What does it mean to be a ‘good enough’ parent?

mum and four kids around a table

I have been trying to figure out how to write this blog post without actually saying anything. Or rather, saying too much! If I write about my kids or share images, I have to ask their permission first and there are some topics that would be an awkward invasion of their privacy if I did.

The thing is, it’s been a particularly stressful week on the parenting front in a couple of areas. We have entered into new territory with two of our kids and at times I have felt completely adrift with no idea of what to do next. Apart from being confused, I have been emotional and have ended up being angry and becoming upset too.

All parents know that parenting is difficult, and parenting teens can be one of the most turbulent stages of all as we try and navigate rocky shores. Their hormonal changes combined with their increasing search for identity create the ebb and flow of the child-like needing you vs the adult not needing you. My tendency is to to talk about what I am struggling with, to ask for advice, support and consolation from my peers.

I have been chatting with a few friends who have children in this age group and it is such a relief to know that my children are not unusual, that their struggles are common with their contemporaries. Other mums have expressed their frustrations and we have been able to laugh about common issues.

However, it’s not always funny. Being a mum who feels that every now and then her heart is being ripped out and stomped on is NOT FUN AT ALL. No one likes to put all their energy, effort and love into a project, only to see that ‘project’ reject you. One of my inclinations would be just to throw my hands in the air and say, “Ok then, you’re on your own, if that’s what you want”.

The thing is it’s not want they really want, not just yet!

dad and four kids walking away down a path towards a lake with mountians in the background

I was thinking back trying to remember which stage of parenting so far I have found the most challenging. I know the newborn stage is a huge adjustment and particularily fraught as, not only do we embark on possibly the steepest learning curve of our lives but we are also usually exhausted.

However, this stage we know we are very much needed, our children wouldn’t survive without us and they respond positively to our nurturing.

The toddler years up until about the age of 11 or 12 is sort of plain sailing. There are the inevitable tantrums and they require constant supervision but this stage can be quite a happy-go-lucky stage filled with cuteness and fun family days out – together.

Generally you know where your kids are and who they are with. They appreciate your jokes and enjoy the tickles. They want to climb into your bed and hang around your neck, maybe a bit too much at times! But you still get the sense they like you and want to be with you!

Now that my older two are seeking more independance, I have less and less influence over their lives and choices. We can’t make them study any harder, arrange their ‘play dates’ for them (ie pick their friends!) or choose their potential boyfriends/girlfriends.

Many times we are only afforded the priviledge of a backseat position and we have to sit and watch them make the mistakes we once made ourselves because having the experiences holds more value to them than listening to our experiences second hand.

I put pressure on myself to get this parenting thing perfect, but I know that’s impossible. I know it’s ok to be a ‘good enough’ parent but I have to confess, there’s something about being ‘good enough’ which just sounds a bit like ‘could try harder’, or ‘has more potential’. Maybe it’s me but I have never been content with good enough!

If I do something, I want to do it as best as I can. If I spend money on a new outfit, I want it to look great, not only alright. If I go out for a meal, ‘good enough’ simply would NOT be good enough. If I go on holiday, I hope it will be amazing, not just ok.

The thing about people, though is that we are a bit more complicated than clothes, dinners and even, dare I say, holidays. We are all responsible for our own actions and decisions. We don’t always know what’s best and we make mistakes. We can try our best but still miss the mark.

By now the foundation of their lives has been laid by us, we have put in all the essential effort and instilled all the basic guiding principles. After about the age of seven it’s too late for us to make any significant changes to their emotional development, so they say.

Dad and four kids on the beach

Now we have to hope that we’ve done enough as, although we can still be here for them, to lend a listening ear and a hug when it’s wanted, mostly we have to sit back and trust that the mistakes we’ve made haven’t been too big.

I am grateful that my children are growing up at a ‘normal’ pace and seeking appropriate independence, although I don’t love having to do all the driving to and fro in that relentless pursuit! (I also don’t love the idea of them driving themselves either so I’m totally stuck between a rock and a hard place).

If being good enough means caring enough not to abandon them to do exactly as they please, but rather fighting to protect them and nurture them as they endure the hard knocks of life. Of giving them the opporunity to talk things through honestly without fear of judgement and alienation, of us saying we’re sorry and forgiving each other, of them still wanting to spend time with us, of us still sharing jokes together, eating together and praying together. Then this is more than good enough for me.

Because they are becoming increasingly rare, I am even more thankful for the reaching arms and voluntary ‘I love you’s’. They are more valuable than gold dust and are the boost I need to know that they are ok, we will be ok and maybe what we have done has been good enough – because we love each other fiercely, imperfections and all.

