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The Good Enough Parent

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Stop trying to be the perfect parent.

Being a parent is a source of tremendous joy -- and tremendous stress. There are so many potential causes for this angst (just thinking about them makes me feel tense) that it would be impossible to list them all. Some of them (most of them) are completely outside our control (now why doesn't that eliminate the stress like it's supposed to?).

There is one, however, that we could do something about. It's the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect parents.

It's an impossible ideal and the pressure can (literally) kill us. While pushing ourselves to grow, we need to simultaneously give ourselves love and acceptance.

No one is perfect. I always take comfort in the phrase coined by British psychiatrist Donald Winnicott, the "good enough parent."

That's what I think we can be -- and we can rely on our kids and the Almighty to do the rest.

The irony is that as we strive so hard to mirror perfection, our growing children are learning to see all our flaws. While our actions and personalities remain unchanged, our children move from an idealized view of us to an extremely critical one where nothing we do is right! And finally (if you can hold on long enough) to a more nuanced view.

I actually think it's helpful to our children if we are honest about our imperfections -- within reason. They are probably struggling with their own. They need role models who are not angels (that should come as a relief) but flesh and blood human beings who make mistakes. And acknowledge them.

If only perfection will suffice, our children will be tormented by feelings of guilt and shame and lack of self-worth (No matter how many school programs there are that tell them they're special!). They just need to be good enough also.

A happy parent is more important than a perfect parent, and more attainable.

It's always a wonder for new parents to discover that children are not as fragile physically as they initially seem. They're not as fragile emotionally either. I'm certainly not advocating we take advantage of that fact, but one (or two or even three) isolated incidents of loss of temper will not create lifelong trauma. Sometimes more growth (on both sides) actually occurs after a particularly unpleasant outburst and confrontation and some important issues are resolved. (Not that I'm advocating this as a parenting technique!)

A happy parent is more important than a perfect parent, and more attainable. A loving parent certainly is. As is a sensitive parent, a parent who listens, a parent who is empathic, and a parent who knows how to have fun with their children.

We certainly can't eliminate all the stress from parenting. But if we try our best, then, with the Almighty's help, I think we will be good enough.

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