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23rd May 2017

Why I’m happy to be a ‘good enough’ mum in these dark times

Alison Bough

In these dark times and fear-filled days we live in, it can be hard to reconcile the decision to bring children into the world.

As parents, we are often overwhelmed with advice on how to help our children to be their very best, how to help them succeed academically, and how not to mess up their mental health.

Who should we listen to? What is the best choice for our child? Is what is right for one, right for another? Is a problem a case of nature, nurture, or will it always be the parents’ fault?

A line from Mitch Albom’s beautiful book, The Five People You Meet In Heaven, once stopped me in my tracks,

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”

I worried about that truth for a long time. I thought about it with each precious bundle that I carefully carried home from hospital. It became a red thread of anxiety that I weaved into motherhood.

We live in a Western society and culture that loves to blame, and it can be difficult – damned near impossible – not to blame ourselves when things go wrong. Sometimes desperately wrong. But, after my third child was born, my clichéd ‘much longed for’ daughter, I stopped subscribing to the hypothesis that there is a ‘right’ way to raise children.

Although the child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, put forward the idea of ‘good enough parenting‘ thirty years ago, it now seems more relevant than ever in these turbulent times,

“The good enough mother, owing to her deep empathy with her infant, reflects in her face his feelings; this is why he sees himself in her face as if in a mirror and finds himself as he sees himself in her.

The not good enough mother fails to reflect the infant’s feelings in her face because she is too preoccupied with her own concerns, such as her worries over whether she is doing right by her child, and her anxiety that she might fail him.”

That line ‘because she is too preoccupied over whether she is doing right by her child’ gets me every time.

When we berate ourselves for being a partially-absent working mum, an emotionally exhausted stay-at-home mum, a young mum, an old mum, or for whatever aspect of our parenting we feel is failing our child at any given time, we must try to remember: it is only our own anxiety that will fail them in the end.