As a parent of three children in their 20s, I must admit that I still find myself learning new things about my role as a father. While the learning curve may not be as steep as when our first child entered our household, there are still new twists and turns to navigate. I feel very certain this will always be the case.
Parenting has been a continuous learning journey and there have been many times when we felt the pressure of decision making, the fear of errors and the associated sense of guilt. In our situation, we relied on the wisdom of our parents and our friends who had older children. However, these days there’s even more pressure with competing advice and unrealistic developmental standards showcased on carefully curated social media stories. There’s no shortage of debate on the best way to parent your child.
We know parenting has an impact on the life of a child and research indicates that parents hold a position of influence in their child’s development of resilience.
Paediatrician Donald Winnicott introduced the concept of the “good enough parent” to describe a parenting style that is supportive, loving, and responsive to a child’s needs, but not perfect. The idea is that parents don’t need to be perfect or provide a flawless environment for their children in order for them to grow up healthy and happy. This does not mean parents can neglect or minimise their responsibilities for making sure their children are safe and have their emotional needs met. Children must know they are loved and feel a sense of belonging.
‘Good enough parenting’ recognises failure is an inevitable part of life. Experiencing disappointment, sadness, tears, and anger are part of childhood and tolerating some frustration can build resilience. The ‘good enough parent’ realises it is not possible to be immediately responsive all the time. It is important that children grow to understand that life does not always go as we expect, and hence develop resilience which can support learning at school and help in navigating life’s challenges more successfully.
This concept highlights the importance of children being offered challenging tasks that carry the opportunity to fail or the need to make multiple attempts. These experiences provide the opportunity for children to develop effective coping strategies to deal with their emotions, figure out what went wrong, and search for alternative solutions.
This is very much the case when a child is learning to ride a bike and gaining confidence to ride over different ground or in harder circumstances. The parent understands that it’s okay for the child to experience failure and frustration sometimes, these help the child learn and grow. When children experience appropriate amounts of stress, they are supported to become more self-reliant and independent. This skill is important and can be used when it becomes necessary to learn more difficult content or skills at school. If we remove all sources of failure or challenge for our children, they will be more likely to avoid attempting new tasks for fear of failure. So being a ‘good enough’ parent, not only relieves us of unfair guilt, but it can also equip our children with coping strategies and resilience to navigate their future paths. ‘Good enough parenting’ involves tuning into and responding to your child’s emotions and needs in a way that is appropriate for their age. For example, an infant who cries due to hunger requires prompt attention to be fed, however, a teenager may need to face consequences for their choices without your intervention, as they learn to navigate life.
As a parent you can also be their emotional coach, helping to bring out the best in your child and helping them respond to emotions. Coming alongside children in this way when they are sad or angry can help them process their feelings in a constructive way. It is not an emotional coach’s responsibility to stop them from feeling sad or angry.
‘Good enough parenting’ can include setting and maintaining fair boundaries. These can be simple expectations, such as – ‘please don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to another person’ or ‘please knock before coming into my room’. As hard as it is, try to be consistent in maintaining these. This will help define your relationship (as parent and child) and help your child learn about healthy boundaries in future relationships.
We know as adults, things don’t always go as planned for us too. These situations provide us with the opportunity to model to our children how to emotionally regulate and try to work through difficulty. When inevitably as parents, we make a mistake we have the opportunity to apologise. This demonstrates firsthand, what we hope for our own children’s responses as they mature.
We can always ask for help when we need it. We don’t have to be the expert. Help can come from family or professionals such as a GP, family counsellor or psychologist. As a school, we also want to partner with you to support your child’s development of resilience. It is often said ‘that it takes a village to raise a child’. This is often said because it is true. So, we relish the privilege to walk alongside you, as you undertake your ‘good enough parenting’ journey through the school years.
Mr Keith McMullen