Good Enough Parenting
If I could go back sixteen months to the night my baby was born, when I had no idea what I was getting into and every idea of how to perfectly parent, I would tell myself only one piece of parenting advice, and it would be this: You are going to mess it up.
You are going to completely mess it up at some point and in some way and in some facet of your child’s life, so give up on perfection. Give up on not making mistakes. Give up on being the ideal parent and completely tune out the million things your kid should be doing before age one and shouldn’t be doing before age five. Give up, and let it all go, and accept that your kid will probably be in counseling one day because of something you did or didn’t do.
That’s what I would tell myself. I would tell myself that I am enough being me and being a mom. I would tell myself I am a good enough parent, and that being a good enough parent is exactly what is needed. I would tell myself that being a good enough parent is actually enough despite the mistakes I will make, constantly and for the rest of my parenting life. I would tell myself that being a good enough parent is enough.
So since I can’t go back sixteen months, I’ll tell you all that instead.
(Except for the people who give talks in church about parenting whose kids never rebelled, forgot to brush their teeth, talked back, threw a tantrum, etc…Just don’t talk to those people.)
I wrote this in my journal a few weeks ago, about my own enoughness as a parent. Your version of this will be different. We all bring our own fight to the table.
“I’m a damn good mom.
I’m not a squishy mom, like when Charlotte trips I don’t gasp or react–I let her get up because I want her to be tough. I don’t buy her all the toys. She can imagine.
But I notice things about her and I write about her. I think about her constantly. I choose her to be my person, my number one. And sure, I would do anything for her, but I don’t think that’s what makes me good.
I am very concerned with being the best version of myself possible. I work at it. I choose to be self-aware even when it is excruciating and I change when I need to. It has been and still is the longest journey.
But I am more concerned with being a better me than the best mom, and that’s what makes me damn good.”
I think that this is my biggest strength in parenting. I am an excellent communicator and empathizer, I am self-aware, and I want to live a life focused on the values I believe. But still, I have plenty of reasons to not feel good enough. We all do. I could write an entire book on the million things we could feel bad about as parents–ruining your kids’ lives and chances at happiness, for instance.
To illustrate, let me tell you about this week.
Branden had a conference in Las Vegas where he met interesting people, made meaningful connections, and participated in the political side of his profession.
Meanwhile, Charlotte and I almost died. She fell down cement stairs about an hour after Branden left, leaving her face scraped and bruised. She cried, almost non-stop, for five consecutive days. The only time she stopped was when we were around other people. Then she was adorable. I have tried everything to help her, to no relief or avail. I will save you the stressful details, but I had a pediatrician tell me this week that in his twenty two years of practicing, he has never heard of some of Charlotte’s symptoms and honestly isn’t sure what to tell me.
I am five months pregnant, without a husband, working, entirely exhausted and emotionally frustrated. The job I care about most in my life–the job I would give up all the others for–the job of taking care of my daughter–I often feel I am failing, or flailing through. So this week, she ate graham crackers (seriously) whenever she wanted them, I haven’t done her hair, and we have worn pajamas all day the last few days. I have chosen to let go of the expendables in order to save our sanity.
If there is one universal theme I have noticed with parents, both young and old, it is the feeling of shame that hits, almost initially after becoming a parent, that they are not parenting good enough–they let something go, lost their temper, let their kid fall down cement stairs (ahem), should be teaching them how to put puzzles together at six months, teaching them Mandarin by age two, teaching them business strategy by age four, creating competitive little humans in a competitive world, and feeding them only organic crap.
With everything we are supposed to do as parents, it is no wonder that shame is universal. Most parenting books, podcasts, talks and advice is laced with the message: You’re not quite doing enough. You’re not quite caring enough.
Well I’m calling that out. Because to be honest, I would have to hire a small army–at least twelve people–to help me raise one child doing all the stuff I should be doing. And I would have to have a mind-reader on hand to come in and tell me at any given moment what is wrong with my kid and exactly how to fix it.
I absolutely love this quote on “good enough” parenting.
Good enough parents do not worry too much about their imperfections. They strive to do [good] things, but they recognize that they will not always succeed as fully as they might wish, and they forgive themselves for that. Good enough parents recognize that even love is never perfect; it is always at least somewhat fickle. In Bettelheim’s words, ‘Not only is our love for our children sometimes tinged with annoyance, discouragement, and disappointment, the same is true for the love our children feel for us.’ Good enough parents accept this as part of the human condition. Good enough parents understand that nature has created children to be quite resilient. As long as parents don’t mess up too badly (and sometimes even if they do), the children will turn out OK, and OK is good enough. -Dr. Peter Gray
To me, this means that it’s okay to pick your battles. It’s ok to prioritize. It’s ok to say that you are sorry, to mean it, and to show willingness to change as a parent. It’s ok to not be an intentional parent 100% of the time, or even 50, depending on the day. It’s okay to try.
I believe in good enough parenting. I believe that it’s messy. I love my baby so much I would move the world for her, and I also was so frustrated with her this week that I was writing KSL ads to my friends (half kidding) about taking a free baby for a few hours (or years.) I believe that the reality of loving a child is hard, and giving up control slowly, constantly, is painful more often than rewarding. I believe that we all feel bad for being as frustrated as we sometimes are, and we all believe that we should be handling parenting with more patience, love, and general enjoyment. (Once again, except for some people who give the talks in church about parenting. Because they’ve arrived. Or they don’t actually have kids.)
So I don’t buy into the shame, and you shouldn’t either. It’s exhausting. You are a good enough parent, no matter what phases your kids are going through or what mistakes you have made. You are a good enough parent, and so am I.
And if you’re about to become a new parent: You are going to mess it up. Give up. You are good enough.