What is a good enough parent?

By Michelle Fisher · 24 August, 2017

Well before we talk about what a good enough parent is let me start by giving you the wonderful news my auntie gave me just after I had my first daughter……it’s ok, you don’t have to be perfect, in fact you can’t be a perfect parent, nobody can. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, thank goodness for that, that really lets me off the hook, and I’ve NEVER forgotten her saying that to me. When I think about what she said it’s like having a reassuring hand on my shoulder reminding me that I’m doing a good job and not to give myself a hard time, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping this blog will do for you.

What is a good enough parent?

Have you ever asked yourself if you are a good enough parent? When your two-year-old is having her fourth tantrum of the day, when your nine year is asking persistently if she can have a sleep over tonight even though you’ve said no, when your 13-year-old is really pushing those boundaries about what time he can stay out until, do you ask yourself “is it my fault that they’re behaving like this?” However hard we try to stay calm and to do the right thing by our children, when they push us to the limits our patience is bound to wear thin. We might snap at the end of a long day, we may give in when we know we should stand firm, and this can lead us to ask ourselves ‘am I a good enough parent?”

We hear the term ‘good enough parent’ but where did it come from?

The term ‘good enough parent’ or ‘good enough mother’ is over 50 years old and was first thought to be used by Dr W. Winnicot (1965) in a piece of work studying the theory of emotional development. During the 1950s and 1960s Phycologists Donald Winnicot and John Bowlby developed different theories about the psychological and physical growth and wellbeing of children. Bowlby’s theory of attachment (1951) and Winnicot’s notion of the good enough mother remain influential in the study of child development.

So what do I need to do to be a good enough parent?

If you’re aiming to be a better parent and thinking about ways to improve in certain areas, that’s a big part of “good enough parenting.”

Let’s look at some things we can do that can help us be good enough parents. We will never be able to do all of these things all of the time, but being aware of them and noticing just how many of them we are doing already can be really helpful.

1. Be a good role model

Be the kind of person you would like your children to grow up to be. The way you behave will have a huge impact on the way your child behaves. They look up to you and learn how to behave by watching your behaviour. You are their role model so model the types of behaviours you would like to see from them. If they see you work hard, be kind to people and eat healthily then they are much more likely to do these things themselves as they develop. Being a positive role model is one of the most powerful tools in helping your children understand the behaviour you would like to see from them.

2. Show them love

Children need you to spend time with them. They need to hear how much you love them and why. Play with them regularly, use descriptive praise and physical affection and forgive them for their mistakes. You don’t need to give them lots of material possessions, some regular one to one time with you is the thing that children really want and need and this time is invaluable for strengthening the bond you have together and for helping a child to feel loved.

Knowing that you love them unconditionally helps children build a secure attachment and this is the foundation for secure development.

The bond that we make with our parents goes on to influence how our relationships will pan out when we get older: parents, friends, boyfriends, lovers, partners, our children.

3. Show empathy

Sometimes it’s hard to understand why your child is angry or frustrated and throwing a tantrum. Try and understand why your child is fed up. Ask them what is wrong, show empathy for what they tell you and respect their feelings even if you are struggling to see why they are feeling that way. A child that feels listened to and understood is much less likely to fly off the handle. Put yourself in their shoes. If you are upset and you don’t feel anybody is listening to you or understanding your anger your upset is likely to increase. If somebody takes the time to show you understanding what is likely to happen to your mood? Empathy is the key to any successful relationship and it is our job as parents to take the lead in empathy because it is easier for us to understand the child’s mind than it is for the child to understand ours. Understanding and respecting our child’s feelings is key to building a good relationship with them.

4. Respect your child

If you want your child to give you respect, you must teach them what that means. The best way to do this is to lead by example. Be polite when you speak to them and respect their opinions when they share them with you. Pay attention when they talk to you and respond if necessary. Tell them what your plans are for the day so they know what to expect. When it comes to respect – you get what you give.

5. Be present

It’s important to be involved in your child’s development. Being a parent is time-consuming and challenging. You might have to change the person you were before having children and adjust your priorities so that you are there to support your child with the challenges they will face as they learn and develop. Help them out with their homework, watch them when they play sports, listen to them when they talk and have fun together.

6. Give them time

Your time is the thing that your child wants more than anything. Give them enough time each day so that they feel that they have spent some time with you. Ideally this would be a minimum of 15 mins one to one time a day for 2-10 year olds and one hour twice a week for 11-18 year old (and older if they still want to!!!). This should be your undivided attention, no phones, computers or watching t.v. out of the corner of your eye but doing an activity that your child has chosen, with no distractions. Your child will come to know that this special time together happens on a regular basis and will love it. Your time really is the best thing you can give to anyone and giving it to your child makes the biggest difference to your relationship with them.

