by Roni Gillenson, LMFT
Program Director, On Campus Counseling Program
It has been said time and time again that parenting is one of the most challenging jobs. As we think about how we were raised, what we want to do the same or different in parenting and examine the role models we want to be for our children, we get a clearer picture of the parents we truly want to be. Needless to say, this is no easy task. It takes deep thought, soul searching, bargaining with ourselves, patience, empathy and continually challenging our own values and beliefs. Just as our partners are not extensions of ourselves (i.e. they can’t read our minds) neither are our children, even though they might look exactly like us when we were kids! We are their biggest role models. What we say, how we act – in private and public, how we take care of ourselves – emotionally and physically, how we treat others – family members and friends, is all being watched and, like a video camera, taken in by our children. The thought of this can be overwhelming! You might be saying to yourselves, ‘Are you saying I am under a microscope every time I interact with my child, directly and indirectly? I can’t be perfect!’ Of course you can’t be perfect! There is no such thing! We are all human, first and foremost. However, being the ‘good enough’ parent is the goal here. Good enough is more than enough!
Donald Winnicott was an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst and probably the first to use the phrase ‘good enough parent’. He recognized that it was unrealistic to demand perfection of parents, and was interested in finding out what made them ‘good enough’. He believed that the key to healthy development was rooted in a child’s relationships and interactions with others.
Much of childhood and adolescence is spent testing things out. Kids try out behaviors; teens try out identities. They test their assumptions about the world. If we hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that is unattainable, that sends a message to our kids that making mistakes is not OK. This can make childhood and adolescence an even more stressful and anxiety-filled time. When kids feel there is no room for error, the pressure they place on themselves can be paralyzing and can manifest as anxiety and depression.
When we model for our kids that we try, sometimes fall flat on our faces, and get up and move forward, we help teach them resiliency. When they see us struggle and persevere, we teach them that life may not be easy, but that we have the confidence in ourselves to keep going. When we forgive ourselves and others for falling short, we teach them generosity of spirit and acceptance. When we do all of these things, we teach them that they will be loved based on who they are, not what they achieve.
I believe it begins with you.