How to Be a “Good Enough” Mother

I am constantly telling my children “do your best” and “it’s ok to make mistakes”. I make sure they know that I don’t expect perfection from them and neither should they. However, I find myself constantly giving myself a hard time for not being the “perfect mom”.  You know what I mean by the perfect mom. Not just the one who has the perfectly curated birthday parties and adorably cut lunches. But the mom who always knows exactly what to say or do anytime a problem arises. The mom who can anticipate all of my children’s needs even before they realize them.

mother sits on floor with son who is coloringTo be a perfect mom means that all of my children’s needs and emotions are met at all times. This means, that my children will never experience what it means to have a need unmet or to be let down. Not only is it unrealistic and impossible to expect to be a perfect mom. It is also not ideal. I don’t expect perfection from my children, so why should I expect it from myself?

The Good Enough Mother

D.W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined the concept of the “good enough mother”. The goal of a mother is to allow her child to feel safe (physically and emotionally), develop an authentic sense of self, create healthy relationships, and tolerate disappointment.

Focus in on that last one…tolerate disappointment. We will not be able to meet all of our children’s needs and will not always be completely attuned with them. By not always meeting their desires, our children learn what it feels like to experience disappointment and how to overcome those disappointments. This is exactly why the good enough mother is good enough.

Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief. This is literally saying that it is okay, better yet, beneficial and ideal, to be an imperfect mom. This is something I can definitely get on board with.

Giving Up The Right Way

The first step to giving up this notion of perfection is to realize that “there is no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” – Jill Churchill.

Part of the pressure to be a perfect mom lies in the idea of right versus wrong. In order to be perfect, your decisions and actions all have to be “right”. The need and drive to be right is exhausting and impossible. So what if we challenged the idea of being “right”?

I’m not saying there is no such thing as right and wrong. I think we can all agree there are definitely some “wrong” things to do. However, is there really a right way? There are endless articles about how each child needs to be parented differently. Not to mention, every family is going to have a different version of what is right for them. The “right” for one person or family is not the “right” for everyone. Take away the pressure of feeling like there is a right choice or a right decision and the pressure of perfectionism starts to disappear. Without a “right way”, perfectionism cannot exist.

Show Yourself Some Love

Being “good enough” is still a tall order. Self-compassion is one part of achieving this lofty goal. People are often more forgiving of other people’s imperfections and mistakes than they are of themselves. People who are perfectionistic often have high and unreasonable expectations of themselves. Self-compassion allows you to grant the same compassion to yourself that you would to others. Acceptance and understanding of yourself is a key piece in letting go of the need for perfectionism. Sometimes the best trick to achieving self-compassion is asking “what would I tell a friend in this situation”.

Bring Out Your Playful Side

Another key piece of working towards being “good enough” is playfulness. Think of the last time you acted silly. What were you doing? How did you feel? How did your children respond?

When someone is being playful, they are fully in the moment. Playfulness inherently is about getting messy, something perfectionism is not. In truth, the concept of playfulness directly opposes perfectionism. By being playful, you are allowing yourself to put aside your need to be right and instead, allowing yourself to just be present. Being present is what being good enough is all about.

So get out there! Give it your 100% knowing that there is a 100% chance that sometimes you will get it and sometimes you won’t. Just remember, you are good enough.

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Elyssa Gottheim
Elyssa was born and raised in Houston. Deciding to try out life in the cold weather, Elyssa attended University of Michigan for undergrad and University of Chicago for grad school. After obtaining her LCSW {licensed clinical social worker}, Elyssa decided that she was not cut out for the cold and moved back to Houston in 2012. Shortly after her move, Elyssa met her husband, Paul. Elyssa and Paul have been married for 6 years and have two children – Henry {October 2018} and Josephine {March 2021}. After working in schools, hospitals, and community clinics, Elyssa currently has a private practice where she specializes in working with children, adolescents, young adults, and parents. When she isn’t working or chasing after her kids, Elyssa’s favorite activities can be described as the ultimate mom cliché – baking, working out, and napping. Elyssa is a huge fan of trying new restaurants and dining spots especially if it involves any form of dessert!


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