It’s OK To Mess Up As A Parent — In Fact, It’s Good For Your Kids

Your parents messed up. They didn’t mean to, but they did, somehow.

They did their best, your parents, and most of the time their instincts were spot on. But while planting all those beautiful flowers that would eventually bloom in your personality garden, a few weeds grew there as well.

And now you may be unintentionally messing up with your own kids, despite being conscientious and also doing what you think is right.

The “Good Enough” Theory

It’s all OK. You turned out well or great. Your kids are well or great. Trying your best really counts. Don’t spend a lot of time worrying about your parental shortcomings because, in general, you are teaching your children important lessons, consistent with your values, and a lot of that is going to stick no matter what you’re not doing right.

This is the theory psychoanalyst and pediatrician D. W. Winnicott’s called the “good enough” parent. Beyond meeting their basic needs, your children’s emotional growth and ability to cope with life’s frustrations is improved by small failures and them knowing you make mistakes. It’s useful for them to realize that life can be hard sometimes and nothing is really perfect.

In other words, your shortcomings will help them emotionally thrive, and even develop into interesting people.

That said, it is still worth looking in the mirror to better understand what you’re accidentally teaching. You may be unhappy with the lesson plan (especially if was taught to you by your parents).


What You May Be Accidentally Teaching

Are you accidentally teaching impatience? Or intolerance of people different than yourself? Are you teaching that it’s OK to yell or hit (read: spanking) when angry? Are you implicitly letting them know work is more important than family (read: checking your phone in the middle of a conversation)? Or that the world is a scary place? Or that life is inherently unfair? Or that appearance matters more than feelings?


I unintentionally learned a lesson in selfishness growing up. My childhood was a bit unmoored and financially insecure and I got skilled at taking matters into my own hands. Being self-sufficient is positive (thanks, “good enough” Mom and Dad), but always meeting my needs before others is self-centered. But I’m aware that I could be modeling selfishness to my kids if I don’t strike the right balance between self-care and selfish.

Figure out what you may be accidentally teaching your kids and whether you want to stop. And don’t worry, you will still make enough human mistakes to be a great “good enough” parent.

Written by David G. Allan for CNN.

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