Perfectly Imperfect: The Good-Enough Mother

The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. – D. W. Winnicott, 1953

Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram—so many apps, so many easy ways to share the good times! We post the berry-picking fingers, the sweetly sleeping smiles, the laughing family running barefoot on the beach. Inspiration is a good thing, and lifting up and remembering our best moments is a valuable undertaking. Family life is joyful!

But it’s just as important—maybe more so—to make sure that we share our darker moments with each other. In the anxiety-riddled first months and years of new parenthood, it’s so important to recognize that ideal parenting is not an attainable goal. Family life is hard! And even if it were a good idea, parenting perfection is not an option.

My favorite postpartum support ritual for new moms is the confessional circle. It seems to just happen on its own when a group trusts each other deeply, but as gatherings of trusted mom-friends are so often rare and precious, I am a big fan of intentionally making opportunities to take turns telling the stories of our worst and most ridiculous moments as parents.

I won’t reveal the stories I’ve been gifted from others, but I have a growing collection of my own to share:

  • The time I frantically searched for my phone for half an hour, late for an appointment, blaming the kid for hiding it, only to find I’d inexplicably left it chilling under a pile of vegetables in the refrigerator.
  • The time I was watching a friend’s son for a couple hours while she worked, and when she arrived to pick him up I was in the kitchen stirring something, so she was the one to find my toddler mouthing a package of those charcoal “growing snakes” you light in the driveway on the 4th of July. Dang, I’m still so glad it was my child she found eating fireworks and not hers!
  • The time I gave up and blurted out at bedtime, “That’s it! I’m just gonna run away from home!” (This is actually the first time I’ve confessed that one; it was last week.)

These gifts of unedited moments, of being real and open about our failings, revealing to each other the times we’ve come entirely apart while trying to keep everything together—hearing and feeling each other and being truly seen as vulnerable humans—this is what we all so desperately need.

And each time we fail our children and apologize, each time we explain that no, we really aren’t going to run away, each time we come back around to our intentions and our ideals, we bring the circle of life’s joy and darkness back together in a messy knot. Our kids don’t need perfect parents—they need honest ones, persistent ones, who bend with stress and bounce back with love.

We can’t be the parents we want to be without the support of others. Let’s agree to share the real stuff with each other, to abandon the goal of perfection, and enjoy being good enough.

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