The GOOD ENOUGH Mother

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Hello blogworld! I’m very excited to join the ranks of the HDYDI bloggers. I want to take a second to introduce myself. My name is Lisa. I am married to Dan, and we have identical twins daughters who are currently 2 years old. I’m a psychologist who works in private practice in Hampton Roads, Virginia. I blog about all things psychological at www.theclinicaltruth.blogspot.com. I play mommy two and a half days a week and answer calls for apple juice and sidewalk chalk. The rest of the week I play Dr. Lisa and am a psychotherapist who does individual, marital and family therapy. I will be writing posts about parenting multiples with the added component of my favorite topic- psychology!  I love feedback, so be sure to leave lots of comments- and don’t be shy about suggesting topics that you may want to hear more about!

The GOOD ENOUGH Mother

Parenting is not for sissies. It’s HARD. Like, really hard. I don’t know about you, but when we brought our twins (born at 35 weeks) home from the hospital, I distinctly remember looking at my husband and our two tiny swaddled baby burritos and thinking…um, now what?  Do you remember that bewildering moment of the first newborn days?

So as time passed I started to really wonder if I fit the bill for this big job. Was I going to be able to meet their needs simultaneously? Would I know how to decipher their toddler mumblings? What about the awkward years, God forbid I mess this whole thing up and land them in therapy!

So, as I came out of my nursing Prolactin fog I started to remember something I learned back in the good ol days of graduate school that made me feel SO much better….

How do we figure out how to parent our kids? Do we exit the birth canal understanding the ins and outs of discipline and chore charts? No… of course not. We learn to parent by observing other people. Specifically, we learned what to expect in the world based on our experiences with our parents. For some of you readers, this may be good news, for others, maybe not so much.  Regardless of whether you had freakin’ fantastic parents or the I’d like to trade you in for a different model parents, you collected data about life and the world around you.

We all want to get on the freakin fantastic parents list, but HOW do we get there?

No one has your exact answer to this question, but here is an idea you may find encouraging:

You are a good enough mother.

There is a psychological concept actually called “The Good Enough Mother.” This was developed from Donald Winnicott, a British physician later turned psychiatrist whose prime was in the days of psychoanalysis (Think Freud, the lie on the couch and tell me all your dreams guy).

Winnicott wrote that the good enough mother adapts and responds to the child’s needs, thus teaching the child that he/she has some sense of control over their caregiver, which eventually builds comfort and trust of the mother.

He also noted that the interactions between parent and child really do matter, because they teach us how to respond and what to expect of the world around us.

It turns out that if you actually are perfect that you might be modeling irrational and impossible behaviors that could confuse kids into thinking that their imperfections make them not good enough, or even unlovable.  Oh, Hello, my old friend shame….

In other words, your failure to perfectly meet and adapt to every single need of your child actually builds a realistic expectations in your child’s mind. His or her acceptance of and adaptation to the reality that the world is a harsh place that isn’t always perfect, convenient or fair is REALLY important to successful adulthood.   Put even more simply, some amounts of Mom Failure = Good.

A good enough mother meets her child’s needs but BALANCES her response to the child (in age appropriate ways of course!). She does not run herself ragged trying to perform well enough for love and acceptance from her kids or spouse. She makes mistakes, she apologizes. She has emotions, she works hard. She is real.  So when the going gets tough and you wonder if you are good enough. Give yourself a break. You are.

Teaching our kids that we are real and not just apron wearing robots is what is really important because after all, we’re not raising kids, we’re actually raising adults.

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13 thoughts on “The GOOD ENOUGH Mother”

  1. Welcome to HDYDI!!! I’ve been reading since my ID girls were little itty bitty things (they are now 4), and this is an excellent post! Its an idea that I think we all struggle with ( dare I say, perhaps moms of multiple even more so?) I know for me, having twins stepped up my own expectations to be a perfect mother. I set myself up to fail (and I did, to some degree, by refusing to accept that I needed help for my PPD until my girls were 16 months old).

