It was an “aha” moment as I conversed with a trusted family therapist. She had used the term “good enough parent”, first coined by Donald Winnicott, on several occasions. But on this day a light bulb went off inside. Her message was to this effect – even if you could be a perfect parent (and we all know that isn’t possible), it is best for your child if you are only good enough. A wave of grace washed over me. It is better for my child that I am good enough rather than perfect; the internal pressure began to imperceptibly seep out like when a tire goes flat over time; and the pursuit of good enough parenting ensued. This is something I can do. In pursuit of a toolbox was born out of this good enough quest.
The reality is that for our biological children, I was/am a good enough parent. I genuinely know that deep down in my heart. Yet, why was the parenting of our adopted children so different, so complex and at times difficult in some ways? Still currently in the midst of pursuing the answer to this question, I better understand some of the dynamics in play. Good enough parenting of a typically developing child who has not experienced trauma is akin to being a newly licensed 16 year old driving down a four-lane highway with guard rails. There is plenty of space and grace for lane changes, more forgiveness of mistakes and a fair amount of room for overcorrection and drifting off course. Devastating wrecks can happen but are not likely. I have recently heard it confirmed by two parenting mentors that for about 90% of children, ANY parenting method is good enough. That is good news for many of us.
But what about the other 10 %? As I wrote about in this blog’s inaugural post, 8 plus years ago I opened the parenting toolbox in my possession, and there wasn’t enough for the task at hand inside that box. This was a sobering and scary realization. Suddenly I realized that I was now traveling on a one-lane road, with dangerous hairpin curves and pretty giant cliffs along the sides. What was required was the skills of a Mario Andretti (I know, I’m dating myself….) and a totally outfitted sports car to navigate this road. I imagine that any parent that raises a child with any number of special needs feels the same. I had to change, and change in a radical way. As most thoughtful human beings can acknowledge – true change is hard work and does not happen over night. Crashes are much more likely and expected. The response from those on the shoulders watching needs to be compassion rather than judgment.
The encouraging news, actually pretty astoundingly good news, is that as the toolbox is filling up, more skills are gained and understanding is increasing, our little one lane highway is widening. At this point, I am not sure that it will ever be as wide as the four lane road that we travelled with our sons, but we certainly are becoming much more skilled drivers. The definition of good enough may have narrowed, but we still only have to aspire to good enough. This discovery is life giving. To each of you, I wish you “good enough” in whatever your heart’s pursuit.