One of the best pieces of advice that someone gave me when I became a working mum was: "Stop trying to solve the world. It’s not your job". I was trying to do everything, for everyone, all the time. To show I was capable. To prove my worth. To keep up with everyone else. To be the role-model working mum.
These expectations didn’t come from anyone else, they came from me, but we rarely stop to explore the origins of our emotions and behaviours. Once we understand what lies behind them, we can do something about them and find ways to relieve the pressure we often feel.
When reflecting on my own (unrealistic) expectations of parenting, I drew from the work of Donald Winnacott, an English paediatrician who coined the phrase ‘the good enough mother’. It was a phrase intended to liberate parents from the millstone of aspirational perfection.
He observed that when our babies are infants, we try to be constantly available and immediately responsive to them; this is important as it teaches our children that they are safe and cared for. But he argued we cannot sustain this level of attentiveness to our children forever, and nor should we.
Children need their parents to fail them in small, tolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world. They need to gently learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that not every request will be honoured.
If our children never have these experiences – if their need is met every time – they will have no ability to manage the challenges that will inevitably arise.
This re-framing was a significant step in helping me accept that sometimes I will be a less-than-perfect mum. And that that’s okay. Maybe it’s better than okay, as I’m helping my son to learn and build resilience, to rely on his own resources.
By exploring my expectations, I soon realised I wasn’t going to solve the world. But I did learn to prioritise what matters and what to let go of. To feel okay with lowering the bar sometimes. To stop comparing myself to others. To be okay with ‘good enough’.
What norms are you holding onto that you could relax a little? What might 'good enough' look like for you?
Gill Simpson is an executive and parent coach who specialises in helping working parents achieve more fulfilling lives, both at work and at home. To find out more, please visit www.chapterfortyfour.co.uk.