Parenting: When good enough is good enough.
I’ve always considered myself a fairly competent person.
At school I did well at sports, and I was always a straight-A student. And I liked being good at things. I liked that there was a right answer – that if I just dedicated myself to it, and worked hard, I would find it. And to be honest, I’ve always known how to get an A, even an A+.
Then I had children.
And suddenly it felt like I was getting nothing right – let alone everything right. Tantrums, fights with my wife, confusion and uncertainty over boundaries and discipline. It all just felt so grey. So messy.
We all want to be A+ parents, and A+ partners, and A+ employees, and A+ daughters, sons, friends. But A+ applies to things that have yes/no, black/white, right/wrong answers. Like multiple choice tests and math.
A+ has no real place in relationships, no place in living.
Because relationships aren’t A+ games, they are C- games.
I read that on a blog once. Let me say it again…
The best grade you are ever going to get in parenting, or relationships in general for that matter, is a C-.
Initially my perfectionism pushed back against this – “No way – that’s just compromising. Settling.” I can do better. But there is actually research to back this up.
In the healthiest parent-child relationships, and even adult-adult relationships, we spend about 30% of our time misreading each others’ cues and disappointing each other.
So, even when we are operating from a place of ease and connection, we only get it ‘Right’ about 70% of the time.
That’s a C- I’m afraid.
But here’s the irony – what I’ve found in my own life and in my own parenting, is that the more you try to get a “better grade” – read exactly what the other person needs all the time, the worse you do, because you are now anxious and operating from your own need to be perfect, rather than being present with your child or the other person.
Someone once said to me – and it really hit home for me – that when it comes to parenting “good enough is good enough”. And that truth has been so freeing for me, and for our family.
Children do better, we do better, all our relationships do better, when we’re OK with a C minus, rather than an A+.
When we accept that we aren’t going to understand our own needs a lot of the time, let alone someone else’s, we relax and increase our compassion for our own mistakes and others’. When we accept that we are human. That only God is the perfect parent. And that’s OK.
We are always going to get it “wrong,” every single day, multiple times per day. You’re going to be firm when your child needed soft, or soft when your child needed firm. You’re going to talk when your partner needs you to listen, or listen when your partner needs you to talk. You cannot do ‘Right’ all the time.
Accepting ‘good enough’ is a gift we give ourselves and others. Accepting ‘good enough’ allows for us to clarify our needs to express them more clearly, to apologise when we misread someone’s needs or hurt them.
Most importantly, accepting ‘good enough’ is crucial to empathy. You will have more empathy for yourself, more empathy for your partner or mother-in-law, more empathy for your wild, clumsy, sensitive child. And your child in turn will develop more empathy, as he or she sees you failing and trying again, being open about your own shortcomings, and loving yourself for your beautiful C-.