Is Good Enough possibly Great?

Lou Brooks

Before my wife and I started our own family, I had a romanticized view of how I imagined my relationship with my children would develop.  I thought it would be most gratifying if I could avoid the confrontation and general angst I associated with my parents and our relationship growing up.   More recently, after several years of child rearing under my belt and more significantly after 20 years of educating students coming from all sorts of families, I’ve come to accept the fact that my kids will need to dislike me…actually hate me at some point in their lives – perhaps at several points. And actually, this is essential for their emotional development.  As Wendy Mogul so humorously puts it, at some point  it’s important that your children “feel its a tragedy of earth shattering proportions that they’ve been born into the wrong family.”  With this shift in mind set, I’m starting feel much better about my ability to raise children.

Child psychologist, Lori Gottlieb, has recently written a great essay, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, where she presents further support to the theory that our instinct to provide a trouble-free, controlled and constantly pleasurable childhood may in fact be distorting an authentic and developmentally appropriate understanding of happiness.

The ideas articulated by Gottlieb provide a great compliment to the theory that failure is a crucial component of success, and the importance of providing our children with the opportunity to experience setbacks and disappointment.  I particularly liked her assertion that our goal as parents should not be to parent “perfectly” but rather to embrace a “good enough” approach.  As parents we should realign our expectations to be more realistic for both ourselves and our children and that we are doing our children a favor by giving them more control over their own destiny. A major understanding of this approach is to allow our children to fully experience both the highs and the lows of childhood.  Mogul and Gottlieb remind us that “children are not our masterpieces.” In a similar vein, we should consider applying  Janet Erskine Stuart’s sage words to our parenting approach; “… our education is not meant to turn the children out small and finished, but seriously begun on a wide-basis. Therefore they must leave us with some self-knowledge, some energy, some purpose…If they leave us without these three things they drift with the stream of life.”

I encourage you to read the article to help gain a better insight into the importance of failure and making mistakes, both as parents and as children.

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One Comment on “Is Good Enough possibly Great?”

  1. Hutch Carpenter November 2, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    This is a good checkpoint article in the middle of an 18-year adventure with our kids. While I believe our parenting personalities are fundamentally cast at this point, there are still opportunities to alter our approaches. The Atlantic article provides good insight in the effects we have as parents.

    A couple thoughts.

    First, an anecdote about my cousins. My Dad’s first cousin has a son, about my age. Growing up, he was a picky eater. So she tried different approaches to get him to eat, including the “no leaving the table until you’re done” and “that’s all there is for dinner, you’re excused if you don’t want it”. He’s strong-willed, and really never opened his horizons on food he eats. To this day, he’s still a meat and potatoes man. In other words, the tried-n-true old school parenting didn’t effect change.

    I put that forward in response to this part of the article: “When I was my son’s age, I didn’t routinely get to choose my menu, or where to go on weekends – and the friends I asked say they didn’t, either. There was some negotiation, but not a lot, and we were content with that. We didn’t expect so much choice, so it didn’t bother us not to have it until we were older, when we were ready to handle the responsibility it requires. But today, Twenge says, ‘we treat our kids like adults when they’re children, and we infantilize them when they’re 18 years old.'”

    My takeaway is that yes, don’t coddle our children. I wholeheartedly agree with the author and experts there. The evidence and anecdotes from the article are convincing and intuitive. But take care not to reflexively swing the pendulum the other way. Every kid has his unique characteristics. I think some accommodation for a limited set of traits your child has is in order. “Limited” being the key here, not opening the coddling floodgates.

    The other thing I really like from the article is this: “research shows that much better predictors of life fulfillment and success are perseverance, resiliency, and reality-testing – qualities that people need so they can navigate the day-to-day.” The statement draws a contrast with the self-esteem approach to child-raising.

    As adults, we see the need for these traits daily. It’s an area I’m coming around to more and more, as my kids grow. Second grade is a time of sharpening awareness and even intellect, and things like homework and grading become more prominent. There’s a transition from the way we loved every little action of our infants and toddlers, to treating them with a bit more sophistication. Note, that doesn’t mean catering to them. It means appreciating that they’re smart, and they’re starting to *get* things. Talking, and acting, in ways that teach “perseverance, resiliency, and reality-testing” strikes me as vital.

    Thanks Jaime, good post and article.

    Hutch

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