7. Have conversations about expectations

Children of any age need to know what to expect and what is expected of them. What is going to happen today? What are you doing? When will you be back? What am I doing today? Why is it important that I do my homework, eat my veg, go and play outside? If children understand what is going to happen next and why they are required to do certain things they will be more relaxed and more likely to cooperate. Think how different you feel when you have had time to prepare for an event compared to when something is sprung on you out of the blue. And aren’t you much more likely to want to do something if you can see what the benefits are for you or at least understand the reason behind having to do something. Prepare them by giving regular updates throughout the day about what is happening and why and always try and answer their what/where/why questions with a clear explanation…..even if you are in a hurry!

8. Agree with your child what the household rules will be

Children need to know what the rules are so they know how it is appropriate to behave. Involve your child in deciding what the household rules should be, children are much more likely to stick to the rules if they have been part of creating them. If you think it would help, ask your children to write up the rules and decorate them (with your help if needed) and stick them up where everyone can see. Make ‘do’ rules rather than ‘don’t’ rules e.g. ‘indoor voices in the house’ rather than ‘NO shouting’. Tell them the behaviour you do want rather than the behaviour you don’t want so that it is clear to them how you would like them to behave. And give a reason for why you would like them to behave like this.

Rules are a part of everyday life in society and in setting them and sticking to them you will help your child understand that there will be certain rules they will need to choose whether to follow in life and why.

Remember that if you are setting rules to try and change a behaviour that it may take some weeks for your child to begin to follow the rule. Remember to notice even the slightest bit of improvement and let him know that you are pleased that he is choosing to do the right thing.

Let’s say you put some new limits in place recently—maybe your child is getting closer to going to bed on time, but still grunts at you as she walks up the stairs. It’s often easier to focus on the negative or annoying behaviour and miss those hopeful glimmers of improvement. Let them know what they are doing right and ignore the negative behaviour.

It’s also important to let your child be accountable for his or her own behaviour—the good and the bad. It feels great when your child does something good, but you can’t own their achievements any more than you can own the awful behaviours. They are out of your control. Remember, you’re there to guide your child, to set rules, to teach them, to encourage them and to give consequences when they make inappropriate choices.

9. Set boundaries and stick to them

Set consistent boundaries and stick to them. Boundaries tell our children what is acceptable and what isn’t. Let your child know what the boundaries are in advance and what the consequence will be if they don’t stick to what you have discussed. Remember to praise your child for sticking to the boundaries by showing that you are pleased with them for choosing to do the right thing. Although your child may not thank you at the time for telling them, aged 13, that they have to be in by a certain time, children actually like having consistent boundaries and feel safe, secure and learn to trust what to expect when these are set and stuck to.

It is important to be consistent with the rules, boundaries and consequences that you set for your child. If they change from day to day your child will be confused about what is expected of them and this will lead to inappropriate behaviour.

10. Be adaptable

I remember when my daughters were small how astonished I was at the regular changes in their behaviour. I would just be thinking that I’d begun to understand why they were behaving in a certain way and attempting to handle the behaviour in a positive way when they’d change again! A child’s behaviour will change as they develop and adapting to each stage can be tough. Every behaviour has a reason behind it and some key stages of development bring specific behaviours with them. It can be helpful to understand the cause of a behaviour, so try and build on the knowledge you have about the developmental stages your child will be going through (put in link for developmental stages). This will help you to understanding the reason for the way they are behaving and assist you in adapting to the changes each developmental stage will bring.

11. Give them freedom and independence

While it is important to set limits for your child to help them understand what is expected of them and to keep them safe, you should also encourage independence by letting them make their own choices within those limits. Allowing them to make their own decisions helps them to develop self-esteem and self-management. Wanting independence is a positive thing, it is natural for them to want control over their life instead of someone else having control over them. The less independence you give them, the more they are going to push for it. So try to give your child choices whenever you can. Does it really matter which jumper they wear today? What would they like to play with when you get home from the shops? Would they like to lay the table for dinner or load the dishwasher afterwards? If you can see that giving an open ended choice could cause a problem then try and give them several things to choose from. This way they will hopefully not choose something that is off limits but they will still feel that they have the freedom to choose and control over what they do.

