“Mommy sat in the #$%&*@! juice!” And Thoughts On Being A “Good Enough” Mother

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(image by stuart miles/freedigitalimages.net)

I love my kids like a crazy person. I also try my hardest to be the best mother I can be. I worry about them all the time. I try to meet their every physical and emotional need. I relish the time I get to spend with them when I am not at work counseling adults. I love to watch them play and create. I literally think about everything they are engaging with and how it is to their benefit. Everywhere I go I buy them something to the detriment of our house’s order. And I never refuse to pick them up when they want to be carried. It is fair to say that my feelings for them are extreme and I take being their mother as seriously as I have ever taken anything in my life.

But the other night I failed. How I failed is best summed up by my daughter’s pronouncement: “Oh no! Mommy sat in the #$%&*@! juice!”

Apparently I have a potty mouth and my kids know it. There is one thing about kids: if you want to know what you actually sound like, just listen to them speak. (My husband has observed his own sayings and mannerisms in the kids as well)

But here is the good news: I don’t have to be the perfect mother! I just have to be “good enough.”  The same goes for you, moms and dads.

This theory is actually backed by the social science. In 1953, psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott developed a theory called the “good enough mother.” Winnicott saw lots of moms interacting with their young children in his role as a pediatrician at a hospital. He came to believe most mothers held unrealistic expectations regarding maternal capabilities. As a result of their beliefs that they should always be patient and selfless, these mothers felt guilty.

Winnicott believed the solution was for society to cut mothers some slack and take a more forgiving and realistic view of them. Mother sometimes fail but that does not make them failures. To the contrary, it was a mother’s failure to attend to the child’s every need– particularly as they grow older– that allows children to adapt better to an imperfect world.

So here is to cutting ourselves a little slack. You don’t have to be a perfect parent to raise happy and successful kids as long as you meet their needs and model the best you most of the time. And when you fail to be your best you, then clean up the juice, throw your clothes in the dry cleaning bag, and take everyone out for ice cream.