Good Enough Parenting

If you follow me, you’ll know that I have made the foolhardy decision to go back to school. Because, you know, homeschooling seven kids and being in full-time ministry isn’t enough on a person. I clearly lacked the pressure of deadlines and lamenting over formatting issues in the wee hours of the morning in case my toddler isn’t keeping me up enough. Smack dab in the middle of my struggle to be everything to everyone, I get to take a lifespan development class. Now, I was really not looking forward to knowing all the ways I was currently messing up my kids’ lives. I’d really rather just keep my head down and get through this degree program.

And right on schedule, as I dove into lifespan development for the third time (I’ve had lifespan development classes before from other perspectives), I was ready to feel bad about the stress I am putting my family under right now. At first, I got that— the guilt. Infants rely on the steady care of a single caregiver and are upset when that is disrupted. Sorry Daisy. Preschoolers need adequate scaffolding to help them acquire new and deeper skills. Sorry Pippin, can’t scaffold for you, Mama’s got to write a paper about it instead. School aged children need security and patience with close monitoring as they learn new skills and begin to see themselves as others see them. Sorry Topher and Ransom, I don’t have time to monitor your mud pit fun, I’ve got papers to write. You get the idea. Everything is a slap in the face when you feel like you’re messing everything up— especially when you’re a mom of seven in school full time.

Then I came across the work of Donald Winnicott. He was an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst who voiced the idea of the “good enough” parent. I’m going to be grossly simplifying his work and pretty much just talking about a singular aspect. I’m imagining that if you were especially fond of psychoanalytic theory of infant development, you’d likely be taking the class I’m taking or reading a much longer book about the topic. (And just as a point of interest, the class ended up being extremely interesting and insightful. I feel like I only scratched the surface and would need another year to follow all the little rabbit trails my brain made.) For Winnicott, children didn’t need perfect parents. Children needed someone they could count on, but that someone didn’t have to be perfect all the time, they just had to be good enough. They just had to show up, love the kid, and do their best. Winnicott said that was the best kind of parent.

In today’s “perfect parenting” world, where parents feel judged every time they turn around, a world where parents spend so much time comparing their own parenting (and life) to what they see on Instagram, it is a breath of fresh air to read an expert tell us we only need to be “good enough”. The idea that everything bad that happens to our kid will be our fault is never flipped. If I’m responsible for all wrong roads my child may take, I’m also responsible for the right ones. And really, according to Winnicott, if I show up and do my best, my kids will turn out fine. Winnicott realized something our society won’t mention. Moms are people. They come with their own burdens, insecurities, and issues. Learning to be there for a child while still being a real person isn’t the easiest task for some people. And if you’re showing up, trying your best, and meeting the kid’s needs most of the time— you’re doing a good enough job of it. Not all of us can be Instagram perfect. We can’t have the perfect house with everything in various shades of white and grey. (How do you people keep white couches clean with kids?!) We can’t all be stay at home moms with endless budgets for all the kids enrichment activities and the “right” toys, clothes, and baby gear. We can’t all have all organic everything from the local farmer’s market. Life is messy. Life isn’t always ideal. The good news, according to Winnicott, is that we don’t need all those things. We need to pay attention most of the time. We need to provide security most of the time. We need need to learn to sacrifice, but it is okay for life to not be all sacrifice. We won’t get the mothering thing right every single time. The good enough mom knows this and can give herself some grace, learn from her mistakes, and move on. 

So if I have to delegate some schooling tasks to Dad for the next year, that is okay. If afternoon reading time has to be audible books, that is okay. If my cooking slips to eating PB&J a little too often, they will survive. If I’m not sewing them cute clothes and instead slipping them into hand-me-downs, I doubt they’ll notice. I’m here. I’m doing my best. The kids will be alright, I’m good enough. 

