6 ways to be a “good enough” parent

Afraid that you can’t measure up as a parent? Focus instead on being responsive and trust your judgment!

Mother and daughter happy

As parents, it’s natural to worry whether we are doing a good job raising our children, such that they grow up to be kind, happy, healthy adults with good values.

And social media only fuels our self-doubt. We’ve all seen Instagram accounts of “supermummies” who seem to always be on their A game. They look amazing, they balance work and family perfectly and their kids always seem so happy. So much so that we can’t help but think that we will never measure up when we scroll through our feed.

Parent Cindy Kua, 50, mum of two daughters aged 11 and 16, acknowledges the struggles of striving to be a good enough parent.

“As a mother who travels frequently for work, I struggle with guilt for not being around for my children in their growing up years and question if I’m supporting them well,” she states. “Missing my children’s milestones and external pressures from good-intentioned friends and family urging me to look for a job with less travel further contributes to my self- doubt.”

Rather than striving for perfection as a parent, aim be “good enough” parent who is loving, flexible and kind to yourself.

However, Evonne Lek, a family therapist at Reconnect, notes that it’s perfectly normal for parents to battle self-doubt. She notes, “It’s stressful trying to raise children ― you want the best for them and don’t know whether what you’re doing is ever good enough.”

If this describes you, you’re in the same boat as countless other mums and dads.

Incidentally, the term good enough mother” was coined by British paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in his famous 1953 book Playing and Reality. After observing thousands of babies and their mothers, he came to realise that babies and children actually benefit when their mothers fail them in manageable ways.

So, rather than striving for perfection as a parent, aim be “good enough” parent who is loving, flexible and kind to yourself. We suggest helpful ways you can go about it.

1. Be adaptable

One of the characteristics of a “good enough” parent is the ability to reflect and adapt, Lek says.

For example, you may proceed to do something you feel is good and fair, but if your child reacts to it negatively each time, you may need to reflect on what needs to change (in terms of your thinking or the way you relate to your child).

If your children are very different in terms of temperament, you may also have to adjust your parenting style.

“Sometimes, your firstborn may behave in a certain way and your second child is the opposite ― children have very different sensibilities and vulnerabilities in the way they handle emotions,” Lek explains.

Kua agrees, “After so many years of struggling, I have come to terms with the fact that each child is very different and also, each household and parent is also different.”

Therefore, discard a rigid mindset of how you would parent ― instead, reflect regularly on your parenting habits and how they might evolve over time or from child to child.

2. Be flexible (but clear about boundaries)

In terms of setting rules, flexibility is another essential trait of a “good enough” parent. To illustrate, Lek highlights the rule of having your child home by a certain time.

“You may feel your child does not respect the curfew, which leads to an argument,” she says. “If your child wants a little more time to be with their friends, consider being flexible and giving them a half-hour extension on occasion. This way, you are recognising your child’s need to build connections and be part of a social group. “

Of course, you’ll need to be clear about boundaries, too. Remind your child that you are still the parent and they don’t have free rein to do as they please. Rules are still rules, and if your child is clearly doing something that’s not right, intervene in a way that is firm but not punitive.

 

Mum carrying happy kid

3. Support and love them (no matter what)

“The most important thing for a child is a sense of secure attachment ― believing that their parent will always accept them for who they are and love them unconditionally,” Lek notes.

If your child needs help and comfort in times of a crisis (for example, in cases of bullying or periods of sadness), a “good enough” parent is able to guide them in such a way that they feel supported and understood, she adds. Supporting them also applies to periods when they are happy and doing well, since you’ll want to be present for both the highs and the lows.

So, know that even if you make mistakes as a parent, you’re on the right path as long as you’re willing to support and accept your child.

“I strive to ensure the limited time I spend with my kids is maximised and worthwhile,” Kua relates. “For example, simply sitting with them and not using my phone at dinner, or engaging in conversation and listening to them in the car.”

4. Talk to them and help them develop emotionally

A crucial part of supporting your child also involves communicating with them and helping them develop their emotional intelligence.

Lek notes that developing emotional intelligence is essential for children as they grow up. “Parents struggle with this because some of us did not have the habit of talking about our emotions during our own upbringing,” she explains. “Now that we do want to talk about feelings, it may not be in our language and repertoire.”

Most of all, keep reminding yourself that you are “good enough” and just do the best you can. Give yourself compassion and empathy, and remember that parenting isn’t always about triumphs and hitting milestones

Nonetheless, it really is just about trying, Lek reassures. Your child will know you are making an effort to engage just by sitting with them when they are angry or upset.

If you can, take it a step further by helping your child label their feelings. For example, when your child looks angry, but you also detect sadness underneath it, help your child recognise this. Say “I can see you’re angry, but perhaps you’re also feeling sad that your friend is not playing with you.” Your child will then learn how to recognise their feelings and think about ways to resolve their problems.

“A lot of parents go into offering solutions straight away, but emotional intelligence is about labelling feelings first before taking action,” Lek points out.

5. Draw support from other parents

If you constantly face self-doubt as a parent, talk to other parents to reassure yourself.

Do this with the aim of sharing and supporting, not with the mentality of comparing. So, rather than discuss your child’s milestones and what they can or cannot do, be open about the challenges you face and seek to learn from other parents. Realising that other parents also face the same fear of not being “good enough” should assure you that you’re not alone in your struggles.

Draw support from your spouse and family as well, so that you don’t burn out and feel drained, Lek advises. Seek professional help if necessary, too ― there’s no shame in needing a therapist to help you work out your own emotions.

6. Always remember ― there’s no perfect parent

You may have heard this many times before, but do always bear this key advice in mind. Like everybody else, you are a human being, so you are bound to make parenting mistakes along the way. Just remember not to keep beating yourself up over them.

Parents who keep striving to be perfect are putting undue pressure on themselves, since they will always fall short and feel they have failed, Lek warns. They may then lose confidence and feel frustrated more often, which diminishes their ability to support their child. This also puts added stress on the parent-child relationship.

Most of all, keep reminding yourself that you are “good enough” and just do the best you can. Give yourself compassion and empathy, and remember that parenting isn’t always about triumphs and hitting milestones

“It’s really about your own journey of growth as long as you are learning and reflecting on yourself, that is good enough,” Lek notes. “There’s no black and white in terms of the way you have to parent.”

Photos: iStock

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