Being a Good Enough Mama

“In the 1950s and 1960s, British paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott developed his concepts of ‘holding’ and ‘the good-enough mother’ which apply just as much today. Winnicott described a mother’s physical and psychological ‘holding’ of her child as providing them with the confidence and support necessary for them to grow and develop into a healthy individual. He believed that the ‘foundation of health are laid down by the ordinary mother in her ordinary loving care for her own baby’ and was also a proponent of increased empathy and trust in mothers. His idea of the good-enough mother highlighted the fact that the mother’s small mistakes actually facilitated the development of her child. He held that no mother was perfect and indeed, that perfection was actually undesirable: ‘It is when a mother trusts her judgment that she is at her best.” – Sarah Ockwell Smith, The Gentle Parenting Book

I remember when I first read those words I let out a giant sigh of relief. Matthew and I intuitively fell into many attachment parenting practices but it’s easy to take those ideals to an extreme and feel incredibly guilty whenever Peter cries and I can’t get to him immediately. This was especially true early on when he needed me almost all the time but even these days when he’s poorly or his teeth are hurting him, he often wants to be on or near me a lot.

Of course in theory we know that we need to fill our own cup first. That if we don’t take time to shower and prepare food and drink a glass of water that we can never be the gentle, patient parents we wish to be. But as soon as they cry out for us, it’s easy to begin beating ourselves up.

Now I take comfort in this: my “imperfections” (read: my human needs) are helping Peter to develop into a confident, independent person. And so are my commitments to responsive, gentle parenting.

Perfection is a mighty big stick to beat yourself with. Perfect is unattainable. Perfect is a myth. And perfect would be damaging.

But good enough? Good enough I can manage. And that’s exactly what he needs from me.

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