Loneliness In Our Journey

I read an article the other day about the loneliness modern stay at home mothers have. They had statistics and fancy numbers, but alas, I cannot find the article. However, that is likely a good thing. As the article in question suggested some very, well, in my opinion, terrible advice. But this is something that has been on my mind lately.

mom and boys

Stay at home moms often have very little adult interaction. Our Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat feeds might give that away. But little people, while adorable and awesome, aren’t always the best kind of company. They are always demanding and give very little back. This along with the fact that our work is never done, often very underappreciated, and usually overlooked- well, it can quickly lead to feeling like less than a person. Then when you take into account our inability to shower, constantly fluctuating bodies, and not a lot of time for trivial things like nail polish and facials, well, it becomes easy to see how we get depressed. The perpetual joke of the wife who “let herself go” isn’t so funny to us because we understand and feel the weight of that. It isn’t what we wanted. But life is like that, isn’t it?

lj with glasses big

 

In our current culture, many of us find ourselves living far from family. We’re far from the free help of family babysitters who just want the joy of hanging out with our kids. Date nights become costly as we factor in childcare and pizza for the kids into the expense it takes. It very quickly feels not worth it. No support. No help. Just us organizing all of this alone.

hiking kids

As Christians, we aren’t likely to move to a commune or give polyamory a try. (Which is what was suggested in the initial article.) So where does that leave us? Just treading water until the kids go to college? I don’t think so. I think we can do better than simple survival.

beach boys

First, whether you chose to be a stay at home parent or it simply happened, it is for a purpose. Whether it is temporary or permanent, there is a reason. Knowing that you have a purpose and there is reason for your labor can make the work itself seem easier. Dishes washed get dirty quickly. But dishes provide the canvas where you nourish those in your care. There is meaning in what we do. Making our house happy for those in it provides deep benefits to those living with us. It means something, even if the work is never done.

cooking

Next, we have to build community. It is okay to reach out through virtual means. Staying connected on social media is absolutely okay. (Especially when you are keeping in contact with people you really know in real life.) Just don’t forget that what you see isn’t always the truth. I can photoshop my life to look any way I want it to look. That isn’t the real day to day in my home. That is just a peak. Just the highlight reel. Just remember that. And if the comparison trap entangles you often, it is okay to say no to social media.

pip tangeled

You also have to build your real community. Real people you can talk to and count on. The easiest way to do that is through your church. Join a small group. Reach out. Know that there are other people like you that need someone. You can be their someone. And they can be yours.

race day

Practice hospitality. I know, having people over for dinner seems like the last thing you need. More work. But inviting people into your home is inviting them into your life. These are the people you know you can call when you need emergency childcare at 2 am. These are going to be the people at your door with dinner when you need them. It is a little extra work, but it is well worth it.

peace love pip

Don’t let trivial junk drive your friends away. I know you think you wouldn’t do that, but we do it all the time. We distance ourselves from those who make different choices. Homeschool moms flock to homeschool moms. Public school moms flock to public school moms. The diapers on our kid’s butts somehow tell other moms if we are worthy of their friendship. Don’t be like that. Don’t let literal crap matter that much. Friends are people who are there for you. Choose wisely, because friends can make our lives worse. But know what matters and what doesn’t. Don’t let the small stuff keep you from getting close to people.

friends

Be the friend you want to have. I wrote a whole post on this that I decided not to post. But I think the point still needs to be made. You want someone who will bring your chicken soup when you are sick? Then take a friend chicken soup when they are sick? Want someone to babysit your kid free of charge so you can have a much needed date night? Babysit someone’s kid(s) free of charge so they can have a much needed date night. You have to create the community you want to be a part of.

zoo friends

Don’t push your spouse away. It can get so easy for us to get resentful of their adult interaction and their time not spent scrubbing bathroom walls. But this isn’t an us versus them scenario. We are all working together to make this family thing work. Don’t push away your partner in this endeavor.

ag+lj

Don’t push away from God. I know you’re busy. I know you have things to do. I know the idea of “quiet time” is laughable. But you can still find ways to seek God. You can turn on music while cleaning and praise His name. You can read devotions with your kids that will feed all of you. You can pray while doing any task. Seek Him. He is our Friend.

books

You are not alone. You are doing a great job. Whether this is for a season or forever, the time you give to your family is not wasted. Now, I think someone out there is praying for a friend like you.