Why ‘ok’ parenting is best for teenagers and oldsters
I had ideas about what my children should eat or watch at home, how I would raise them to be round people and not break myself apart.
Then life happened.
The moment I held my daughter in my arms, I immediately felt deep, unconditional love for her, but not much went according to plan.
When I first became a parent, it was like being dragged into an ocean of tears and laughter, joy and despair. It’s the steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced, the only 24/7 job with no guarantee of regular breaks where the job description changes daily.
The early days of raising children are often filled with very little sleep or personal space, but also full of amazement at how this tiny little person develops into a real person with their own thoughts, feelings, and personality.
For me, the perfect moments as a parent are when my girl or baby hugs me, when I can take care of something that upsets them, or when they seem to learn a new skill overnight. When I can sit down with them and share a moment of undisturbed bond, for example build a tower that they gleefully knock down and giggle.
And while there are many special moments with little ones, there are also many moments of worry and self-doubt.
We all do our best as parents, but one emotion that I couldn’t get rid of for years after giving birth to my children was this feeling of never being good enough as a parent. Learning about my children and their needs felt like a test I could never pass.
The search for the holy grail of parental perfection often prevents us from seeing the joy in the messy moments and prevents us from forgiving ourselves for the mistakes all parents inevitably make.
Research shows that 12% of our daily thoughts are about comparisons. We cannot completely control the comparison, but we can control how and with whom we compare ourselves.
What helped me overcome the challenges of parenting, especially early on in the parenting roller coaster, was reading honest accounts of other parents’ struggles.
Reliable blog posts about poop incidents or fits of anger in the supermarkets or the silent tears of a mother in the bathroom on days when everything goes wrong – that made me feel like there are other parents like me who can only get through the good and the bad and that Ugly one day at a time.
The concept of the “good enough” mother is not new. Psychoanalyst and pediatrician DWWinnicott wrote about it in the 1950s, emphasizing that such a parenting style was better not only for the mental health of the parents, but also for the child.
It promotes a higher degree of independence and autonomous play and learning than if the parents show and do everything for the child.
Dr. Mary O’Kane, an Irish lecturer in psychology and early childhood studies, extends this idea in her new book, Perfectly Imperfect Parenting: Connection not Perfection.
“In the generation of our parents and grandparents, the children were allowed to be on their own a lot more. The same emphasis has not been placed on being the perfect parents we are exposed to today. We have set the bar remarkably high, ”she claims.
“Our approach to parenting today encourages us to be always present and to participate in the ‘work’ of parenting as we would in a competitive sport. Why do we strive for perfection in this role? “
Dr. O’Kane says that while we are constantly focused on getting everything right, we’ve created the perfect storm:
Having a strong bond with our children and teenagers will not keep them from making mistakes, but rather means that when they need us they will feel close enough to ask for help. When they struggle we will notice and, if they let us, talk to them and guide them through the harder parts of life, the tough choices.
Constant pursuit of perfection robs children of the ability to learn that everyone is fighting or misjudging situations. Life is not perfect and these are teachable moments that encourage more autonomy if we let them.
When I got over all of my preconceived notions about what a “good” parent looked and behaved like and just became the “good enough” parent I was allowed to be, life became more manageable.
While this is easier said than done, I try not to worry too much about mealtime or bedtime, or my kids watching that extra hour on TV and just playing with the punches.
Instead of sinking into self-loathing when I wasn’t a perfect parent, I remember my children developing and learning every day, but so do I as a parent.
So to all the mums (and dads) out there who have to hear this more often: You are doing a great job.
It doesn’t matter whether you cook organic food every day, aren’t always happy when your child stains the wall, the pile of laundry never seems to go away, or you don’t always keep a cool head in stressful situations. You are enough! Just be there. The imperfect, flawed, human you.
And how Dr. O’Kane sums it up in her book: “Perfection is not required. Instead, love and connection are the most important qualities for parenthood. ”For more information on her book, visit https://www.drmaryokane.ie/perfectly-imperfect-parenting/