31 thoughts on “What does it mean to be a ‘good enough’ parent?”

  1. Thank you for sharing such an honest piece.
    I am step-mum to two girls, 12 & 14. I didn’t enter their lives until they were 8 & 10 and I find it so interesting that you mentioned the ‘impact after the age of 7’ bit.
    I feel privileged to have been accepted into their lives so readily and know that my place is to just support them through life from 8+.

    They have both been particularly challenging of late and I began to question myself as a step parent – “was I good enough?!”.
    It’s great to read others experiences and know that we’re all going through the same stuff.
    I take it as a positive that they rebel and react, this means they’re feeling safe and comfortable pushing the boundaries with us.

    Thanks again and a great read 😁

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I would imagine that being a step mum provides a whole extra layer of complexity.
      I like your positive take, I think that would provide encouragement to struggling parents. It’s not easy standing firm when they rail against that as you’re trying your best to do what’s good for them and they end up angry at you for doing that.

      Thanks again for your kind words. Xx

  2. Charlotte SteinCharlotte Stein

    I feel like I’m constantly entering new phases and they just get trickier with age! #itsok

  3. We’re not there yet but one day we’ll have 3 teenagers and I have to say I’m not looking forward to it! #itsok

  4. Oh my word. I love this post. You are saying everything I need to hear. I don’t come across posts very often anymore that really speak to me and pull at my heart strings. But this one did. Thanks Liberty. And you are an awesome mum. And I am sure your kids know that.

    1. That is so sweet of you to say and such lovely words Carly, thank you. Maybe we over analyse things and worry too much sometimes but when you read quotes like ‘the things you say to your kids become their inner voice’, then you are concerned that they grow up hearing the right messages!

  5. My girls are quite young so I have all of this to look forward to….I have absolutely no idea how I will cope. But I imagine I will be seeking counsel like you to help me. I know I would never get through the emotional end of it otherwise! Such a lovely, honest post #itsok

  6. ambitiousturtle24

    I am so dreading when my girls become teens! I’ll need all these types of blogs I can get before all my hair turns grey. Thank you for preparing us way ahead of time Lib! #ItsOK

  7. This stage of parenting seem so far off for me (my three boys turned two and four last week) but I’m already dreading it. They definitely say the teenage years are the worst. Sounds like you are way more than a ‘good enough’ parent though. Just by merely showing you’re worried about it, proves that. Thanks for linking up to #ItsOK

  8. Thank you for sharing this post and your thoughts. My eldest has just turned 13 and I fully understand your thoughts and worries. Every year as the kids grow, so do the worries that go with it all. Looking back the younger years were a doddle compared to now. However at the time I recall tearing my hair out. You seem to be doing a great job and that is all any child could ask for….. #itsOK

  9. Me, Them and the Others

    It must be so hard to find the balance between being there and giving them freedom, good enough is definitely ok! #itsok

  10. Waking the Wombat

    Yes it’s a tricky one isn’t it? I just waited in the wings, quite often over stepping the mark between interfering and leaving well alone. Now they are young adults and live over a two-hour flight away. It’s wonderful and terrifying all in one go! Keep doing what you do.

  11. One of the things that I realized while parenting Was that I was putting pressure on myself, which ultimately put pressure on them. I often found myself trying so hard to say and do the right things that I sometimes forgot to just enjoy them, which meant allowing myself to participate and enjoy it also.

    1. So wise! Interesting how you use that word ‘allow’ but you’re so right. I think we fear that they will grow up without the necessary guidance which is our job to give to them. But sometimes that guidance can turn into control and become smothering rather than mothering!

  12. Wild Star Landing

    I will never be a good enough parent (hope not anyway) – I don’t have chidren – but as the oldest of 6 siblings and about 20 cousins and a one-time teacher of children and teens, I can appreciate the constant work and concerns of raising these darlings. Keep up the good work and keep on writing.

  13. Here’s the thing….you can’t protect them from the hard knocks of life. You have to let them fail, and then get up again. That’s the hard part of parenting. If they don’t fail they’ve played it too safe. Now I. D.o.n.t mean buying the, heroin, I mean giving them the freedom to go out of their comfort zone

  14. Oh no Liberty, I’m looking into my future in this post. My kids are still little but they’ll be teens one day and I hope we do all we can to prepare them for life. Thanks for sharing this experience with us, one mom to another, hang in there!

  15. So honest, Liberty, it really is a tough stage … wanting us, not wanting us, wanting independence while depending still on us, and the frustrations that and so many other things bring … but I guess we can’t hand them back now so we just keep on going.

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