Being A ‘Good’ (enough) Mum
The pressures of being a parent seem to pile up all the time. All those ‘shoulds‘ sitting in your mind. My child should read more, eat better, do more classes, be more advanced. I should cook better, clean more, shout less, know more. What does being a ‘good’ mum mean? And how can you be the good enough mum?
What Is A Good Mum?
If you asked 10 people what being a good mum means you’ll probably get a wide variety of answers. Someone might say a good mum is one who is always there at home making sure everything runs smoothly. Another might say a good mum is the one who’s child knows that they can always talk to them. Yet another might say a good mum is the one who has instilled proper manners and respect in their child. Ask enough people and those different answers can feel wildly overwhelming.
Does Good Mum = Perfect Mum?
Does being a good mum mean being a perfect mum? Can the perfect mum in your mind do all of the things good mums do but better? Do they play more with their children whilst having a career? What makes them perfect?
The idea of the perfect mum is worth unpicking further. What is perfection? The idea of doing something with no mistakes? Of being able to tackle everything effortlessly and with joy? Is that a reasonable expectation to put on your self as a mum?
1. having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
“life certainly isn’t perfect at the moment”
2. absolute; complete (used for emphasis).
“a perfect stranger”
make (something) completely free from faults or defects; make as good as possible.
“he’s busy perfecting his bowling technique”
the perfect tense.
The Good Enough Mother
The concept of ‘the good enough mother‘ was coined by Donald Winnicott in his book ‘Playing and Reality’ in 1971. Winnicott was a paediatrician and psychoanalyst who specialised in developmental psychology.
The good enough mother is one who is initially devoted to her child. She fulfils their every need, sacrificing her own needs to meet those of her child. But as time moves on, she begins to allow her child to feel small amounts of frustration. She is kind and empathetic to these feelings in her child but is no longer meeting all needs instantly. These are always short periods of frustration, she isn’t perfect but good enough.
Why Is Good Enough Perfect?
Winnicott connected the change from meeting all needs instantly to slowly meeting them less perfectly to important development in a child. He believed it was important for babies to feel that initial phase of knowing and understanding that their parent would always be there for them, and then as they grew slowly begin to understand that there would be times that this would not happen, and begin to exercise independence from a place of dependence.
His theory is that children need both of these to develop fully – the mother who meets all their needs and helps them feel like the world is a magical place, and the mother who doesn’t meet their needs and lets them feel that frustration. First they learn that the world is safe and secure and then, once they’ve learned that, they learn that it isn’t always. Children need BOTH to develop fully.
The final part to this puzzle is modelling. A child with a perfect parent will never see them deal with failure or disappointment. Your child needs to see that – they need to see that you fail sometimes and that you pick yourself up. They need to see that you make mistakes and then make amends. The way that you model these is key to their own interactions with the world as they grow.
The good enough mum, therefore, is the perfect mum.
Top Tips For Being The Good Enough Mother
- Give yourself some slack – Being a mum right now is hard. Society doesn’t give you a lot of support and taking a break can seem like a complicated mess of moving parts. Give yourself some slack – you are doing your best to be there for your children. You will make mistakes but how you deal with them becomes your children’s model for their future
- Find space to be you – Find a way to be who you are apart from a parent. Whether that’s through a hobby, work, exercise, friends or anything else, give yourself that time to not be mum occasionally. You need recharge time too.
- Find people who get it – Look for people in your life who support you and get how you want to parent. Perhaps that’s family, or friends who believe the same things, a church community or an online one. Find the people who listen and build you up.
- Do it with love – Whatever you do, do it with love. When you make mistakes or choices you wish you hadn’t, apologise with love. Make repairs to your relationship with love. Play games with love, enjoy your time together with love.
You Are Good Enough
Humans, because they are humans, aren’t perfect. We have emotional responses, we get touched out, we fly into rages when we have nothing left. But we can be good enough. You are good enough.
Being a good mum isn’t about being perfect, it’s about loving your child and doing the very best you can to be good enough.