Back in 2011, I wrote a blog entitled, “Becoming A Good Enough Parent,” and just recently, I gave a webinar about the importance of being “good enough” for parents struggling to navigate the current crisis, an idea mentioned in a Times opinion piece (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/24/opinion/coronavirus-parents-work-from-home.html?searchResultPosition=1.)
The concept of “good enough,” has even more import these days as parents berate themselves and engage in self-criticism for a myriad of perceived faults including, the failure to: instruct their kids properly in this time of remote education; find creative ways to occupy their children; juggle work and home life; etc.
Using the metaphor of parents needing to put the oxygen mask over their faces first on a plane when the cabin depressurizes as they will be unable to care for their children while unconscious, I want to share with parents that it is most important that they take care of themselves and stop engaging in self-criticalness in this extraordinary time.
Bruno Bettelheim, in his book, “A Good Enough Parent,” stated that parents should avoid striving to be perfect parents, and, in turn, not expect to raise perfect children because perfection is “not within the grasp of ordinary human beings.” Especially during the covid period, trying to be perfect does much more harm than good and raises the bar to unreasonable heights where perceived shortcomings become magnified. In contrast, becoming a good enough parent first means to reject the goal of perfection, and, instead, recognize that good enough parenting really means that most of the time we do our best to do well by them. In a parallel way, we do not berate kids when they complain about virtual education, and missing their friends, recognizing they, too, are trying to find their way. Being good enough parents means trying to understand our children’s perspective even when we do not agree to it because genuinely trying to understand how they think and feel goes a long way to making them feel you care and hear them, creating the atmospheric conditions for more cooperation from them.
Another important fact to remember for guilt ridden parents who berate themselves for not being the kind of parent they would like to be is that children are resilient, softening the expressed self-indictment of parents who feel that they are permanently damaging their children due to their own shortcomings. Being good enough will help kids weather this crazy period in a good enough way. This is because parents who feel good enough will likely be less anxious and communicate a confidence to kids who learn to be the people they will be via reflected appraisals, and parents who reflect calm instill the same in their children.
Equally important is to recognize that, paradoxically, there is a lot of good that can come out of this extraordinary time. That is, parents can model for kids patience, frustration tolerance, and the capacity to make lemonade out of lemons by creatively tweaking the disappointments kids (and parents) experience by being unable to go places, see people, celebrate important events, etc. These are extremely important character traits that can be practiced and developed as we try to come up with creative ways to manage what we have lost and create solutions that are, while not optimal, good enough until we can resume normal life.