The world of “perfect parenting” – an endless highlight reel of Instagram-worthy scenes of parents with their immaculately dressed children – does not serve us as parents. We forget that these images are just a moment in time, and do not show the truth of what it takes to be a connected and compassionate parent. Often, after we’ve mindlessly scrolled through a slew of images, we are left with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. We wonder, “Why can’t my family behave this way?”
Let’s address this first: there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all make mistakes. Whether it’s losing our temper or slamming a door or feeling overwhelmed, there will be times when our emotions get the better of us. We’re human. We’re fallible. And these moments, as frustrating and emotional as they are, are an incredible invitation to better understand what makes US tick – as parents and as humans. Even those ultra-perfect-Insta-moms – they lose it, too!
The first thing I want to share with every parent that I work with is that our children do not NEED a perfect parent – they only need a “good enough” parent. In fact, research informs us that if children have a secure relationship with their caregiver—this means a compassionate, loving relationship with an attuned caregiver—you only need to be a good enough parent. What does a good enough parent mean? One of my favourite parenting educators, Maggie Dent, shares that she has an 80/20 rule when it comes to parenting. If you can be on your game 80% of the time, and lose your cool around 20% of the time, then you’ve got this parenting thing in the bag.
But what if we’re losing our cool far more often than 20% of the time? And what if we’re finding ourselves a bit lost when it comes to navigating these tough moments with our children?
In these moments where we feel like our feelings might just get the better of us – whether it’s a tantrum in the grocery store or your teenager snarking at you – a great rule of thumb is to take a pause. This pause – it could be counting to 5, 10, or 20 – provides us the space we need between reaction and response. Our knee-jerk reactions – the ones where we sigh or yell or say something harsh – are often the ones that we end up regretting later. This is where our personal narratives, our own expectations for our children and how things “should go”, can be challenged, and our emotional response to these feeling can be BIG. We become escalated and have our own tantrums, all over our children! When we take a pause – to not only acknowledge the feelings that are racing through us, but also to recognize the child that is standing in front of us, desperate for connection with their parent – we can better regulate our emotions and avoid lashing out with our own hurt. Oftentimes our reactions come from a place of fear – fear that we, or our children, don’t measure up. That our hopes and dreams for our children won’t be realized. That we’ve done this parenting thing all wrong.
But in “good enough” parenting, it’s all about connection, and fostering relationship with our children. You see, our children are born craving connection with their caregivers; this is what they will seek out from us, whether it is with quiet obedience or loud messy behaviour. And when we offer that connection to them – when we come alongside them and acknowledge their own disappointments or frustrations – we will find that not only does our child begin to return to calm, but WE also find our calm as parents.
Connection is key, and it will be different with every child. It means taking the time to listen to your child – listening without fixing, offering your own stories, or making light of their feelings. It means taking an interest in what they’re interested in. This means learning all about Pokémon, or Taylor Swift, or ball hockey! It means finding time to have special one-on-one moments – these don’t have to be glamourous, but can be walks in the evening, getting an ice cream, or playing a game together. It means full-on attention, without phones or work or chores getting in the way. It means having your child feel seen and heard and valuable in your eyes. These moments of connection will keep your child’s hunger for connection satiated and will also strengthen your bond. You will feel less of a desire to look outwards at what other families are doing, and will instead, turn inwards and focus your attention and compassion towards those in your own home.
A good enough parent is exactly what our children need. They want a parent who will be there to listen after a hard day at school. They want a parent who can handle their big messy tantrum when they’re tired and don’t have any coping skills left. They want a parent who will make mistakes, and then model how to navigate those tricky times without beating themselves up. Because we’re human. And we’re trying our best. And that is always good enough.