Learn to be a Good Enough parent. That really is what every child needs. A Good Enough parent is never a perfect parent and that is a relief. Trying to be a perfect parent is nothing but a huge trap, a hole in the ground into which you will fall and from which you will never emerge, because in order to be a perfect parent you have to give up yourself and your life, all of your relationships, interests and needs. Being a perfect parent does not leave room to be anything else, including yourself. Perfect parents tend to raise perfectly ghastly children because perfect parents meet their child’s every need, whim and desire and they never distinguish between the kid’s needs and desires. Hence, they teach the child that desires are as important as needs, and that the child’s desires are much more important than the needs of the parent, or anyone else’s needs, for that matter.
Being good enough means being humble. It means recognising that you can always do better, yet never beating yourself up because you are not perfect. The Good Enough parent will sometimes go off to sit on the sofa with a good book and let the kid fend for himself. A Good Enough parent lets their kids get bored. Being bored is the mother of invention. Really! Try it, you’ll be amazed! Out will come the Legos or the water colours, the back patio might become a farm for plastic animals or the cat might end up in a sundress. You can say “not now, I’m reading” and the good enough kid will wander away, knowing you’ll be up for a walk to the park in half an hour or so.
This doesn’t happen overnight, because if you have been trying to be a perfect parent you’ve never sat down on the sofa with a good book while your child was awake. If your child was demanding something from you, you have never said “not now, I’m reading”. Your guilt would be too much, your child would be in shock and not know how to respond. Most likely there would be several interruptions, many demands, much outrage, tears, tantrums and what all. Of course, we assume here that I am not talking about an infant, a hungry child, a two year old who needs the toilet, a child with his foot stuck in the fishbowl or a child with an obvious immediate NEED. I am talking about saying “not now, I’m reading” to a well-fed, well-tended child who is past the infant stage and has language with which to make needs known.
Saying “not now I’m reading” has to be built up to. It will start out something like this: “Now that lunch is over, I am going to sit on the sofa for 10 minutes and read this really interesting book that I got at the library. You can join me with your own book if you like, but I really would like some quiet time for 10 minutes.” It won’t probably go very smoothly for those who have been aiming for perfection til now. But you just stick to it. You remain calm. Detached, even in the face of tears and threats. “I can see that this is really hard for you, but right now I am having a few minutes to read this book”. Acknowledge the child with a nod or a smile. This is not punishment, this is not destructive. This is important and useful: parents have rights and needs and you are beginning to teach this to your child who needs this lesson in order to learn to be a Good Enough parent herself someday. You are modelling healthy behaviour. When your child is somewhere between 30 months and 4 years of age, it becomes important to begin to distinguish between the needs and wants of the child. You must begin to take into account the needs of other family members. The child must step out of the centre of the family unit and join the family circle where everyone’s needs are met. Perfect parents never allow their children to join the family circle, they keep the child in the centre and by doing so, infantilise the child, keeping him or her needy and self-involved. Helping children develop empathy means allowing the needs of all family members to matter. You are teaching your child a very important lesson: Respect the needs and rights of others.