Often when we expect perfection from ourselves as parents, the underlying message is that if only we parent perfectly, our children will somehow be better. Expecting perfection means valuing appearances over genuine connection, whereas good enough parenting is based on the notion that children are worthy of being celebrated just as they are.
I remember my mom “casually” mentioning the idea of good enough parenting to me before my son was born. She was all too familiar with my perfectionistic tendencies and wanted to begin planting the seed of good enough early on.
Somehow I’ve managed to mostly embrace this philosophy of parenting. It’s never going to be perfect; it’s never going to look like the picture in my mind five years ago before I actually had a baby. Good enough is the best I have to offer my son, and I feel better about my parenting choices when I focus on how I feel about my interactions with him and not how it might look from the outside.
The truth is, parenting isn’t an imaginary race, and neither is life.
Living a Good Enough Life
Recently I was out watering my neglected garden at 9 p.m. and trying to ignore all the weeds. As I was muttering to myself about how I can’t seem to grow a business and kale at the same time, I had an epiphany: good enough isn’t just for parenting. Good enough is for gardening, bathrooms, hobbies, laundry, dinner, relationships, and careers. A good enough life is one where we do what we can, and we let go of the rest.
Some parents can maintain a spotless house and have spotless kids while working 40 hours a week. I don’t know how to be that parent. Sometimes my son’s clean laundry sits on the kitchen counter for a week. Sometimes I forget to do the laundry altogether, and we just have to improvise.
I have the mental fortitude and social skills to be a good friend to about four people at any given moment, so sometimes I lose touch with friends I like very much.
Undoubtedly there’s more I could do for my business. There are therapists and bloggers who are far more successful and respected than I will ever be. Some weeks I publish a blog that I know isn’t my best work. But it’s all I have to give, so it’s good enough. I offer it with an earnest heart, and I let go of my attachment to perfection.
We are trained to always seek more than we have. For some of us life is a series of goals that once attained lose their appeal. As soon as we get a raise, we begin thinking about how we can make even more money. We’re perpetually asking, “what’s next?” We’re never satisfied.
Never forget that we are more than what we can accomplish, and there’s more to life than productivity. As environmental scientist David Orr tells us in Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places.” Living well may just mean accepting good enough.
There’s great freedom in choosing a life that’s good enough, and there’s beauty in balance. Good enough opens up time for activities and interests that make us feel alive. Leaving some weeds in the garden might mean I have time for a couple pages in a good book. Accepting good enough means choosing to be satisfied with life just as it is, not as we secretly hope it will someday be. Good enough means choosing to just be still in our contentment, comforted by the realization that we are good enough.