12. Discipline with kindness and positivity

Being a parent means you are responsible for disciplining your child. Many people think of discipline as punishment and think of it as a negative thing. A lovely way to think about discipline is to consider that the word discipline comes from the word disciple. The definition of disciple is ‘a follower or pupil of a teacher’. You are your child’s teacher and there to guide them and to teach them. Disciplining your child is something you do every day in a positive way by teaching them appropriate ways to behave. If you model great behaviour, say putting your litter in the park bin, or helping a friend in trouble, then you are disciplining your child. Discipline should not be all about consequences for doing the wrong thing and should predominantly be about showing your child how to do the right thing so that they can learn from you and follow your example. When consequences must be used explain why you are giving the consequence, make sure it fits the ‘crime’ committed and move on from the consequence as soon as your child has carried it out. Return to the normal day’s happenings and try and make a positive comment about your child as soon as possible so as to leave their self-esteem intact.

13. Praise as a positive consequence

Children learn about appropriate behaviour and things they are doing well when we make positive comments about their behaviour. Giving your child positive attention and descriptive praise is a great way to encourage the behaviours we want them to develop. When you see your child has worked really hard at something or is trying hard to make a change to an inappropriate behaviour use really descriptive, specific praise, ‘Wow you took your dinner plates out to the kitchen, that is so helpful, thank you’. Believe me, it works! Giving praise (positive attention) for the behaviours you want to see more of will increase those behaviours in your child. Ignore the behaviours you don’t want to see as much as possible and give descriptive praise for the behaviours you want to encourage.

14. Give your child just enough help

Let your child learn by doing things for themselves. Don’t take over if they are struggling with a task but offer just enough help so that they are able to continue and complete what they are doing by themselves. Feeling that they have achieved something independently will build self confidence in their own abilities and encourage their independence. This will also make your life a lot easier in the future!!!

15. It’s ok not to get it right all the time

Good enough parents do not strive to be perfect parents and do not expect perfection from their children. It is really important that children see you make mistakes and then try to overcome those mistakes. We are human and we all get things wrong sometimes. The world is a complicated place and things don’t always go according to plan. It is great to be able to show our children that we can cope with things not going the way we planned or not turning out quite how we would have liked them to because we did something the wrong way. Showing your children that you are able to admit that you got it wrong and you are ok with that will help them to understand that people are not perfect and that it is normal to make mistakes. Children need to know this and to understand that it is natural to get things wrong sometimes. They need to be encouraged not to feel bad about themselves for doing so and to learn how to overcome their mistakes in the most positive way possible.

16. Support for you

I can’t stress enough how important it is as a parent that you have someone to talk to. Whether that be a close friend, a group of parents who you meet up with regularly or a teacher at school, it’s vital that you have somebody who you can offload to. Having somebody to run things past, to share experiences with and to help you decide what you might want to do to support your child can really ease the pressure and help you feel that you are not the only one experiencing whatever you’re going through. Look for a trusted person that you can share the highs and the lows with. We all need people to support us and help us make decisions.  It can be really tough to see the small improvements you’re making with particularly challenging issues and it’s great to have someone who can point these out to you and help you to remain positive.

17. Putting yourself first, some of the time

A good enough parent ensures that their child’s needs are met and this often means putting your child’s needs before your own. If this means that you never put yourself first you will begin to feel exhausted and maybe even resentful. Remember to make time for you. Accept any help you are offered so that you can plan to do things for yourself that you enjoy and make you feel good. It is great to have some regular time just for you so that you can recharge your batteries. Children will learn that they need to do this for themselves when they grow up too if they see you do it. We all need a break from parenting and taking that break will make you a better parent.

18. Let go of guilt

When you love someone as much as you love your child and the world is full of dos and don’ts about how you should bring them up, it’s difficult not to feel guilty about some of the things you feel you aren’t doing so well at. If guilt creeps in be kind to yourself and remember that it is impossible to get it right all the time and that as long as you are doing your best that is all that matters. Beating ourselves up about it is pointless. Just remind yourself that you only have to be good enough, not perfect.

Summary

Remember to be kind to yourself. Being a parent is full of highs and lows and can be really challenging alongside being the loveliest experience ever! It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times so try and make sure you have someone to talk to. Once you acknowledge that you make mistakes and your family isn’t perfect it can be so liberating. Be real, be honest and open. Reflect on what you do and learn from your mistakes. Try and do most of the things above most of the time but be easy on yourself if you are going through times when you can’t. The fact that you have come to GoParenting and are reading this list means you care and that is a huge part of being a good enough parent.