    The one thing that has really surprised me was that I thought my parents were great – up until I had kids myself, and am realizing their flaws. That’s not to say I appreciate them any less, it just means that I had to shift my perception of parenting a bit.

  2. I totally remember that “now what”? moment when we brought home our babies and placed them in their crib where they started squawking. It seemed crazy that the dr’s let two totally unqualified people take home these precious babies.

    I wanted to be a perfect mother. But I was so unhappy and frustrated. As soon as I let it go…let the dishes sit in the sink, let the babies wear pjs all day, etc. we all got a lot happier.

  3. When it gets too emotional, I step back and remember that last line: we are raising adults… my father taught me that when I had my first cry in the middle of the day alone with twins… thanks for reminding me of it! It is so true.

  4. Lovely post. I wish I’d known that it was ok to let them where pjs all day when they were tiny.. oh the clothes we went through before I figured out that babies really don’t need outfits. I still sometimes think I’m totally unqualified to be raising two active 14 month old boys…. But I guess they’re healthy, eat fine, sleep fine, so who cares if they are the only barefoot kids at the park, who’s clothes don’t match?

  5. Thanks a lot for this post. It’s refreshing to hear that we are not striving for perfection. I obviously had no experience in parenting when my two were born and felt overwhelmed for it…how much was i going to screw them up?
    I dont see my family often and feel like I don’;t really remember how they dealt with things…and then there have been many other infIuences so in any case there is the collecting of information….it’s the sorting out what you like and really want to be that’s not so easy. I have noticed that I always learn from others. I watch other mums or people in general and when I see engaging, peaceful interactions with children I try to pick the tip up and incorporate it into how I deal with mine.

    I remember trying hard not to let the two babies feel jealous of each other. I protected them from it- but I stopped at one point, and felt much better

    How do you know what a balanced age appropriate response is?!

    Thanks a lot for the post again, and look forward to reading more.

  6. Lisa, being a “good enough mother” has been my motto since the start. My therapist exposed me to the concept when I first starting seeing her with my fears of parenthood, a good year before we started trying to conceive. I’ve tried to make my way through Bettelheim’s book “The Good Enough Parent,” but it’s a little dense for this non-psychologist.

    I think that having identical twins was the best way that the point of being “good enough” could have been driven home. Despite my kids’ shared DNA and upbringing, they are extraordinarily different people. That alone is a reminder that who they are and how they turn out is about THEM, not me or my husband.

    My husband thinks his sister is the exception that proves the rule. He insists that his parents made their mistakes with him and were “perfect” with her. She hasn’t really ever learned to bounce back from mistakes and is intensely, almost paralyzingly, self-critical.

    Thanks SO MUCH for this post. I think every expecting parent should hear this perspective at least once!

  7. Ladies, thanks for the great feedback! I’m so glad you enjoyed my post. Its so important to have realistic expectations of ourselves… life with multiples is really hard. We all want to be perfect, because it makes us feel good, and self assured, and competent. But we forget about all the things we DO that make us those great qualities already. I do this all the time and tend to be hard on myself, being self critical and negative. Ah! I will wake up tomorrow and look in the mirror and tell myself that I am good enough. you should do that too!

  8. Welcome to HDYDI! I’m in Hampton Roads as well. We have identical 22m old boys. We say that they are un-identical, identical twins because they are very different from each other.

    My husband and I have a saying: “They won’t turn 18 (or go off to college) doing XYZ”. It helps us gain perspective that they are in fact doing great and growing like little boys should be. They may be behind in some things but they are miles ahead in others.

  9. Thanks for the post Lisa. Do you have any reference about this theory you could share? I’m preparing a presentation about parenting multiples, and I think this might be helpful information.

  10. Thank you. I had never thought that me trying so hard to do everything would make my kids percieve that they have to be perfect to be good or loved. I keep trying to tell myself not to try to do everything because I will run myself ragged. Now I have a MUCH better reason to take more breaks and not hold myself to extremely high expectations. This was exactly the post I needed.

  11. Dr Lisa, this is a great post! It helps a little bit with the Mommy Guilt. I see only one other post from you (also a good one) though– hoping there are more coming!

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