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What It Means to Be a “Good Enough” Parent

Do you worry about parenting? Do you wonder if you are doing it right? What if you could embrace the idea of just being a good enough parent?

Anxiety workbook for kids

Do you follow numerous parenting platforms? Do you listen to podcasts, read books or seek out current research regarding parenting? If you do, you are not alone. Many parents are heavily invested in getting this whole parenting thing “right.”

What is the right way to parent anyway? I think the sheer number of parenting books, websites, social media accounts and podcasts on the topic of parenting tells us that we simply don’t know. If we could, without a doubt, know the best parenting method, we would cease our perpetual search. Think of it this way: antibiotics work. No one has decided that we need a new and novel way to kill bacteria. It’s universally accepted. The fact that no one parenting approach has been elevated to that same status tells me that it’s probably not achievable.

It’s okay to be good enough

Maybe, it’s time for us to stop striving to find the best parenting method or to be the best parent, and settle for good enough.

Does that rub you the wrong way? The idea of just being “good enough”? I suspect it does. You are reading a parenting post because there is a part of you that wants to be better, more skilled, more effective. Being “good enough” may fly in the face of that for you.

But maybe good enough isn’t all that bad after all. Secular psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott coined the term “good enough mother” in the late 60’s with his book, Playing and Reality.

He believed that, in infancy, parents should swiftly and as accurately as possible respond to meet their baby’s needs. This creates a strong and enduring bond and connection. This stable and secure bond is the foundation from which a child can develop the ability to tolerate inconsistencies and occasional delays to their expressed needs. In other words, if mom is exhausted and doesn’t immediately respond to her toddler’s expressed needs, the toddler will be okay.

In fact, they will be better than okay. Winnicott goes so far as to say that disillusionment with parents and the world are an essential component to child development. When we are simply “good enough” (rather than perfect), kids become more resilient and better able to cope with their increasing understanding of their limited control in the world.

Set achievable goals

So when parenting experts say that we need to respond to our children’s needs, that means MOST of the time. When we are told to problem-solve and co-regulate with our kids, let’s aim for MOST of the time. When we are told to say certain things and to avoid others, let’s try to do our best. Let’s aim for good enough. Let’s lower the bar and take a deep breath.

There is so much uncertainty in the area of parenting. And the human brain absolutely hates uncertainty. It wants solutions and concrete answers. But if we feed that uncertainty with additional worries about whether or not we are getting it right, we can create a culture of anxiety in our homes. And kids have an uncanny ability to tune into the emotions of their parents, even the ones we think we are so good at hiding.

Embrace mistakes

So let’s all agree that we are going to mess up. We are going to say no when we should say yes. We are going to say yes when we should say no. We are going to yell at times and be more harsh than we would like. We are going to do things that we will later regret. That is the truth about parenting. BUT that isn’t the end of the truth about parenting.

We are also going to apologize, make amends and seek to restore what was broken in our relationship with our kids. We will say we are sorry and we will seek their forgiveness. And the repair that follows that rupture will be deeply connecting and enduring. The process of rupture and repair is the ebb and flow of the parent-child relationship and creates a strong and lasting bond. The site of a fracture of a bone grows back stronger – the same is true for a relationship when it is given a chance to heal and repair.

And as believers, we have even more reason to release this burden of perfection and embrace “good enough” parenting: God is bigger than we are. We are not so powerful that we can thwart God’s plans for our kids anyway. Isaiah 14:27 says, “For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” 

When we take a step back and really see ourselves through this lens, we can release the burden of perfection and settle for “good enough” – knowing that the Lord is capable of making up the difference and doing a work in our kids’ hearts that only He can do.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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