A blog from Faye, for Parental Mental Health Awareness Day
Raising children is often hailed as the most rewarding and worthwhile thing a person will do in their lives, so why then is it also stressful, confusing and difficult at times, not to mention the ‘mum’ or whichever appropriate title suits – guilt?
It is potentially that you are worried, as renowned theorist, Donald Winnicott (1953) puts it, that you are not a ‘good enough parent.’ Winnicott, studied mothers and babies in the 1950’s to find out what creates a good attachment and the best outcomes for children growing up in relation to how their parents connect (or not) with them. What he found was that it is sufficient for parents to meet their child’s needs for 30% of the time and as they grow up it is actually beneficial to be an imperfect parent in order to bolster resilience and create realistic expectations of life and the world at large as they grow up.
That’s not to say we ought to purposefully ignore what our children need, and basic physical and emotional needs should be met, in order to ensure their mental and physical health, but I think parents will agree that is a relief, given that in today’s world, rather than the 1950’s when this study was carried out, a lot of parents may think 30% is a stretch.
If we think about the 1950’s and what a family structure might have looked like, you would probably imagine, nuclear family, two parents, 2.4 kids, father at work, mother at home running the house and rearing the children…and even they worried about this…with all that time! Compare that with today, where census information states that three million families comprise of single parents, and even where there are two parents, 76% of women with dependent children also work.
Aside from work interfering with our family time, we also have the added stresses of the cost-of-living crisis, which has meant many families are now utilising food banks – and there’s social media, which gives us in the main, a highlight reel of every other parents ‘best bits,’ family Sunday dinners, trips out, certificates from school, tidy homes and matching onesies! Furthermore at the core of it all, you, as a parent are responsible for, and wholly relied upon by this innocent little person, who is a literal information gathering, processing and copying machine. It is then not difficult to understand why some parents may be left feeling not ‘good enough.’
In my own practice working therapeutically with families, I aim to instill the message that it is okay to be imperfect and it’s okay to make general mistakes, the important part is to remember to model the behavior you want to see in your child. This means, not fearing imperfection, owning your mistakes and apologising is essential, in order for them to become equipped to navigate the inevitable relationship difficulties they will come across throughout their lives.
So after all, it may be that even if you have a million piles of washing, dishes in the sink, can’t function without a morning coffee first, send your kids to school in odd socks occasionally and a trip to the park is what the budget will allow on a weekend…you are still indeed a ‘good enough parent.’
Faye, Relationship, Trauma Informed Family Practitioner, Young Peoples and Individual Therapist
Relate Bradford & Leeds