There is a concept in parenting called ‘Good Enough Parenting’. As I understand it, this means that ideal parenting is where we take care of the basic needs of our children and rely on our parental instincts rather than ‘expert’ advice. Our aim is not to be perfect but to be ‘good enough’. It allows for our imperfections as human beings and that, not only are mistakes inevitable, they are to be welcomed as they help our kids grow and learn. It seeks to remove the self-blame and judgement that often creeps in as we struggle with the complex and demanding job of raising children.
It also, of course, points to the fact that we are all different. There is no such thing as a universally agreed definition of what ‘perfect parenting’ would look like, even if it were in our power to attain it.
When I first heard of the concept it brought me a lot of relief and helped remove the idea I guess many parents experience, that I might be damaging my kids somehow. In a way it gives permission to sometimes get things wrong. In my years of working with parents and couples I’ve heard the concept raised many times in a positive way. I also hear the idea applied to many other parts of life and it got me thinking if it can apply beyond parenting to relationships more generally.
I like the concept but I don’t want to take it too far and allow good enough to become an aspiration rather than a safety net.
In the important relationships in my life – especially with my children and with my wife – I don’t want to be only good enough – I want to be the best I can be. I refuse to settle for mediocracy in my marriage or in my parenting.
At the same time I don’t want to strive to be ‘perfect’ – if I even did know what it means. Which I don’t. I aim to be in the space in between ‘good enough’ and ‘perfect’.
And before going on, I want to acknowledge this is my choice and I in no way judge anyone who settles for good enough. If that’s you, then it’s probably your best choice for whatever reason.
Personally I want more for myself and I want to help people who also want more than good enough.
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
I’m at my best when I have direction in my life. This might be in the form of dreams, visions, ambitions or goals. Direction gives me a way to fulfil my purpose, provide meaning and measure progress. It keeps my motivation high and helps me find concrete steps to move forward. It’s true for me in my work, in my relationship and in my parenting.
With Mona, we have developed a 5-year vision of the life we want to be living and the relationship we want to build. It is beautiful, inspiring and sets a framework for our decisions and steps forward. We review it frequently and we adapt it so it doesn’t become rigid.
This direction does not bring us to a life that is simply good enough but one that is extraordinary and the best we can be for ourselves and each other. It is not a plan but an aspiration and an element is constant growth and learning to improve on the best we can be.
“Enjoy the journey and try to get better every day. And don’t lose the passion and the love for what you do.”
Life is not only about direction but also about the way you get there. I recognise there is always something to be learned, something to change and new possibilities ready to emerge. In my relationship with Mona and with my children, this journey is about the time we spend together and the experiences we create.
There are always new and richer experiences to be had. These last months of Covid restrictions have seriously curtailed what is possible – but not eliminated possibility completely. Still, with Mona I enjoy frequent and deep conversations and warm, intimate evenings on the sofa relaxing as a family. Cooking, playing, talking and enjoying our favourite Netflix shows. Now is not the time for travel and extensive exploration. Nor is the time for getting frustrated about our lack of movement but rather a time to focus on inner movement and adventure. I’m exploring new ideas, learning more about myself and my loved ones.
Good enough is not dynamic nor does it encourage opening to what is – it risks rather looking to close around a sense of peaceful resignation rather than open acceptance.
“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist”
I have for sure made many mistakes and harmful choices in both my relationships and my parenting. Being good enough is something of a balm to these self-inflicted wounds. And yet … it has become at times a shield to hide behind.
“I did the best I could – it was not perfect but it was good enough”.
There is something in this that reduces my responsibility and accountability for my actions. If I lose my temper and lash out at Mona or one of my kids then it might well be the best I could manage in that moment – but it is not ok. It is not good enough and I want the sadness, fear and frustration I feel in those (rare) moments to be an impulse to learn from my mistakes and do better.
I will not, though, sink into a self-deprecating blame fest – but in the humility of this message I tell myself:
“The best I could do in that moment was not good enough … and I want to do better”.
Then there is the damage to the relationship when I make a mistake and do not bring restoration. If I shout at my daughter it brings in some fear and reduces trust that was not there before. I want to address this. To apologise. To hear and connect with the consequences of my actions. To do what I can to make amends. Not as punishment but as reparation.
Good enough risks accepting my mistakes as unavoidable and leaving the consequences to the injured party rather than owning them myself.
“Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.”
I’m well into middle age and I am further away than ever from the idea that you ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. I might be quite selective about the new tricks I learn but I am growing and evolving every day. Sometimes this is almost imperceptible, and sometimes it comes crashing in waves of realisation and breaking down what I thought I knew.
Good enough hardly allows for growth but rather settling for something static.
The idea of good enough is … well not good enough.
Wow, Ian, you really touched a soft spot with this article! I find myself in an introspective perioud and I came to realize that I let go a lot of my dreams and even needs because I wanted first to fulfill Horia’s or Ana’s needs and expectations, with this though that this are good enough choises for me too! I am working on this one! My goal is not perfect, is extraordinary! Thank you again for the work you put on this articles, I am greatfull you share this and it helps me a lot!