original concept, by Donald Winnicott, it's like a mind worm.  This idea is stuck in my head.  It's such a freeing concept.  The whole idea is that perfection isn't necessary.  All kids need is parents who are "ordinarily devoted" or "good enough" to protect kids from the extremes, the worst knocks.  Basically keep them clean, dry, fed, safe and loved but it's ok not to be perfect.  How you do that is up to you and largely instinctive.  It's also ok to start drawing back a little as they age and even desirable.

I like this idea.  I really do.  I like many parents, sat feeling inadequate in comparison to others.  Mothers are not perfect.  No mother is perfect, no parent is perfect, whatever image they like to portray the world.  We all get angry, tired, resentful and most of all feel guilty about the choices we make or don't make, especially when that means spending time away from our children.

All we can do is our best.  We don't expect to be perfect at anything else in life we've never done or experienced before do we?  Kids don't come with instruction manuals and the more books you read about how you 'should' do it, the more confusing it gets.  What's more there is no firm idea of what the perfect parent 'should' be, every theory contradicts another.  The more I learn of different families, the more I'm convinced that the 'answers' are individual.  Not all families are best breastfeeding, baby wearing and cosleeping.  Some are, some are best off doing one or more of those things.  Not all families are best off doing sleep training techniques, for others it's a life saver.  Some kids are big eaters, some aren't.  Some kids walk, talk, potty train and start reading at different ages.

I'll let you into a secret.  None of it matters.  I'm good enough, you're good enough.

Here's some quotes and a link if you'd like to do some more reading.

For Winnicott this hub is provided by unconscious processes within "an ordinary mother who is fond of her baby" (Winnicott,1952) : a "good enough mother", who learns best how to look after her baby not from health professionals and self-help books but from having been a baby herself ."She acts naturally, naturally " (Winnicott, 1988). Winnicott suggests that during pregnancy a mother develops "a state of heightened sensivity" which continues to be maintained for some weeks after the baby's birth. When this heightened state passes, the mother has what Winnicott calls a "flight into sanity" and she begins to be aware of the world which exists outside of her state of "primary maternal preoccupation" with her infant (Winnicott,1975). Nonetheless the good enough mother continues to provide an environment which facilitates healthy maturational processes in her baby. She achieves this by being the person who wards off the unpredictable and who actively provides care in the holding, handling and in the general management of the child. The good enough mother provides physical care and meets her baby's need for emotional warmth and love. She also protects her baby against those parts of her from which murderous feelings are brought forth when, for example, her baby screams, yells and cries continuously. By containing her own hateful feelings about her baby, and using them to intuit the baby’s terror and hate, the good enough mother facilitates her baby's feelings and expressions of omnipotence by adapting to his needs until such time as he gradually begins to feel safe enough to relinquish these feelings. At this stage the process of integration can start and the baby begins to develop a sense of "me" and "not me" (Winnicott, 1975). To achieve this shift from the baby's total dependence to relative dependence the good enough mother has, by a gradual process, to fail to adapt to her baby's needs in order that the baby can begin to learn to tolerate the frustrations of the world outside of himself and his mother (Winnicott,1965).

That's right, hate is actually ok.  The best piece of advice I had before my son was born was from one of my sisters "There will be times you want to throw him out of the window.  That's ok as long as you don't do it!"

I hope you've been interested by this, it has been an eye opener for me taking some pressure off my shoulders I'd felt for nearly three years and in some ways I didn't know was there.  I hope it does the same for you.

Oh and while you're here, I normally blog about food so please, take a look at some recipes (but it's ok if you buy some ready prepared food!)


  1. I just had to comment. I subscribe to your blog and read regularly but I rarely comment. Thank you so much for writing this. It's just what I needed today. As a working mammy of a very determined 2 yr old and as a sufferer of postnatal depression this struggle to be perfect is a big issue for me. I really like the idea of being good enough. I don't need to be perfect. I'm sure even trying to be perfect isn't setting a good example for my little girl. Life isn't perfect.

    Thanks again for sharing. It's so good to know that others have similar struggles instead of everyone pretending parenthood is all sunshine and smiles all the time!

    1. :-)

      That's the reason I wrote this post and you've made my day! I think every parent has huge amounts of self doubt and it's not talked about enough.

      I hope you spend the rest of the day with a smile on your face thinking "yep, I'm good enough!"

  2. Gosh I have spent the past 13 years with a little nagging thing on my shoulder saying: 'could do better'. I think just relaxing into parenthood and realising that there is no perfect parent per se. We are the best parent for our own individual child - that's what we must remember. Great post!

  3. Found you via the Weekend Blog Hop :-)
    Great post. 'Good Enough' parenting is not a new concept to me, we were introduced to it during our training and assessment to become adoptive parents, but remembering it (especially when parenting a traumatised child who is using his behaviour to share his anxieties) is not always easy!
    Just spotted your no sugar added flapjacks at the side, so off to have a nosy around your site x

    1. It's great they teach adoptive parents about this. I wish it was more discussed though.

  4. This is excellent. I have been to a great parenting course where they told us that you only have to get it right about 30% of the time for your kids to grow up okay. That was very liberating!


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