Mother is the first person every baby girl or boy falls in love with.
As psychoanalyst Melanie Klein would say, mother is felt to be:
- the source of all beauty and goodness
- the wellspring of life itself
- the center of the baby’s universe – the baby’s first love
- first savior
- first provider
- first hero
- first comforter
We like to believe that it is a mutual love affair, that mother adores the baby in the same way that the baby adores her. Ideally, a child experiences this mutual love affair between herself and the mother. However, if the mother happens to be depressed, “checked out”, dealing with any type of addiction, overwhelmed with other children or responsibilities, narcissistic, suffering from a personality or mood disorder – she may not be able to create the solid connections and consistency necessary for positive mirroring and feedback.
Donald Winnicott was a Psychoanalyst at Paddington Green hospital in London and came up with the concept of “The Good Enough Mother”.
The idea is that no mother (parent or person) is perfect.
Instead of looking to imperfections, we look to create a consistent, quality attunement between mother and child to foster the necessary stability within a child’s own psyche.
The way to be a good mother is to be a good enough mother.
A “Good Enough Mother”:
- is sincerely preoccupied with being a mother
- pays attention to her baby
- provides a holding environment
- offers both physical and emotional care
- provides security
- when she fails, she tries again
- weathers painful feelings
- makes sacrifices
- not so much a goddess; she is a gardener. She tends her baby with love, patience, effort, and care.
- loves her child but not all of his behavior
- isn’t always available to her child whenever he wants her
- can’t possibly prevent all of her child’s frustrations and moods
- has needs of her own which may conflict with those of her child
- loses it sometimes
- is human and makes mistakes
- learns from her mistakes
- uses her own best judgement
There are no perfect mothers and no perfect children. If we accept our own limitations, we are better able to accept the limitations of our children and of life itself. In that way we become good enough mothers. And good enough mothers are the real mothers.
- She is a three-dimensional human being.
- She is a mother under pressure and strain.
- She is full of ambivalence about being a mother.
- She is both self-less and self-interested.
- She turns toward her child and turns away from him.
- She is capable of great dedication yet she is also prone to resentment.
- Real mothers are the best kind of mothers.
It takes an imperfect mother to raise a child well.
- Children need to learn about life through real life experiences.
- They need to learn to deal with disappointments and frustrations.
- They need to overcome their greed and their wish to be the center of the universe.
- They need to learn to respect the needs and limitations of other people, including their mothers.
- They need to learn to do things for themselves.
Winnicott even dares to say that the good enough mother loves her child but also has room to hate him. She is not boundless. She is real.
Rather than idealizing motherhood, we do well to honor the complexity, find reasons to be grateful, forgive the failures, and use the disappointments to grow ourselves.
Comment below to share: Do you feel like you were raised by a “Good Enough” mother?