Why 'good enough' parenting is good enough during the lockdown

Image: RTÉ Brainstorm
May 20 2020 Posted: 15:52 IST

Author: Dr Malie Coyne, School Of Psychology

Opinion: calm acceptance of 'good enough' as opposed to perfection can increase parenting confidence and reduce fears

Have you had enough of articles with suggestions on "how best to parent during the coronavirus crisis"? Me too. Although well intentioned and often providing sound guidance, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information coming in through my inbox over the past weeks. It's as if I'm drowning in a sea of advice. As if it wasn't enough to be holding onto worries about our families, health, livelihoods and the state of the world, without our usual supports, over-exposure to advice can reduce our confidence and increase our fear.

For parents who feel a lack of control, our tendency might be to cling onto a sense of control in every aspect of our lives, including how we parent. This may lead onto perfectionist tendencies, where we try to control everything and take on roles beyond parenting. From the home schooling with endless lists of work and the challenges in "parenting from work", to feeling like you have to tackle "projects" (because social media says so) to managing your own and your children's big emotions, it hasn't been easy.

Unfortunately this is counter-productive and it can lead us to feel like we don't measure up to ourselves or to others' expectations. Fortunately, there is a remedy. The calm acceptance of 'good enough' as opposed to perfection. 

Introduced by British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in his book Playing and Reality, the 'good enough' parent provides support to what he called "the sound instincts of parents". As I previously wrote, "if your children had one wish for you, it would be your acceptance that being a 'good enough' parent to them is just that... enough". This stemmed from my experience of seeing parents holding high expectations of themselves, often pre-empting their children's every need, driven by echoes of their own childhood wounds, guilt and comparing themselves with others. 

So what can help to take that pressure off yourself just that little bit?

Learn to trust your gut instinct

Each of us have an internal navigation system which guides how we parent. Our intuition has been carefully honed by our lived experience as parents, our natural instinct in attuning to our children's needs, and the incredible power of our attachment relationship in helping them be human, compassionate and resilient.

Resilience means learning to cope with manageable threats, while having the ability to rebound in the face of difficulties. The single most important factor that nurtures resilience in children is having a stable and committed relationship with a trusted adult, to whom the child can turn to in times of challenge or need. By being emotionally available for your child through these highs and lows, you are nurturing their resilience. You are enough. When in doubt, drop into the present moment, listen to what your gut is telling you and trust yourself to do the next 'good enough' thing.

Let go of the fallacy of perfection

For many families, living through "lock down" conditions has presented many challenges, including a rise in conflict. The belief that 'perfect families' exists promotes feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and blame. Relationship ruptures arise naturally in every family. It's how we repair these that matter, which provides a valuable opportunity to strengthen our relationships with our children and models for them how healthy relationships work.

When something goes wrong with our kids, rather than blame ourselves or them, try to see the need behind their behaviour, which is them needing you to organise their feelings. Taking your child's distress seriously and acknowledging their experience as valid for them gives them an experience of being safe as they learn about feelings.

Get to know yourself as parent and prioritise self-care

To be a calm, loving and empathic parent, you need to take good care of yourself. Parental self-care is about recognising our feelings and taking the time to restore balance. If we're feeling overwhelmed, we're less able to contain our children's big emotions. If we nurture our self-care, however, we're far better able to compassionately respond to them.

A few times a day, find ways to rest and allow space to open up to yourself. I know this is harder when children are at home, but using moments to soothe yourself rather than activate fear may really help. What do you find nourishing? Going for a walk? Dancing like no one's watching? Having special family time? Chatting to a friend? Spirituality? Creativity? Playing music? Volunteering your time safely? Having a good laugh? Keeping up your routines? Whatever it is, find your potion and give yourself the gift of soothing and love.

If there's anything this virus has taught us, it's that there's only one way to get past this. We'll have to go through it. The same goes for our pain and difficult feelings. There is light at the end of the tunnel. And perhaps this quieter time may be a valuable opportunity to make peace with being the 'good enough' parent you already are.

If this feels too difficult for you, please talk to someone you trust or seek professional support. If you or your children feel unsafe in your home, you can access help by contacting Stillhere.ie. I've put together a collection of Covid-19 mental health, parenting and child resources and host a COVID-19 Special Broadcast for Parents every Wednesday at 9pm, in association with the A Lust for Life charity.

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