Why aiming to be a 'good enough' parent is best

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"I do think I'm a good mum, but I've come to that decision myself; no one has told me that. I think I'm a good mum because I try my hardest to do a good job! But of course I make mistakes and I am far from perfect. I don't think that mums get enough recognition."

Many of us parent in a vacuum. We live in nuclear families, often with extended family located far away. There are increasingly rising rates of mothers who are parenting alone, many others whose partners work long hours and are rarely present. We may be out and about at playgroups, cafes and the shops, but in reality there may be very few people who witness our parenting in action, and even fewer who give us feedback about it. The feedback we do receive may not necessarily be helpful either.

Many women would attest to the fact that very few people have complimented them on their parenting, but at the first sign of a tantrum in the shopping centre there are a handful of passersby waiting to pass judgment! Ironically, men who are the primary carers or who are observed taking a hands-on approach are often complimented on their parenting far more than the ten women sitting beside him in the cafe with babies and toddlers in tow.

<i>Becoming a Mother</i> by Leisa Stathis is out now.
Becoming a Mother by Leisa Stathis is out now.  Photo: Supplied

So, in the absence of reasonable, available feedback how do we judge if we are indeed good enough or the areas within which we are not good enough?

Learning to be flexible

To be a good enough mother requires us to be adaptive. What is good enough at birth will be different to what is required of the good enough mother at six months, twelve months and three years.

Being a good enough mother is not about offering your child amazing, perfect, textbook parenting: it's about being an ordinary mother doing ordinary things. It is the delicate dance that occurs between mothers and their babies as they navigate the everyday interactions of feeds, changing nappies, play time and sleeps.

However, this dance will go largely unnoticed and unrecognised. A good enough mother's ability to connect, allow exploration, offer comfort – and repair the interaction when it has all gone pear-shaped – is what makes an ordinary mother extraordinary. When tantrums escalate and we snap. When we miss cues and baby screams with overtiredness. 'Reparation', whether through picking up the cue eventually or an offered 'I'm sorry, Mummy shouldn't have done that,' can go a long way to maintaining a secure attachment.

The truth is, there are no perfect mothers. But if we can get it right a significant amount of the time and hold it all together, even in moments when wisdom has deserted us, we will be good enough. And even more importantly, in our baby's eyes, we will be perfect.

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"Being a good mother is a state of mind. If you believe in yourself then you are all you need to be. Other people can tell you what an amazing job you're doing, but until you allow yourself to believe it, it doesn't mean much … If your kids are alive, healthy and happy, you did your job."

Thoughts for reflection

• The good enough mother needs to be just that – good enough. She also needs to be adaptive. What our babies need from us changes over time. Recognise that some stages may be easier for other mothers, while other mothers may struggle with phases we find less stressful. We are all doing the best we can on this complicated journey.

• In modern day parenting, many mothers inadvertently fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others, either positively or negatively. Choose to be the voice of encouragement to other parents, and if others are competitive, drain your energy or trigger your 'not good enough' button consider if they are the best person to have in your 'village'.

• To be a good enough mother requires that you be thoughtful, attentive and attuned most of the time – but not all the time. Forgive yourself for your failings. Offer compassion to your self-doubt. There are no perfect mothers. Anywhere. Just ordinary ones doing extraordinary things.

This is an edited extract from Becoming a Mother by Leisa Stathis (Finch Publishing). Available in paperback and ebook from good bookshops, online retailers and etailers nationwide.