Good, gooder, goodest” she scrawled with aplomb. That was my girl in her first grammar test. She sure earned no star grade for that gem. Yet, I remember her clasping pudgy palms together and asking, “Why must these words go up and up? Good is good enough.” With six-year spunk she had sweepingly redefined comparative adjectives and given me a parenting maxim to live by: Good is good enough.
Much later, while editing a book, I realised there did formally exist the phrase 'Good Enough Mother’, coined in 1953 by British paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. His case studies showed children actually benefit when mothers fail them in manageable ways, barring neglect and abuse of course. The way to be a good mother is to be a good enough mother, he concluded.
Good enough mothering happens over time. It’s a skill which came to me slowly. I used to holler, howl and hyperventilate. Stress myself silly. But after initial years of pressure and paranoia along the rocky road to parenting, I relaxed. My kids taught me to — by doing nothing but being themselves, showing how amazing this alone could be.
After honesty and humour, the loveliest thing about children is independent thinking. When they coolly display better logic, creativity, resourcefulness and reasoning than us, I’m in pure awe. Running to be Perfect Mum may well stifle these traits.
This then is for the hopelessly harried, harrowed young mothers of today. The mantra is no regret, reproach or recrimination. Chill. Cheer. Cherish. Wing it like Emily Beecher, founder of the Good Enough Mums’ Club. A badge the Londoner wears with pride on turning her postnatal depression nightmare into a musical saying, “It’s ok to be a bit crap!”
The good enough mum is complete, content. She doesn’t drive herself crazy straining to be the best mother around. Being the best for her child is good enough.
She believes imperfect parenting even works to advantage. Instead of struggling to hit some impossibly high standard of 24x7 attention to kids, she applauds their autonomy, inspires their individuality and teaches them to accept criticism.
The good enough mum seldom rocks the peace for the family. She sees little sense in going mad keeping up, socially or academically. Not for her the frenzy of competing, the futility of comparing. No hankering for the hottest holiday spots. No rushing to school for a couple more marks she’s convinced junior Einstein deserves in that tough math paper. Who’s scoring brownie points at the end of the day? Who’s counting anyway?
She is caring, not controlling. She has learnt the wisdom of letting go, beautifully freeing both herself and the kids. She doesn’t swoop in soonest on signs of challenge. Rather than doggedly win battles for them, she prompts softly from the sidelines. Allowed their mistakes, they lose few chances to do their own problem solving and decision taking.
The good enough mum spots those hellish helicopter parents — hovering over a child’s every micromanaged step at play and in class — and shuns them like the plague. Cell phones work as long extended umbilical cords these days. But this mother won’t treat the mobile like a leash, bothered breathless if she’s not in on the kids’ hourly moves. She stays close in touch without seeming a stalker.
Being good enough isn’t just all right, it’s great. Let’s just quit the blaming and the berating. Each time we feel our children are let down, they simply get through. And emerge that tiny inch stronger, readier for the real world. That is the gift of the good enough mum.
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