Systems for parents who want to do good work in the world and at home.
S.B. Castaneda is a new mom with a 9 to 5 and a side hustle. When she isn’t spending time with her family, she enjoys writing for her mom blog Baby Brain. Check out her recent article on the best jogging strollers. You can also find her on Twitter or Pinterest.
How This New Mom Is Practicing “Good Enough Parenting”
Before I became a mom I was reading a lot of pregnancy and motherhood blogs. Everybody seemed so wrapped up in perfection. Sensational headlines about breastmilk versus formula and co-sleeping habits coached me on what I needed to be. The subtext read: “Do [insert preferred parenting style] or you’re going to completely screw up your child.” I felt pity for the intended audience – new moms who wanted only the best for their firstborn. I was convinced I would avoid this trap of perfectionism.
Yet somewhere between the delivery room and returning back to work, I had transformed. I couldn’t even tell you the minute it happened. I defined my self worth by how well I could keep the house cleaned, bottles stocked and the diaper bag packed. I beat myself up over the most benign mistakes. I micromanaged my husband and in-laws ad-nauseum about baby care because I couldn’t be there to do it myself.
Something Wasn’t Right
Call it being a mama bear, call it being a new parent, call it guilt because I had to return to work. Whatever the cause, it left a permanent tightness in my chest. I didn’t even have the self-awareness to identify it as anxiety. I thought my heart grew a couple of sizes with so much love. It sounds like a joke, but I kid you not: I thought this chest tightness was part of becoming a mother. So many mothers had told me about this something that never goes away. This feeling in my chest, I had assumed, was this something.
Then my therapist challenged the assumption that I would never be able to turn it off. If it had been anyone else, I would have shrugged that off. However, not only was she a trusted confidant, she also had been through all this stuff herself. I had to at least consider that I could turn this tightness off. So onward I marched into my homework – finding out what “good enough” means for me. My work isn’t done, but here’s what I’m learning so far. (Also, my chest isn’t tight anymore, so maybe there’s something to all this?)
What Is Good Enough Parenting?
Dr. Peter Gray describes “good enough parenting” as follows:
With its origins dating back to the 1950s, Dr. Gray describes a “good enough” parent as one who doesn’t strive for perfection themselves, nor demand it for their child. A “good enough” parent recognizes that children are complete beings, separate and independent of their parents. The child’s current experience is more important to the parent than her future as an adult. Good enough parents provide what their children need and want, but not more than that. They don’t blindly follow experts and are confident in their abilities.
Four Ways I’m Practicing Good Enough Parenting
I was really obsessed with germs as a new parent. Comically timed near my good-enough transition, NPR had just released a report about how kids can handle plenty of germs. I now joke that I don’t have to obsess when the baby drops her binkie or Sophie the Giraffe because “NPR said so.” All joking aside, when my baby used to drop things I would immediately clean them ad-nauseum. When I’d get baby bottles back from her grandmother that were clearly washed, I would wash them again (just in case!).
Now if something drops, I give it a quick wipedown, but not my usual ritual involving baby wipes or hot water. Sometimes I don’t do anything at all, even though that still feels like I’m stepping on sidewalk cracks. Now, when those bottles come home from a day at Grandma’s, I give them a quick rinse, but not the soapy hot water soak routine I used to practice. They’re clean, I accept this.
Per the coaching of my maternity nurses, I was a diligent journaler of my baby’s every poop, pee and feeding. At the time it made total sense – those first days are critical in ensuring adequate weight gain and keeping the jaundice away. About three months in, I ask my doctor if I still needed to be doing this. Turns out, unless there’s something abnormal going on I could put away my diary. Good enough.
I also no longer obsess over serving sizes and feeding frequencies, although I try to stick to my doctor’s instructions as closely as I can. My new “good enough” approach is this: my pediatrician will tell me if she’s not eating enough (or not too much). Until then, I just do my best.
I was incredibly obsessive about my child’s care in the first months of returning to work. I’ve since loosened up. As long as she’s safe and properly fed, I’m generally okay. I’d be a liar if I said there were never any bumps anymore, but the situation has totally improved since I started striving for good enough, not perfection.
Similarly, I let my husband parent in his own way. I used to fuss over whether he was burping her enough or feeding her enough of the right things and the right times. My new thing is to try to let him do things how he needs to do them, and only offer support when asked or it’s absolutely necessary.
The doctor gave us sleep recommendations and noted that sleeping in the swing does not count as real sleep. In response, I insisted we relocate our child immediately after she fell asleep in her swing. Now? If she’s at a safe posture and mommy and daddy are too drained to risk waking her up, we let her keep her nap in the swing. Everybody’s happy.
She’s sleeping on her side now, something that at one point would have turned my blood cold in panic. Back only, right? We all know the rule. Turns out, our doctor’s okay with it as long as it’s not the stomach. This is a scenario that at one point would have unraveled into a Situation. Instead, it was a minor blip quickly resolved by a phone call to our pediatrician.
In the end, I’m sure I’ll find ways to make it harder on myself as a parent for the next 17-and-a-half-years (and then some). But I’m finding ways to practice good enough where I can. This has given me the space I’ve needed to lighten up and try to enjoy motherhood more. Not only am I more relaxed, but my relationships have improved as well. And even though she can’t tell me, I bet my daughter even appreciates it, too.