Donald Winnicott (1896-1971), an English pediatrician, researcher, and psychoanalyst, teaches- You don’t have to be the perfect parent, but if you are good enough, your child will grow up feeling good enough.
In a Psychology Today article published on July 15, 2014, Susan Heitler, Ph.D writes,
Everyone wants to feel good enough. Feeling like you are a good enough person enables you to feel lovable, to love others, and to feel safe and competent in the world.
Heitler goes on to say,
Winnicott was a British pediatrician whose ideas, like the notion of good enough, have become fundamental to much of our current understanding of what constitutes mental health. Feeling good enough, Winnicott posited, comes from parents who conveyed acceptance, appreciation, and affection. Some parents, alas, convey instead the impression to their child that “no matter how good you are it will never be enough.” Ignoring children, excessively criticizing them, or parental meanness teach a child that something about them is inherently not good, not worthy of love.
Good-enough conveys the idea that we do need to do our roles skillfully enough to accomplish the challenges of parenthood, partnering or counseling. To be good enough, we need to understand and apply the techniques and attitudes that lead to loving and growth-oriented relationships. We need to have these capabilities in order to enjoy the doing of it, and to be effective.
At the same time, we don’t need to accomplish the challenges of parenting, partnering or counseling perfectly. Phew! We don’t have to become Number 1 or win a gold medal. We just need to be good enough. Then from there we can enjoy our relationships, making mistakes along the way and learning and growing from our errors.
This Psychology Today article discusses being good enough at attunement, holding, and encouraging the true-self.
Are you good enough at attunement?
Attunement implies hearing, seeing, caring and responding. Attunement involves listening and responding appropriately when the infant cries and when the toddler sounds frustrated. Attunement involves noticing positive emotions as well, for instance, by looking into the baby, toddler or child’s eyes with mutually satisfying eye-hugs. Attunement in parenthood also means listening to a teenager who expresses feeling shy or sad or joyful or anxious and then talking with him or her to find solutions to the triggering situations.
Are you good enough at holding?
When children feel upset, holding them tightly in a loving hug enables them to relax, to reset their emotions back at a calmer baseline arousal level. Parents who accomplish holding in a “good enough” fashion not only successfully soothe their child vis a vis specifics upsets. They also are teaching the child’s neurological system to self-soothe.
How well do you “hold” yourself as an adult? Do you have “good enough” emotional regulation patterns? Can you go to a quiet place, or to a trusted friend or family member, to calm down if something triggered scared or angry feelings? Or do you stay scared or angry on and on, suffering excessively, and maybe in the process also antagonizing loved ones close to you.
Are you encouraging others to be their true-self or rewarding the false-self?
Parents who are scary, critical or non-attuned inadvertently teach a child that it is unsafe to show itself to the world. If parents are not good-enough at providing a safe and emotionally nourishing environment the child still needs to survive and to protect himself. A common solution is to hide, to hide behind a pretend or false-self.
Back in graduate school, I spent a lot of time studying Winnicott’s work. Yesterday, my friend and social media expert, Todd Lohenry sent me this Psychology Today article and told me it reminded him of me. I suppose it is because some of my work today is based on the work of Winnicott. To read Heitler’s article in its entirety click here. She concludes the article by saying, “…aim high enough that we do things well and at the same time let ourselves accept our imperfections. Good enough is good enough for a highly satisfying life.”