Good-Enough Parenting for the 21st Century

What will really happen to your family if you decide to "settle" for good-enough parenting? The answers may surprise you.

Be honest, now: Do you try to be the “perfect parent”? Or are you OK with just “good-enough parenting”?

That phrase – “good enough parenting” – is honestly something that just popped into my brain a little while ago. Once again, it is way too late and I am finding time to write ONLY BECAUSE everyone else is in bed. (A friend’s recent post on “why aren’t you writing?” has been high on my mind of late, as I go through my days putting out fires, one after another, based on which is biggest at any moment.)

Apparently, though, the concept of “good-enough parenting” is a thing. A thing that goes way back before that phrase just popped into my mind.

In fact, the concept of good-enough parenting (or, to be more specific, good-enough mothering) goes back to some British dude who first proposed the idea in the 1950s. At a time when (putting on my historian’s hat for a moment) women, in the U.S. at least, were supposed to be the ultimate domestic/maternal goddesses at all times.

So bear with me for a moment. And if you’re a parent, ask yourself:

Am I able to let myself be just a good-enough parent?


What will really happen to your family if you decide to "settle" for good-enough parenting? The answers may surprise you.


Why “settle” for good-enough parenting?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only mama who lives this particular reality.

Somehow, though, I suspect not.

If nothing else, because Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory wrote a 5-star-Amazon-rated book on the subject.

So again, hang with me as I try to explain:

1. Good

Have you ever heard the expression. Done is better than perfect“?

It’s a lesson I didn’t learn until graduate school.

It’s a lesson I’m currently struggling to teach my 7-year-old and her 9-year-old sister. (For kids on one end of the “exceptional learners” spectrum, this is a VERY hard lesson to learn.)

Especially when it comes to parenting, a lot of us feel societal pressure to be “perfect.” If only because our social-media network of friends is watching, and no one shares anything that is less than perfect in this carefully-curated day and age.

But let’s face it, perfection is an IMPOSSIBLE goal. (Those of us who worship in Calvinist-influenced branches of the Protestant tradition would say that perfection belongs to God alone, but that’s a whole other topic for a whole other website.)

So, back to that adage I learned in grad school, and have been trying to teach to my 7-year-old budding perfectionist of late:

There’s “perfection” – an impossible standard that we’ll never achieve. One that is, as much as anything else, an excuse for never “finishing” anything.

And then there’s “done.” Which does not mean “perfect,” but which means “good enough to declare it acceptable so we can move on to the next thing.”

That is crucial. Striving for perfection is a one-way ticket to paralysis. By aiming for “good” instead of “perfect,” we free ourselves to keep moving forward and growing as parents – instead of getting “stuck.”

Striving for perfection is a one-way ticket to paralysis. By aiming for 'good' instead of 'perfect,' we free ourselves to keep moving forward and growing as parents - instead of getting 'stuck.'Click To Tweet

2. Enough

Last weekend, I was chatting with my friend Henriette. Her teenage daughter has suffered from severe anxiety for most of her life.

One of the things Henriette’s daughter is struggling with is negative self-talk (or what psychologists might call “cognitive distortions”).

You know, Supermom and Superdad – the kinds of things you tell yourself all. the. time.

  • I screwed up.
  • It’s my fault.
  • I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have [fill-in-the-blank].

Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. (Cue martyr complex.)

Here’s an alternative way of thinking about “enough.” I was reminded of this recently when I stumbled across a blog post by Tamara at The Gutz Life. And I’m going to propose that it be the cornerstone of 21st-century “good-enough parenting”:

I. Am. Enough.

You read that right. Stop beating up on yourself already for not being the “perfect parent.”

Your kids don’t want OR NEED a “perfect parent.” They want YOU.

Stop beating up on yourself already for not being the 'perfect parent.' Your kids don't want OR NEED a 'perfect parent.' They want YOU.Click To Tweet

So stop beating up on yourself already for NOT being Perfection Personified. You are enough, just the way you are. Imperfections, shortcomings, parenting “screw-ups” (however you define those), and incomplete “to-do” lists – all of it.

You are enough. Just as you are.

