Many of the parents seeking help at Well Baby Center are doing so because they feel overwhelmed by the demands of parenting. Often we are asked questions that center around, “how can I attend to my child’s needs and also take care of myself?” As parents, we put ourselves under so much pressure to be the ideal parent but the reality is we often fall short of our high standards then persecute ourselves for not being good enough. This steady sense of failure can result in a low-grade depression that affects our relationship with our partner and children and does nothing to help us out of the quagmire.
The question becomes, what does it mean to be a good enough parent? The answer is of course subjective, but watching child psychologist Dr. Ed Tronick’s Still Face Experiment
gives us a place to start from. He describes the process of connection and disconnection that takes place between child and caregiver and the impact it has on the relationship. Children thrive on social connection and do what they can to re-engage a parent whose attention has drifted away. You will all have experienced your child pulling at your leg while you try to cook dinner or their whining cries as you talk on your phone. This is a normal behavior you can expect from your toddler but how do we strike the balance between meeting their needs and not burning ourselves out?
The good news, according to Dr. Tronick, is that perfectly attuned interactions between our children and us only really occur 30% of the time. The rest of the time we are either out of sync or getting back into sync. The time spent reconnecting after a meltdown or a rupture in the relationship is actually a very important and necessary piece of our children’s development. It provides the opportunity for growth in their emotional range and helps them learn how to deal with disappointments that are a normal part of life.
Returning to the question of the “good enough parent”, it is comforting to know that we do not have to get it right all the time with our children or meet their every need for them to be emotionally secure. The area we can pay more attention to is not being perfect but rather making the effort to reconnect with our children after an upset. Discussing what happened and letting them know that you are curious about their experience will leave them feeling secure in the knowledge that mom or dad really care. What about all those times there were upsets that did not get discussed? It is never too late to address it with your child, usually they hold on to the memory of significant experiences but even if they do not consciously remember what happened they will always appreciate the fact that you are trying to repair their hurt feelings.
Annabelle Safinia is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working with families and parents at Well Baby Center. She is also the Group and Counseling Coordinator and Mindful Parenting Group facilitator/trainer.