The Success of the “Good Enough Parent”

Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician, coined the term “good enough mother” in the 1950’s. Today, however, many parents fear that “good enough” just isn’t good enough. They strive to become the “perfect parent.” But becoming a “perfect parent” just isn’t possible. In fact, striving to become the “perfect parent” will backfire and create even more difficulties. In fact, a study that involved over 700 parents found that the pressure to become a “perfect parent” contributed to parental burnout. In this study, 57% of parents reported symptoms of burnout in relation to their role as a parent. High self-expectations about what children “should be doing” and what opportunities they “should have” contributed to the pressure to become a “perfect parent.” Comparisons to other children and families also contributed to unrealistic expectations. Many parents see other families on social media smiling and having fun or in public as they put their best foot forward and think, “How are they doing all that? Why can’t I do it? What’s wrong with me?” We forget that we only see the positive side of their family life. In reality, they may be emotionally and physically exhausted and thinking the same thing about you.

Parental burnout had several negative repercussions in this study. First, parental burnout led to parents feeling more depressed and anxious. They became more irritable toward others in their lives. This interfered with their ability to have positive interactions with their children. Second, parents experiencing burnout tended to have children with more mental health issues like anxiety and depression as well. Children need healthy parents. The healthiest children also have parents who take time for self-care in order to manage their own emotional, mental, and physical health.

A third finding in this study, and the one I find most interesting, involved findings around what contributed to the healthiest children in the study. Specifically, “the more free play time that parents spend with their children and the lighter the load of structured extracurricular activities, the fewer mental health issues in their children.” Isn’t that interesting? When parents take time to engage their children in free play, it benefits their children. To have time for free play as a family will mean less time involved in structured extracurricular activities. In other words, the healthiest children and families did not succumb to the social pressure to achieve, the cultural expectation of over-scheduled lives, or the demand for involvement in multiple structured activities to prepare for future opportunities. They simply enjoyed one another. They probably still engaged in some structured activities, but a limited amount. They did not allow the cultural pressure for achievement and success to drive their family. Instead, they enjoyed time with one another in fun, playful activities. They didn’t feel the need to become the “perfect parent” with the “perfect child” who experiences “perfect success and achievement” in all areas to prepare for college and their future. Instead, they celebrated being a “good enough parent” with a happy child who experiences success in some areas while laughing and playing in even more areas. They enjoyed The Blessings of a B Minus…and the blessings of a healthy, happy family and child. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

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