Am I a ‘Good Enough’ Parent?

Am I a ‘Good Enough’ Parent?

My daughter turns 16 today. I watch small children at church, play with our younger nieces and nephews, and wonder where my little girl has gone. I know it’s her job to grow up and become increasingly independent, I’m enjoying the young woman she’s becoming, and I pray daily that her father and I have given her a good foundation on which to build her adult life.

Are we doing it right?

Claire is our only child—our “miracle.” As one of eight children, I never dreamt that I’d be raising a child without siblings. It wasn’t until we started paying her Catholic high school tuition that I ever voiced that I’m glad we have “just one.” And even that wasn’t truly heartfelt.

Claire's first Christmas

My husband and I have doubted our parenting many times along the way—I suspect all parents do. Yet, when we’ve encountered challenges with Claire, we often second guess ourselves since we don’t have another child who was parented similarly but didn’t present those challenges. We wonder: What part of this is personality and what part is parenting? It’s the old nature vs. nurture question.

‘Good enough’ mothering

One of the courses I took as I worked on my master’s degree introduced me to the concept of “good enough” mothering. As the youngest person in the class and not yet a parent, I didn’t experience the great relief the other students (all women, all mothers) expressed upon learning of this concept. Essentially, it says

being a good mother does not mean being a perfect mother. A good enough mother is good enough. [She]

  • loves her child but not all of his behavior.
  • isn’t always available to her child whenever he wants her.
  • can’t possibly prevent all her child’s frustrations and moods.
  • has needs of her own which may conflict with those of her child.
  • loses it sometimes.
  • is human and makes mistakes.
  • learns from her mistakes.
  • uses her own best judgment.

                            —Elaine Heffner, CSW, Ed.D.,

God is the perfect parent

While we may fail our children at times, if we love them and introduce them to the love of God—our perfect parent—we’re doing a “good enough” job. My parents are far from perfect, but they did the best they could and raised us with love. They also raised us to seek relationship with God. I smile as I recall one of my dad’s favorite sayings (he has many): “Jesus is your friend if you’ll let him be.”

Claire at almost 16

See what my co-worker, Susan Hines-Brigger, has to say about a variety of parenting topics in her monthly “A Catholic Mom Speaks” column (formerly “Faith-filled Family”) in St. Anthony Messenger magazine. She has four children and oodles of wit and wisdom to share.

Look for upcoming issues of Every Day Catholic on parenting topics. In the June issue, Robert Lockwood, author of A Guy’s Guide to the Good Life: Virtues for Men, will address virtues for fathers. Scheduled for September is Kathy Coffey’s input on Christian parenting and nurturing faith in a secular world.

When you make a mistake in parenting or anywhere else in life, admit it, apologize and then go “celebrate your humanity.” God created us as imperfect beings, called to strive for God’s perfection. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and find both comfort and guidance in God’s perfect love for us, the children of God.

top photo by Michelle Meiklejohn/


About the Author

Joan McKamey works for Liguori Publications.
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  • Sldigman

    very nice, Joan!

  • Steve

    It’s interesting what a few short paragraphs about one subject can bring to mind when one thinks between the lines. I look back on three children now who I survived through their teen-age years, and also thank God for how they “turned out.” Three distinct personalities – yet I don’t remember doing things different with each. So where does personality come from – born into the new person naturally, or a result of their parents and their environment? I don’t know how to define perfection, so I stopped trying, and acted as I thought was right for my family and myself. If that was a good example to show them as they grew up, then I was “good enough.” It is a cliché, but it’s amazing how much smarter in the last few years my wife and I have become now that two of my children have children of their own – and I watch as they attempt to reinvent the parenting wheel. God as the perfect parent will always allow free will and choices, it is up to us as an “intermediate” parent to present those choices in the best possible light.