3. “Good-enough” parenting for the 21st century

OK, on some levels, I admit, my own notion of this phrase I dreamed up a little while ago – thinking I was being all unique – is heavily influenced by my childhood as a Gen X-er. Back in the days when it seemed like practically everyone was a latchkey kid, we all watched too much TV,  we never wore bike helmets or seatbelts, and we had entirely too little parental supervision for 21st-century sensibilities.

(side note: in case you missed this memo, my kids watch TV just about never.)

So what does “good-enough parenting” for the 21st century look like?

What will really happen to your family if you decide to "settle" for good-enough parenting? The answers may surprise you.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Your family has what they truly need. (Or, as Kimmie says in her prayers each night, “food, clothing, water, shelter, and books.”) Even if your house usually has at least one batch of dirty laundry lying around. Or (guilty!) several batches of clean, not-yet-folded-or-put-away laundry.
  • Your kids are NOT signed up for every possible class, lesson, team, and other “enrichment opportunity.” (Trust me, they’ll survive. Moreover, they’ll thrive on the extra unstructured play time.)
  • You cut yourself plenty of slack when you need to, and insist that your family do the same.
  • You take care of your mental well-being. Whether this looks like getting enough sleep, or taking a “mom-cation” (even if it’s just leaving town for a conference or a work gig by yourself), or getting to the gym regularly.
  • You give yourself the freedom NOT to volunteer on that latest Sign-Up Genius plea that just landed in your inbox. (Like I just did for tomorrow morning.) And you try NOT to book days of solid, nonstop taxi service for your family. (Like I did for today #oops)
  • Both your kids AND YOU have the freedom to fail. And everyone knows this. And everyone is fine with this.

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As the end-of-year craziness approaches, let’s all commit – for our own sake AND that of our families – to avoid the temptation to be SuperParents.

Instead, let’s just try to get by on good-enough parenting. Our health and sanity will thank us come the new year.

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What will really happen to your family if you decide to "settle" for good-enough parenting? The answers may surprise you.


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18 thoughts on “Good-Enough Parenting for the 21st Century”

  1. I totally agree with you and this is so spot-on. This is not just related to parenting but rather to everything in life.

    I realized that for the longest time I keep on trying to make things perfect but I never get to finish anything. I believe it is very crucial that we find a balance on quality (perfection) and quantity (getting it done)

  2. My youngest boy has special needs so I’m learning a whole new type of parenting but this is definitely something I tell parents new to the Sen world. You can be everything & do everything perfect. You just need to do whatever you can do

  3. Parenting and being “good enough” is what we make of it. I think there is too much comparing to others and using standards that mean nothing. Clean houses do not mean happy kids, nor do expensive toys or whatnot. I think many of us underestimate ourselves.

  4. I have realized after my first child that striving for perfection is stressful and not realistic! My kids are loved and have what they need. I do the best I can and I am always learning. I know I am a good mama… messy mama life and all.

  5. At first I was like, “I don’t want to just be a good enough” parent. I want to be a “good” parent. But as you broke down every piece I found myself nodding my head. I love your list and as a parent of two 2e kids, one of which REALLY struggles with anxiety from perfectionism, I could really relate to this. And i love your list. It’s very encouraging and I think we all need to realize we are the perfect parent for our child even though we are not perfect 🙂

  6. I’m totally with you on this. But then again I have 6 kids and homeschool! I try so hard, but there comes a point when you have done all you can. I just was saying the other day how I feel like some times all I do is put out one fire after another.

    1. Seriously. Until we figure out how to clone ourselves, we can each only do so much. And the biggest fires gotta be put out first – the rest can wait.

    1. YES! We are not alone!!! (But we need to keep telling each other of the struggle, because it’s real, and then we’ll KNOW we’re not alone!)

  7. Love this. I recently wrote a post on a similar subject and it’s nice to hear more moms speaking up about this. The more moms we hear this from, the better we understand that the perfect image curated by social image is just that, an image. Our lives are messy, hard and uniquely ours. And we don’t need to be perfect to be accepted, loved and to thrive. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. You are so welcome. “Messy” – I love that word, it’s so fitting. I’m not sure if it’s the . craziness of the holiday season, or the challenges of living with waning daylight, but every year around this time I need to remind myself anew of these things. So glad to know I’m not the only one fighting this battle as the year draws to a close! 🙂

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