When we were adopting our children, my social worker and child psychologist both mentioned that it was OK to be a good enough parent and that aiming for perfection could be detrimental to our children’s healthy development. But I never really stopped to think what being good enough meant. What is a good enough parent? And am I a good enough parent?
I’ve done a bit of digging around and I found an academic paper about good enough parenting, I’m intrigued. A science paper? Really? Yes, in the Archives of the Disease of Childhood by Speight and Hoghughi. Don’t go, it’s actually interesting!
What is a good enough parent?
The term is over 50 years old and was first thought to be used by Dr W Winnicot (1965), in a piece of work studying the theory of emotional development. Yes, heavy stuff.
What makes us a good enough parent?
Well, Speight and Hoghughi identify three components to being a good enough parent.
1. Love and commitment
Our children need to feel that they are loved unconditionally. It’s that love, that builds a secure attachment which is the foundation for secure development.
And this also includes Attachment Theory – the bond made between an infant and their primary caregiver.
If you have adopted a child, then Attachment Theory has been pretty much drummed into your head. Because our children have some form of broken, disrupted attachment.
Attachment is important and this piece of work can be attributed to English psychoanalyst, John Bowlby (1951).
Our attachment that bond we make with our parents goes on to influence how our relationships will pan out when we get older: parents, friends, boyfriends, lovers, partners, our children.
2. Setting boundaries and sticking to them
Because setting a boundary isn’t just about good behaviour, yes that’s important, it’s also getting our children ready to deal with the big wide world. And boundaries need to be consistent.
Boundaries tell our children what is acceptable and what isn’t and when that boundary has been crossed there is a consequence. But, also rewards – that’s important too, positive consequences, for staying in the boundary.
OK, it’s all starting to make sense now.
Praise as a positive consequence
Just after our children came to live with us, I attended an Adoption Changes course run by my adoption agency TACT.
The Adoption Changes course, was adapted from the ‘Fostering Changes’ Programme established by the Maudsley Hospital in 1999 for Foster Carers. It recognises the complex needs of children who have been looked after and aims to provide training to develop skills and strategies for managing behaviour.
And boy, did I need this course because every minute of every day was a struggle. I was an exhausted, shouty, feeling-way-out-of-her-depth mum to two tiny, fearful, tearful, angry, screamy, tantrumy children. All of us disappearing down our own anxiety-ridden black hole.
My big take away from this course was praise and using praise to help change our children’s behaviour.
This meant seeking opportunities and spotting moments to award praise no matter how small. But not just – wow you are fantastic, but really descriptive, specific praise. Believe me, it worked, the days just seemed to run a whole lot smoother after we started praising our children. But not always easy to remember to do!
3. Ongoing development
This means providing rich and varied activities during early childhood, and being involved, being part of it. Lots of play, actually loads and loads of play, stimulation, creativity. Oh and lots of fun, laughter and joy. And being present.
Whether you are an Alpha Mum, Beta Mum, Crunchy Mum, Helicopter Mum, Tiger Mum, normal or even a perfect mum remember good enough is good enough!
Photo credit: John courtesy of Flickr