Being a ‘good enough’ parent June 2020

By CANDICE FLETCHER, Published in COVID-19 Opinion

Coronavirus and the Lockdown have cast us into a 'new reality' that has in many ways merged our personal and professional lives. Shrouded in the unknown, we have been stretched in new ways and forced to take on novel roles.


In many ways, this whole situation seems to have exacerbated our need for perfection in all spheres, including our parenting, which is underpinned by a need to regain a sense of control

Keeping up with professional commitments and taking on remote-learning endeavours for our children, has likely felt immensely overwhelming, igniting feelings of angst and fuelling predictions of future outcomes for yourselves and your children. It may have even sparked competition between parents as they strive for perfection in times of unpredictability.

To some of us the thought of being 'good-enough' sounds less than appealing and in some ways is associated with the concept of being 'not enough', especially in your efforts to strive to be the very best parent that you can be. Parenting is a marathon though, and in reality, it is not about who wins the race first, or who gets things done the best, or about being perfect.

Being a 'good enough' parent is, as it turns out, the very best you can do for your child

Donald Winnicott, paediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined this phrase and it has become one of the most popular developmental theories of our time. Its merits hold true, especially during this period of uncertainty and insecurity. The bottom line is that children actually benefit from imperfect parenting. Naturally, we strive to meet our children's emotional needs as best we can, but we also need to give ourselves grace when we "mess up", as this allows our children to learn about reality and limitations.

Failing our children in small and tolerable ways allows them to function more effectively and build resilience in an imperfect world that will regularly, and inevitably, frustrate and disillusion them. They build frustration tolerance and learn that sometimes they have to try and solve problems on their own. Through these experiences, children come to learn that life can be difficult, and that they will sometimes feel let down, and that they will not always get their way, but despite all of that, they will get through it. They also come to learn that their behaviour impacts others and that it is okay to feel bored, angry, helpless and disappointed.

Good enough parents don't expect perfection of themselves or their children. They realise that mistakes foster learning and development.

At this unprecedented time, more than ever, we need to own our vulnerability as parents

You may be worried that your child is not learning enough, you could have difficulty concentrating and multitasking, you may be stressed that your house is a mess. We need to acknowledge the uncertainty and fear that we are all experiencing and put our normal expectations on hold for now. We also need to support each other, as we are all in this together. Even as things return to some sense of normalcy, we are likely to face new challenges that emerge as our families or those in our community become infected with the virus, or as we navigate the 'new normal', which is likely to bring trials of its own.

Allowing 'good enough' to be 'enough' is the very best way of coping. Perfection is not an option! You need to do the very best you can and that is enough! Take regular time to debrief and reflect with other parents.

Lean on and support each other and talk about your successes and your mess-ups

You don't have to function at the exact same level as before, and in fact you probably can't. Be gentle in the expectations you have of yourself and forgive yourself when slips-ups occur. Remind yourself that this will not last forever.

As parents, we need to fess up that we don't always have it all figured out, and that sometimes we don't get it right. Attuning to your children's needs most of the time is good enough parenting and raises healthy children. Some days you will lose your temper, you will lock into a power struggle, you may give in to a limit that you have set, or you may sometimes not always be as empathic as you would have liked.

That's okay, you always have an opportunity to fix it

Two traits that characterise good-enough parents are, their willingness to repair when they have overor under-reacted, and their ability to tolerate their child's learning process in the face of inevitable frustration.

If things have gone wrong set aside some one-on-one time later in the day to talk it through with your child. Be honest about where you feel you have gone wrong and apologise, as they learn through modelling. Replay all the good moments of the day too as you go to bed, to put into perspective the many things you also got right that day.

Trusting your intuition is key, as it has been carefully honed by your lived experience as parents, your natural instinct in attuning to your children's needs, and the incredible power of your attachment relationship.

The most vital element that nurtures resilience in children is having a stable and committed relationship with a trusted adult, to whom the child can turn to in times of challenge or need

Being emotionally available for your child through the highs and lows, allows you to nurture resilience within them. Remember, you are enough. If you have any doubt, dive into the present moment, listen to what your gut is telling you and trust yourself to do the next 'good enough' thing.

When something goes wrong, rather than blame yourself or your child, try to see the need behind their behaviour, which is usually them needing you to organise their feelings.

Take your child's distress seriously and acknowledge their experience, as this will provide containment for them, while they learn about their feelings

Consider your child's personality and their developmental stage. Think about what they could handle in pre-COVID-19 times and try to determine where they might need the most support right now – and what would be a good enough way of meeting their needs now. Calm your own anxiety and model that for your children.

Living through a pandemic can present an array of mixed emotions. You goal should be to tolerate the stress you feel, manage uncertainty by forgiving yourself and those around you, and acknowledge that 'This Too Shall Pass'.

Acknowledge the emotions that you are feeling and think about whether they are a reminder that you need to adjust your lens

Relationship ruptures and conflict will inevitably arise in every family. The important thing is how you repair these, which not only provides a valuable opportunity to strengthen your relationships with your children, but also models for them how healthy relationships work. Being a 'good enough' parent helps you to set realistic goals and focus on your wellbeing during uncertain times.

Fletcher is a Psychologist at The Ridge School.


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