I’ve run across this a thousand times before, but here’s the most recent example which inspired the following (no, I’m not linking):
[Parenting] is a job in which you need to put forth your very best effort.
admonishes one parent to another (who apparently isn’t meeting the author’s standards).
This? Is such bullshit.
Yes, our parenting choices matter. No, not “anything goes”. Yes, kids deserve so much, and no, a lot of kids aren’t getting what they need. But who can possibly sustain a Very Best Effort at every moment for at least 18 years? I’d say no one can. I surely can’t. And the pressure this puts on women — for it is indubitably mothers who receive the brunt of this admonishment — is untenable.
Much like in the attachment discussion, kids have needs, and often we ignore those needs, or try to fill them with things that aren’t quite right. There’s nothing wrong with trying to do better, especially if one is trying to go against the standards of a society that marginalizes children and alternately exalts and belittles them. There’s nothing wrong with putting effort into parenting, or spending a lot of time researching decisions, or thinking of parenting as the most important job of your life.
But there’s nothing necessarily wrong with not, either. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with just doing what you do and not putting extraordinary effort into parenting, either.
What does it even mean that we “need” to use our “very best effort”? So what, if we don’t, we’ll fail at parenting? We’ll ruin our kids? But if they’re not ruined (and how do we measure??), then I guess it was enough? But if we ruin them, is that proof we didn’t try hard enough? Or that failure is OK as long as we tried hard enough?
How messed up is that is that philosophy? According to that thinking, if we spend 23 hours a day with our children, does that mean if we “fail” we should have spent 24? If we sleep only seven hours a night, does that mean if we “fail” we should have slept only six? How much is one’s very best? Do we have to collapse, push ourselves to exhaustion and past it (to death?), before we can rest safely knowing that no one will say of us that we should have done more? But no — someone will say we should have rested more. That wasn’t our best. We could have tried harder for balance.
Kids do not need perfection — which is wonderful, because none of us can achieve it. They need good enough. They need their basic needs met: for interdependence and attachment, for freedom and responsibilities, for a stable base to jump from and a safe place to land. But they don’t need every need met perfectly every time. They don’t need a mistake-free upbringing. And they certainly don’t need us to break trying to meet impossible standards — or impossible standards of effort.
I’m not a particularly laissez faire parent (though I might call my parenting free-range inspired), nor a laissez-faire-in-parenting advocate. I think some decisions are better than others. I think some decisions are worse than others. And I don’t think “but I was ____ and I’m Just Fine(TM)!” is a particularly good justification for continuing practices we know are harmful and for which we have accessible alternatives. But at some point, we need to say that it’s enough. Our effort is enough. We are enough. Even if we don’t do everything the ideal way, even if we perform the blasphemy of not even trying to. Our good enough effort is good enough.
You are a good enough parent. And even if you’re not, your good enough effort at doing better is good enough. Maybe you could try harder, research more, up the pressure, increase the guilt when you (inevitably) fall short — but why? If there’s something you think you could be doing better, and want to be doing, and have the ability to do, then do it. Not because you’re not good enough right now (you are), but simply because you want to. Or because it would make you life easier. Or your parenting more joyful. Or your child happier or healthier. Not, please, because you’d be failing if you didn’t, because unless what you’re doing now is likely to kill your child in the near future, better is probably not a requirement. It’s probably just better.
And good enough? Is enough.