With Mothers’ Day so close in the rearview mirror, let’s take one more look at motherhood with a notion we owe to none other than Gloria Steinem. Her term is the “good enough mother” and arises in her description of her own mother, Ruth. In her book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Steinem portrays her childhood growing up with a mother who suffered debilitating mental illness. From an early age, Steinem took care of herself and her mother.
Her reality made all the more striking her use of the term “good enough mother” to apply to her own mother. She wrote that far from having to be perfect or even great, a mother just has to be good enough…good enough to launch a loving, responsible, productive child/adult.
A good enough mother
While holding that thought, I encourage you simultaneously to engage another consideration: perfection. If I had a room full of 100 parents … of 100,000 parents … and I asked folks to raise their hands if they are a perfect parent, I can guarantee that not one hand would go up. That is because, however good we might look from the outside, we know deep in our hearts, each of us knows we are NOT perfect. So, here’s the real question: knowing that we are NOT perfect parents, understanding that we are flawed, why are we so distressed when we mess up? Were we thinking we weren’t ever going to make mistakes?
I speak with families in coaching all the time and when they share ways in which, honestly, they’ve messed up, I NEVER hear anyone speaking of it dismissively, “Oh well, it doesn’t matter!” I believe that we all lament when we get it wrong, probably because we know that our parenting work is important, really important. Alas, far too often I hear parents whipping themselves, raking themselves over the coals about what they should have known, what they should have done, how they ought to be different… and mostly to no productive end.
While we’re on the topic of perfection, researchers who study it suggest that it tends to run in families. Maybe there are elements which are inheritable but more likely, unrelenting self-expectations arise from modeling adults who set such expectations on themselves. When you make a mistake, look less-than-your-best, flub up on something important, I wonder what response your kids hear. Is it one which sets up learning, improving, being kind to yourself? Is it one you’d want them to emulate?
And so it has set me to wondering if there might be a balance we need to work toward: a mindset that says, “I know I’m not perfect. I know I get it wrong sometimes. I believe that I’ll do my best which, I’m pretty sure, will result in being a “good enough mother.”
A good enough mother.
I’ll bet you’re already there!