Being Good Enough

In it's Infancy

The idea of being a 'good enough' was a term coined by Donald Winnicott back in 1971, in relation to the 'good enough mother'. Donald Winnicott believed that being a 'good enough' mother meant a complete and total adaptation of the mother to the baby's needs, in the beginning.

(It is important to note here, as an aside, that Winnicott uses 'mother' primarily because at the time father's weren't as involved in the care taking of their children. I am using 'mum' here for ease of writing, but all of this applies to dad too.)

Following this, there would be a gradual increase in distance between the mother and baby, whereby the baby would need to wait a minute or so before the mother meets his or her needs, increasing ever so slowly as time goes on.

This process is very important in the baby's development as it, no only allows mum more flexibility, but also teaches the baby that they are not part of their mum. It teaches the baby that there are other things in the world. You see, when a baby is born, and mum completely adapts to meet the baby's needs, the baby believes that just by having a need - hunger, tiredness, wet nappy - the need will be met.

Once mum starts to remove herself ever so slightly from meeting these needs so instantaneously, baby learns that he or she has to do something to get those needs met. They learn that they need to cry in order to elicit a feeding or changing. Through this process, the baby is learning that they are separate from mum - mum can't read my mind.

Over time, the idea of being the 'good enough' mother has morphed and shifted, but stem from the same ideas. We are taking the idea of the 'good enough' mother in infancy, and applying it to toddlers, children, and adolescents.

Good Enough Parents & Perfection

Good enough parents do not strive for perfection - in their children or in themselves. Striving for perfection, especially in parenting, creates an atmosphere of blame. Imperfections are a normal and unavoidable part of life, and good enough parents understand and accept that children are resilient and that just being good enough will be OK.

In fact, modelling that imperfections are part of life can be incredibly valuable for children in appreciating that it is okay to make mistakes.

Good Enough Parents & Respect

The relationship between parents and children is an odd combination of both equal and unequal at the same time. The relationship is equal in the sense that children are equally as important, deserving of happiness, and deserving of opportunities to reach their goals, as their parents. However it is unequal in that parents are stronger, wiser, better at reasoning and planning, and that the parent controls the child's resources.

The parent has an important balance to strike here between the equality and inequality of the relationship - getting to know their child well enough to understand their wants and needs.

Good Enough Parents & Experience

It is completely natural for parents to want the best possible future for their children - to want them to be happy, healthy, and surrounded by opportunity.

However, good enough parents understand that the child's future is the child's responsibility - the parent's job is to ensure that they have a good childhood. To ensure that they are set up for a good future. Children who feel secure, listened to, trusted, and who have a good enough environment in which to play, explore, and learn will be best able to navigate their own satisfying futures.

Good Enough Parents & Help

Children automatically and naturally want to do as much for themselves as they can. Children have a natural instinct to explore, take risks, and try to figure things out. Good enough parents understand this, and so they allow their children to spend time figuring things out for themselves, only offering help when needed, and not offering more help than needed.

When good enough parents offer help to their children, they don't take over, they supplement what the child is already doing - still allowing the child to figure things out for themselves.

Good Enough Parents & Confidence

The primary purpose of parenting is to help your child to achieve what they want to achieve, not to prove to the world or themselves that they are perfect parents, or to protect themselves from criticism.

Parents who feel confident in their ability to parent will likely be calmer and more patient, providing their child with a greater sense of security. As Bettelheim (1987) put it "being a good enough parent hence requires that we ourselves be convinced that this is what we are". In other words - good enough parents are confident that their good enough parenting is good enough.

Final Thoughts

In reading through this, it may feel like this is a list of rules or instructions for parenting - which it is in no way meant to be. This is almost meant to be the opposite of that - it is a freeing from perceived rules, a smashing of the perceived gold standard of parenting. Parenting a child is as individual as the child itself, and is likely going to be different for each child in the same family. Some children are naturally more independent than others, some are more anxious or more confident, and so on.

There is not perfect way of parenting, and I think that is the point.

As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at

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