When Good is Good Enough
As mothers, we want everything to be perfect for our children. If only we were superhuman mothers, we could create the perfect life for our children and they in turn would be flawless – right? Mothering is surely the most important, most rewarding privilege you will ever have. It is an amazing time in your life, and while it is wonderfully fulfilling, it is at times frightening, tumultuous and stressful. Being mom to three remarkable daughters did not stop the little voices in my head from asking, “Am I doing it right? Is the best I can do? Am I a good mother?” Time, practice, experience and wisdom did not help quiet the voices or lessen the self-doubt. Although I have always given mothering my best effort, I know I am not perfect. The voices only stopped when I realized that good is perfectly good enough!
Do not misunderstand – I am not advocating aiming low or striving for anything less than my best effort. I always have and always will resolve to be the best I can be – but that is the point. A good mother is not perfect and does not have to be. She may be less sympathetic one day or lack her usual warmth and humor the next – she may send her child to school with a wrinkled shirt or a messy hairdo – not because she wants it this way, but because mothering is a difficult balancing act where time and attention are split because there is so much to do and there are simply not enough hours in a day.
Dr. Donald Winnicott has much to say about real-life good mothers. He writes that, “a good enough mother is sincerely preoccupied with being a mother and takes her job to heart. She pays attention to her child. She provides a safe, nurturing environment. She offers both physical and emotional care. She provides security. When she fails, she tries again. She weathers the painful feelings that come along with parenting. She makes sacrifices.” Winnicott’s good enough mother is not a superhero; she is more like a gardener as she tends to her children with love, patience, sincere effort, and the absolute best care she can give.
Being a good enough mother does not mean loving your children any less – on the contrary, it allows a loving, more relaxed environment with room for them to grow, mature and become more independent without the mask of perfection. Life is not perfect so why would we want our children to think that it is? It is important to remember that you are the model for all the other relationships that your children will ever have. That means you should teach them that life does not revolve around perfection and sacrifice; rather, it is important to show them the value of give and take, mutual care and encouragement, and consideration and respect. Once I realized and accepted that being a “perfect mom” is impossible, I kicked the superhuman ideal to the curb. The result was a more relaxed me who was more fun to be around…a mom with more energy, more patience and more joy. It might sound crazy, but being a good enough mom actually made me a much better mom.
If you have grown up with a good enough mother, you are incredibly lucky. If you are a good enough mother, congratulations – you should be celebrated. Take the time to sit back, relax and honor the complexities of mothering…find reasons to be grateful, forgive the failures, and use the disappointments to grow. Finish each day knowing you have done your very best and be grateful that tomorrow is a new day with a clean slate and the opportunity to do your very best all over again.