Quit Pressuring Yourself...You Are Good Enough
From birth, we want the best for our children. We want to take away all the suffering and challenges while still having a kind and resilient child. We want our children to be compassionate but not too overly exposed to the harsh realities of the world. We protect them, we sacrifice for them, we teach them so they can be the ideal person that contributes to society and makes the world a better place. We want the world to be a wonderful place where they feel safe and get to explore. We also want a clean house, healthy food, a fantastic social life and well-rounded children engaged in 2-3 activities a week. When that happens, we will know we did a good job as parents. Sure, no problem.
So how do we do it? We pressure ourselves to be perfect….at everything. As a child therapist, I often met with mothers, and fathers, that wanted the best for their child. They stressed about all the mistakes they felt they made. Every time they raised their voice, got frustrated or gave consequences too quickly. They stressed about what was said in anger or what they thought they “should have” or “could have” done with their child.
As parents, we strive for perfection and anything less is a failure. But guess what? Perfect is not the best thing for your child. It is not even close to an ideal. As a child therapist, I spent many sessions reassuring parents that they just need to be “Good Enough.” The British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, Dr. Winnicot, published a study on being a “good enough” mother. Simply put, from the time your child is a baby, the most well-adjusted children tend to be ones whose mother (or in today’s world, primary caregiver), was not “perfect.” The caregiver allows for the child to experience frustration and see the parent as a separate being, not an extension of themselves. The child learns to cope with those feelings and adapt to delayed gratification. They learn that they cannot have every need met immediately. The child learns sometimes you are unhappy and that is okay because they can figure it out. They become more resilient. Guess who else has moments of unhappiness? That’s right, mom and dad. Fast forward into the first five, ten or twenty years, the child sees the parent make mistakes, deal with frustrations and just be human. Through those frustrations, the child learns empathy and compassion for himself and his family.
Whether your child is 1, 5, 10 or 40, they need to learn to deal with frustrations, including when you feel you failed them. All parents make mistakes (even child therapists). We are human and have emotions. We may say things we regret, raise our voices, miss sign up deadlines, or not have time or money to do all the things we want for our children. Here is what we can do. We can apologize for our mistakes, we can be there with our children, without fixing it, while they struggle through frustrations and challenges. We can be their best advocate when it is outside of their ability to handle and their best support when it is something they have to learn. We can let them see us go through difficult times, cry when we have great losses, anger when we are mistreated, frustrated when we are tired. What we as parents forget is the end of the mistake. That is what we do after the mistake was made. That is where the powerful lesson lies, in the correction of the mistake: the apologies and reparations. If you get too frustrated, apologize. Teach your children that you realized it was not okay and what the better way to handle that frustration was. Let them see you become more resilient and grow from your mistakes. Let them apologize for their mistakes and learn better ways. We are always learning and growing. Let them know it is okay. The learning experience after the mistake is where your power lies and what it means to be “good enough.” Perfect people don’t make mistakes. They also don’t exist. Accepting you are not and will not be perfect is beautiful and messy. Teach them to be kind and forgiving to themselves and others. Teach them that love is unconditional and it is not the mistakes that count, but the lessons learned after. This is good enough, and perfect for your child.
*Our blog this week comes from child therapist, Heather Graham, LCSW, CEAP. Heather can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.