Are You a “Good Enough” Parent?

This past Sunday, Joan Rivers reclaimed her position as the reigning queen of judgment at the 82nd Oscar awards. But rather than sharing the red carpet with the men and women who she critiqued, she did so from afar, perched up high pointing lacquered fingers down at people she didn’t really know.

Posted on | Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, JD | Comments ()

This past Sunday, Joan Rivers reclaimed her position as the reigning queen of judgment at the 82nd Oscar awards. But rather than sharing the red carpet with the men and women who she critiqued, she did so from afar, perched up high pointing lacquered fingers down at people she didn’t really know.

As a parent, how often do you feel like critical fingers are being pointed down at you? If you’ve chosen to read this entry, I suspect you’re feeling pressured and judged far more than you’d like. I also suspect that you pressure and judge yourself far more than is required and healthy.

The truth is that being an effective, loving parent doesn’t require you to be perfect. All that is required is that you be “good enough.” So what exactly do I mean?

The concept of the, “Good Enough” parent was developed by a British pediatrician, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst (in short, an over-achiever) to describe the parent-child relationship that would enable a child to develop into a highly functioning, independent human being. By studying the relationships mothers have with their children, he found that the healthiest were ones in which parents made mistakes.

Through these regular, but not excessive transgressions, the children were forced to rely on their own resources and develop the ability to satisfy their own needs. If the mother remained “perfect” in all of her actions and responses to her child, the child would remain completely dependent upon her and frustrated about her or his emotional development and growth. Although this work was originally focused on the mother-child relationship, we now know that it applies to the father-child relationship as well.

Now, this is not to suggest that parents neglect their children. To the contrary, it’s critically important for children (and all human beings) to feel loved, safe and supported by the people in whose care they are entrusted. What it does suggest is that the mistakes parents make in the natural course of parenting can actually assist your child in developing a strong and independent sense of self. Through this strong sense of self, your child will be better able to negotiate the inevitable challenges of life.

The next time you feel like one of Joan’s critical fingers are being pointed in your direction, think twice before beating yourself up. Ask yourself if your lapse in perfection can qualify you as a “good enough” parent.

To help you in this regard, I’ve put together two simple questions you can use as a guide:

-Does your “imperfection” poise an immediate threat to your child’s life or physical safety? (Don’t dangle them out a hotel window like Michael Jackson or leave them in a smoke-filled room).

-Will your “imperfection” require your child to find a solution to their problem? (You don’t need to protect them from the full range of human emotions like anger, frustration and sadness).

If you can answer the first question with a “no” and the second with a “yes,” then sit back and try and relax. By making mistakes with your child you will teach them to take care of and assume responsibility for their lives. You will also teach them that it’s perfectly ok to be imperfect and human. 

Blog written by Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, JD
Paul Hokemeyer is a licensed attorney, researcher and Marriage and Family Therapist who works with individuals, couples and...