On Mother’s Day, we traditionally celebrate and congratulate our Mums on being amazing. As Mothers we are given cards and presents for our maternal prowess. However, being amazing and wonderful are all in the eye of the beholder. What is deemed amazing by one person may not seem quite so amazing to another. It all depends on your life situation and your relationship.
Our childhood is impacted by our individual situations and experiences and as such our relationships with our mothers (and other primary carers) are fluid in development. As we grow and learn, so too does our relationship with those who care (or in some circumstance, do not care) for us and we form attachments to those around us. When children feel safe and loved, are provided for adequately (safe, fed, loved, nurtured) children develop a secure attachment which enables them to learn helpful ways of relating in a social world. (Bowlby,1979). When children do not receive adequate care or have abusive or neglectful relationships with primary care givers they develop in-secure attachments, which impedes their ability to relate in a social world. This is not to say that children who do not have adequate starts in the world always go on to have difficult relationships as adults. More, that they require additional support as they grow and develop to challenge earlier learnings from inadequate relationships that allow them to adapt to new circumstances.
Even when we are deemed as adequate mothers (and carers), sometimes we worry about our child’s development, perhaps even sometimes having anxiety about our own abilities, “am I good enough”? We might judge ourselves against the perceived skills of another parent, or our child against the perceived behaviour of a peer, and strive to be better. Yet, in reality there is no such thing as a perfect parent or child because we are doing the best we can in a ever changing world. When you see another Mum with what appears to be a well behaved “perfect” child when you are struggling with a toddler temper tantrum it can knock your self-confidence and you can feel worthless. However, remember that the nature of the parent –child relationship is fluid – this means it changes continuously. How many times have we heard stories of perfect babies who go onto to develop different or more challenging characteristics as they grow older? ALL parents have times that are wonderful and ALL parents have times that are horrendous! (so do our children!) Difficulties impact us at different times in our lives.
Perhaps then, it is not about striving to be “the best Mum in the world” but perhaps about accepting that it is only ever possible in reality to be “good – enough” (Winnicott, 1971). We have to be good enough love our children, to provide and nurture our children but also to be human. It is ok to show your child your human flaws; to not know, to have occasional disagreements, to show emotions (even the negative ones). You do not need to be perfect, you just need to be able to bear your child’s distress, empathise with them and help them to find their own solutions. You do not have to fix everything for them; you do not have to have all the answers all the time! If a child sees your imperfections they learn that it is ok to be imperfect and this in turn helps them to develop their own resources for seeking help and for helping themselves.
Perhaps then, in being “good enough” we are indeed “the best Mum in the World” in the eyes of our children.
Happy "Good Enough" Mother's Day!
(References: The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds, John Bowlby, Why Love Matters; How affection shapes a baby’s brain, Sue Gerhardt, Playing and Reality, Donald Winnicott )