I found myself listening to an audiobook where development and attachment were being discussed. I keep being drawn back to attachment ideas, and how it impacts our own development.
But, now that I’m a mother, I think about the impacts my actions have had on my kids often. I worry about my selfishness sometimes and whether or not I’m doing enough for them.
After almost 18 years of parenting, I still have to stop myself from going down paths of self-loathing when I screw up, or get angry, or get annoyed by my kids. I’m better now at stopping the negative self-talk and telling myself to chill out.
As I was listening to this book, I hit the rewind 30 seconds to listen again to something that I thought I had misheard. I felt a wave of relief wash over me even though I wasn’t feeling particularly bad about anything I was doing in the moment.
The author, who was discussing the importance of attachment said that researchers have found that to help your kids form secure attachments, you only have to be “getting it right” about 30% of the time.
I had to find out more.
So, I quickly googled “30% attachment” and sure enough found this concept along with the concept of the “Good Enough mother” was coined back in the 50’s by a pediatrician and psychoanalyst named Dr. Donald Winnicott. Bless this man for validating a women’s experience into motherhood during a time where mothers were definitely putting a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect.
Winnicott stated, “the care of small children can be irksome no matter how much they are loved and wanted” in his talk called, “What irks?” in 2002. He also said, “she had her secrets once and she will have them again. And she will count herself lucky that for a while she was infinitely bothered by the infinite claims of her own children.”
I love this idea of motherhood being irksome, rewarding, and how at the end of it all, we will count ourselves lucky.
Much of his work is centered around this idea of being a good enough mother.
Winnicott also said,
“a mother is neither good nor bad nor the product of illusion, but is a separate and independent entity: The good-enough mother … starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.”
And more importantly – this idea of good enough gives us permission to stop aiming for perfection.
He found that just meeting a child’s needs 30% of the time is still enough to create happy, well-balanced children.
There’s a caveat of course. And, this is not an excuse to be a shitty parent. We still have to do the work of repair when we screw up. This article and podcast episode talks more about that.
We have to learn to apologize, admit when we make mistakes, and work on repairing whatever the mistake or blow-up might have been with our kids.
So, even if we only get it right 30% of the time, there is a lot more time we can spent in repairing the relationships with our kids, and understanding ourselves that the role of motherhood isn’t meant to be one of perfection.
I realized early on in my own parenting journey that solely changing diapers and breastfeeding around the clock led me into postpartum depression. I discovered that my anxiety as a young mom was crippling.
I discovered that I had OCD and frankly, I realized there was a lot about being a mother that I just didn’t like.
It’s not popular to voice out loud that you don’t like being a mother.
Granted, there are many days when I do love it, in fact. But I was surprised to find out that being a mother wasn’t the only thing I needed to feel like a complete human.
Motherhood didn’t fulfill me like I thought it would.
I was programmed to believe early on that motherhood was the pinnacle achievement I would reach in my life.
Sure, I had other passions. I wanted to become a therapist, possibly a criminal psychologist. Graduate school was on my road map, and I certainly wasn’t sitting around waiting to find a husband when I was in my 20’s.
But, when he came along, suddenly my goals shifted and I thought marriage, and four years later – motherhood, was the key to my happiness.
But, there’s also no denying the fact that there are aspects of motherhood that just didn’t suit me.
It turns out I don’t like playing make believe that much with toddlers, and I loathe meal time in my house.
While other mothers seemingly find so much joy in making cute bento lunches, I trained mine early to fix their own food because it was a responsibility I was tired of having.
Some moms even love getting on the floor and playing with their kids.
I’m not one of those moms.
Some moms love the chaos of a house full of children, and the messiness of toys on the floor. I find zero comfort in chaos and messes. I find peace in quiet moments alone.
The picture we usually have of the perfect mother isn’t one who desperately wants to be left alone.
I realized early on it led to boredom and depression to be stuck in the house all day with little ones, and I craved an outlet.
There were many days when I wondered what was wrong with me.
Why wasn’t I a great mother? That’s why I love and embrace this concept of the good enough mother because it’s a standard I can actually live up to.
What if we were radically proud of the fact that motherhood isn’t a passion for some women who choose to embark on it? That doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids, or care for them. It just means that it’s not the only thing that drives their passions and desires.
Motherhood is not the pinnacle of success in womanhood for some.
What if we made it OK as a society to be a “good enough” mother instead of an exemplary one?
What if mothers didn’t have to live up to impossible standards of perfectly groomed children in trendy clothes with cute instagram captions as the norm?
What if we didn’t compare ourselves to what another mom over on Pinterest did for her child’s birthday?
What if we made it acceptable love our kids, take care of them, and call that “good enough” without all the extras that some people think defines a great mother – or even a perfect one?
What if we made it acceptable to ourselves?
I’ve learned that being a “good enough” mother brings me more peace than striving to be a perfect mother ever did.
That 30% is not only attainable, but something I can confidently say I’m already doing. In fact, I’d venture to say I’m doing it right a lot more than 30% of the time.
If I can let go of some of these crazy expectations I had for myself – or the picture-perfect image I had of the perfect mother – I have learned that I’m a better mom, maybe even a great one.
If I can realize that being a “good enough” mother is exactly that – good enough. It’s not perfect. It’s not horrible. It’s just right.
And, the truth is – that gives me peace.
But, the truth is – being a “good enough” mother is just right for me AND it’s backed by experts as well. .
My kids are well-loved. They are well-fed, and groomed, and entertained. They have friends and are given plenty of resources to succeed in life. They know I love them. We have repair sessions often. They know they can come to me when they have hardships. I’m sure yours do too.
Let’s embrace the 30%, recognize that we’re already probably doing way better than that, and realize that being good enough is the perfect amount for us and them.
Don’t forget to grab my book, The Mother Load if you like conversations like these about motherhood, the mental load, and mental health.