Good Enough Parenting

Good Enough Parenting

Good Enough Parenting 2560 1707 Dr. Terry

Parenting is hard.

And even when it’s easier, we often find ways to turn up the pressure on ourselves. Or we directly and indirectly feel the pressure from around us. Our parents. The parents of our kids’ friends. Social media. The experts. If you’re not feeling discouraged about your parenting already, it wouldn’t be hard to find someone or something out there to help you increase your anxiety- STAT.

But to what end? Cognitive science tells us that a little bit of anxiety is good. It’s what helps us get out of bed, get the kids fed and to school on time (most days). It motivates us to put in effort at work, in relationships and on ourselves.

But for many of us, our brains don’t stop at “just a little bit.” Our brains go the extra mile to envision all the ways we may be messing up our kids. We imagine all of the legal trouble that their emotional reactivity could lead to. We worry that their immaturity now will result in emotional heartbreak and failed relationships in the future. We mentally draft all of the discouraging emails we’ll receive from their teachers. Our brains use anxiety to scan the world for all the possible dangers that may face us and our kids and then tries to come up with a solution for every single one of them.

Sounds exhausting, right?

And the real kicker?

Even if your brain does manage to imagine and then plan for every single possible negative outcome for your kid, something could still happen beyond your control. In fact, it’s a guarantee that things will happen beyond our control and we will not be able to manage every choice our child makes.

So now that I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture of how little control we have and how our brains can take off like a runaway train down the track of catastrophic thinking, where do we go from here? How do we get off the runaway train?

I would argue that we need to get comfortable with being good enough parents. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a great parent. But what does that look like? Who gets to define great? New flash: our anxious brains won’t likely settle on a reasonable and achievable goal. Often “great” implies that we are pushing harder, doing more, never resting until we meet some elusive, and likely impractical, standard. If we were able to meet it, would it guarantee us perfect kids? Nope. And no one would ever be able to agree about what “great” means. It will look different in every culture and generation. And it will definitely look different for every kid.

So what does good enough mean?

What if good enough meant that we could trust what we’ve already done, while also leaving ourselves room to grow and build new skills? Good enough means that sometimes I say yes and sometimes I say no. Good enough looks like a clean house sometimes and following my kid’s play another time. It means responding with consistency most of the time, regardless of the kid’s response. We yell less and listen more. It means some enrichment activities or extracurriculars but not all of the activities. It means a pendulum that is always in some state of motion and cycles of life that are never perfectly in sync. Or if they are, it’s a guarantee that that will only last for 2.5 seconds.

Coming to terms with being a good enough parent may sound like the lazy route. Actually, it usually means a lot of inner work, being part of a supportive community, and experimenting with new ways of supporting and responding to our kids. It also means finding ways to validate the work we are doing and reassuring ourselves that good enough is good enough. That can be hard some days.

There are certainly some basics of parenting that must be done. Feed them. Clothe them. Make sure they get primary and secondary education of some sort. Don’t engage in abuse. Most parents have those parts under control. It’s the next level of parenting where we’re trying to help our kids maximize their potential while not losing our sanity and our own identities in the process.

What do good enough parents do?

Good enough parents build consistency over time. We check our own overreactions and we apologize when we do overreact. We think flexibly about our kids and ourselves. We choose realistic parenting models. We decide what is important- and more importantly, what’s NOT important!- for ourselves and our families and we hold boundaries to keep out the things that don’t matter to us. We try and we mess up and we try again.

In full disclosure, I am a good enough parent still working on being a good enough parent. I’ve learned some things that work 20-80 percent of the time. I’ve found nothing that works 100% of the time. I’m passionate about helping parents notice the ways in which they are good enough and build skills for the areas in which they want to grow. If that sounds inspiring and do-able (with help!) for you, let’s explore the ways we can work together.

I’m here for you!