The Good Enough Parent

This is a continuation on the post, Attachment and Parenting.

Donald Winnicott was a British Psychoanalyst who coined the phrase “the good enough mother.” For our purposes I’ll use parent in place of mother, but the idea remains the same. This ground breaking idea was that  rather than being omnipotent and perfect, the Good Enough Parent keeps trying despite ongoing trials. As one person said, less goddess, more gardner.

I remember the days of having an infant. I had read that mothers are supposed to know the difference between their babies cries. Supposedly one cry meant hunger, and one meant tired, and one meant something else….this left me feeling hopeless and inferior. I could never differentiate between the cries.  As hard as I tried I never was able to differentiate between a cry of hunger and a cry of exhaustion or frustration or loneliness. Nope, I felt like dismal failure at that. When I could get past that feeling of failure, I was able to notice other cues that I learned which helped me to understand what my babies needed, so that we were able to create a wordless communication.

Later I discovered that recent infant-parent studies found in the BEST CASE SCENARIO mothers were able to understand their infants needs only 30% of the time on the first go. Let me repeat that 30% of the time the BEST parents were getting it right. That. Blew. My. Mind. 30% is the best you can shoot for? Seriously? I can do that!

This is so important to remember because it means that the bond is not created by instinctively knowing what your child needs. Nope. Importantly, the bond is created in the space between the mistake and the repair. Mistakes and missteps are inevitable. And actually, the attachment  bond is strengthened each time the parent realizes that they haven’t fixed what ails and tries again….and again…and again. The bond is created in the behavior that says: I’m here. I hear your pain. I’m not going away. I will try to help you.

As a parent we don’t have to know what we are doing all the time. We just have to be able to communicate that we are willing to try to help them figure out a solution.