“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”
This was written by Donald Winnicott, a paediatrician and child psychoanalyst, in 1953 . I have thought a lot about the concept of a ‘good enough mother’ in my new role as a mum. At face value, the phrase can be taken to mean that as a mother, you don’t have to be perfect all of the time; that you can simply be good enough. In clinical practice, I used to think of this phrase daily. When I saw mothers who were struggling to care for their children through mental health or drug and alcohol issues, I had to remember that they may not be parenting in the ideal way, or the way in which I thought they could be, but they were doing their best, and that best was usually (not always) ‘good enough’.
But Winnicott meant more than this when he coined this phrase. He actually thought that a ‘perfect’ mother, one who is constantly responding to her child’s communication and distress is hindering the child’s development. He believed that when a baby is born, mothers do – and should – respond very quickly to their distress, as the infant is not capable of doing much independantly. However, as the baby ages, she can tolerate her mother’s ‘failure’ to respond more and more, ie the baby can deal with some distress on their own, which allows the child to experience success, failure, and to learn new skills.
I like the concept of being good enough. None of us is perfect – and doing everything for our babies potentially stops them from developing confidence, skills and independance.