The “good enough” parent

A very intelligent and insightful professor of mine spoke briefly this past week about parenting. This is (the gist of) what she said:

When you’re becoming a parent, the stress should really be on being a “good enough” parent, and not a perfect parent. Children are born the way they are going to be. All we can do is provide them enough food and water, put them near the window so they can get some sunlight, and wait for them to become who they’re going to be. We’re not going to mess them up terribly if we don’t say or do the exact right thing at every moment. And the only thing we should be trying to avoid is doing damage. We try to be “good enough” parents, then we wait and watch them become who they are.

I love those thoughts. Beautifully reassuring to all of the kind, loving, compassionate parents who are trying their hardest to be as good as they can be.

When I think about the kind of parent I want to be (and think back on the four years I spent working in preschool), I always come back to the idea that there are two paths to getting things done. The first path is easy and often unsophisticated. For some people, that path might involve making broad statements (“You have to share”) giving in, yelling, or even hitting. This path gets you what you “want” in the short-term, but it is heavily reliant on impulse.

The second path is harder. It involves work and thought and self-regulation. For some people, taking this path would mean making an effort to explain (for the 5th or 10th time) that we shouldn’t do something because we wouldn’t want someone to do that to us. This path requires an understanding of what different people (including people over the age of 5) are capable of. It might involve helping someone add a skill to their behavioral repertoire (“Next time, when there isn’t enough candy for everyone, we can open the candy and share it fairly” or “When your spouse does something that annoys you, starting with a compliment and holding hands during your discussion might be better than criticism and crossed arms”).

The second path also involves the most difficult of parenting/teaching strategies: modeling (showing a child or person how they should behave, not telling them).

My goal as a (hopeful) future parent is to try, in every situation, to take the second path, be a “good enough” parent, and show my children, with all of my actions, who I want them to be.


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