Good enough parenting is having a moment, and we are so here for it.
Ever gone to the shops, and your kids have had the mother of all meltdowns while every other parent looks like they’ve got their sh*t together? Or have you had a parenting day from hell and lost it with the kids, overdone the screen time and felt utterly rubbish, only to check out IG that evening to see reel after reel on how to be the perfect parent as told by the perfect mum influencer (spoiler: it doesn’t involve losing your cool).
If you’re sheepishly raising your hand, then you might want to raise it a bit higher because it turns out being a perfect parent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and actually, we might be doing our kids and ourselves a disservice by trying to be perfect. Before you tear up the rule book and let the kids run feral, here’s the lowdown of what exactly good enough parenting means and why we’re getting on board with it…
‘Good enough parenting’ – what’s it all about?
Good enough parenting isn’t a new concept. It was actually coined back in the 1950s by Dr Donald Winnicott, a British paediatrician and psychoanalyst who studied mothers and babies. He found that it was good for parents to become less responsive to their kids’ needs as they grew up. Essentially he believed that having flaws and mishaps as a parent makes children more independent and resilient and also prepares them for the realities of the real world, which, let’s be honest – is far from perfect.
There’s also an argument that we can’t have perfect expectations for ourselves if we don’t have them for our kids. I mean – who would ever expect their kids to be perfect? Look away now, tiger mums. The thinking goes that if we’re not going to put these unrealistic pressures on our kids, why are we putting them on ourselves? Being a parent is tough, and we’re new to this gig too, so setting the bar for perfection sets us up for an almighty fail before we’ve even started.
All sounds quite refreshing? We think so. Especially in today’s parenting world, where we struggle with parent guilt on the daily. So, if you want to get on board with a good enough parenting movement, what do you need to do? Well, here are some top tips from one good enough parent to another…
How to be a ‘good enough’ parent
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
This week I lost it stressing over giving my kids fish fingers for two nights in a row, and my mum reminded me that I grew up on a breakfast of Heinz tinned spaghetti because it’s all I’d eat, and she had to get to work. I turned out ok. Don’t read this as a suggestion you should ditch the healthy eating options entirely, but it’s a reminder that stressing about the small stuff isn’t going to help anyone. And your kids will be just fine.
2. You don’t need to be perfect – your best is good enough
One myth about good enough parenting is that it equates to lazy parenting, which isn’t the case at all. Good enough parenting isn’t about not bothering; it’s about trying to do your best but knowing that your best won’t be perfect all the time – and that’s ok. They’ll be bad days, but as long as we try, we’ll be doing more than enough for our kids – and let’s remember, whatever you do, you’ll always be perfect in your little one’s eyes.
3. Take time for you
I’ve already shared my opinions on the holy grail of self-care, and now I’m not doing much better, but I know this one is SO IMPORTANT. Trying to strive for perfect parenting leaves no time for you as anything but a parent. And we all know a refreshed and happy mum makes a better parent anyway. Wherever you get your energy and joy from (outside of your family, of course), invest time in it. Spend time doing it, even if it means spending less time with the kids for a bit or overdoing the screen time so you can have your time. It will make a world of difference.
4. The world isn’t perfect, and that’s ok
“Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings.”, Bruno Bettelheim wrote in his book, A Good Enough Parent, published in 1987. And we think it still applies today. Dr Donald Winnicott agreed, ‘[a parent’s] failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities. [Our] imperfections better prepare them for an imperfect world.” Kids need to know the realities of the world, and while we want to protect our kids as much as we can, it’s not a bad thing to know that things can’t be perfect or always go our way.
5. Stop the mum guilt
How many times have you questioned your parenting capabilities because of the actions or words of someone else, a friend or a stranger? Many, many times. This is probably the hardest one to overcome, but if you can try and shield yourself from unwanted comments and unsolicited advice, you’d be doing yourself and your kids the world of good. As the saying goes, you do you, and I’ll do me.
6. Treat others how you want to be treated (and hold on the judgement)
And on that note – it works both ways. One of the most important things we need to take on board if this good enough parenting thing is ever going to work is not to judge one another. Yes, you might think your friend’s complicated sleep routine is beyond crazy or are appalled that your sister gives her kids sweets, but if we want to be good enough parents, and recognise that parents can’t be perfect all the time, then we need to let go of our own judgment of others, even if that means biting our tongue from time to time.
Want to find out more? Resources and info for wannabe good enough parents
But don’t just take our word for it. If you want to find out more and get clued up on what good enough parenting is all about, then check out these resources:
Good Enough Parenting A Six-Point Plan for a Stronger Relationship With Your Child by Timothy A. Cavell and Lauren B. Questch
“No one can be a perfect parent, but you can be a good enough parent”. This book sets out a six-step program to build a stronger relationship with your kids. Suitable for tots to teens, the book shows that we, as parents, need to learn the importance of accepting our kids for who they are. The focus is on helping us make a plan for how we can parent proactively rather than reactively and prioritise our time to focus on what matters most.
Bruno Bettelheim A Good Enough Parent: The Guide to Bringing up your Child by Bruno Bettelheim
This book was originally published in 1987 (again showing just how long good enough parenting has been doing the rounds). Inspired by the work of Winnicott, this book sets out to develop a sense of security in us as parents, which, in turn, should help our kids’ own self-confidence. Our fave quote: “In order to raise a child well, one ought not to try to be a perfect parent, as much as one should not expect one’s child to be, or to become, a perfect individual”.
The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Philippa Perry
One of our all-time favourite parenting books. ‘The Book You Wished Your Parents Had Read’ is a refreshing, judgement-free book teaching us to accept that we will make mistakes, but it’s learning what you can do about them that matters. Instead of mapping out the ‘perfect’ plan, psychotherapist Philippa Perry offers a big-picture look at the elements that lead to good parent-child relationships.
The Good Enough Parent: How to raise contented, interesting and resilient children by The School of Life
This matter-of-fact book is on point with the sometimes hilarious realities of parenting and everyday parenting dilemmas we all face. Importantly, this book knows that perfection is not required – and could be unhelpful because a key job of any parent is to introduce a child gently to the imperfect nature of everything. We couldn’t agree more.
Good Inside: The new Sunday Times bestselling gentle parenting guide by Dr Becky Kennedy
Not explicitly marketed as good enough parenting, we still think this book has loads for us to learn when it comes to this topic. In Good Inside, Dr Becky shares her parenting philosophy, complete with actionable strategies, that will help parents move from uncertainty and self-blame to confidence and sturdy leadership. Sounds right up our street!
We love Iris’s take on redefining what success really looks like for parenting, especially when it comes to being a tiger mum where perfection rules. Iris shares her story and coins the phrase “untigering”, so you can guess the gist. A thought-provoking and honest read.
So there you have it. Go forth and be a good enough parent, not a perfect one. And next time you’re facing a meltdown in the supermarket aisle, just think of it as a learning experience…for everyone involved!
Feature image: Kelvin Agustinus via Pexels
This article was originally written by Kate Noble in 2023, and updated by Syazana Hishamuddin in 2024.