What is "good enough" parenting?

Empathy and reflection of feeling

Children need our accurate reflection of their feelings so that they develop not only words to express feelings, but ways to understand themselves and their experiences. Reflecting to a young child, or an older adolescent that he or she is angry, disappointed or matching their delight and enthusiasm about something they have done is a necessary part of their development. When traveling through times of stress or change, or when facing failure or disappointment, children need to feel their feelings can be named, reflected back to them and accepted as natural and understandable events. It is through this process of naming feelings that a child grows a sense of self.

It is also important to be sure you include anger as a feeling that can be expressed and tolerated especially when your child or adolescent is angry at you! When anger is directed towards you it is natural to feel defensive. However the more you understand that the expression of anger within healthy and respectful limits allows for love and compassion to flow as well, the easier it can be neutralized if you do not retaliate or withdraw. By absorbing appropriate anger a child may have for you with matter of fact neutrality, you teach a youngster modulation and a willingness to understand what has precipitated his or her rage. Particularly with teenagers, a commitment to deeper understanding of your child’s needs, despite their abrasiveness at the time leads to later appreciation of your caring for them, and becomes internalized as a capacity to soothe themselves through frustrating times when they leave home and you are not around!

Attunement to Others

Through all of the attunement we are working towards in our relationships with our children, it is essential that we assist them to develop an awareness of others’ needs and feelings as well. To be capable of relating is necessary not only to survive in the world, but to do so in a way that brings us happiness and connection to one another instead of loneliness and alienation. Teaching our children about the value of human relationship and caring values is traditionally saved for daughters in our culture. However, an increasing number of men who write and speak about fatherhood( 6) are expressing the need for human nurturing as a necessary part of men’s development as well.


Sons as well as daughters benefit from an understanding of feelings and relationship. And your feelings as a parent are no exception to the rule. Though you are the leaders as parents, does not mean you do not have feelings and needs, too. Allowing your children to appropriately give and care for you should also be a factor in the equation. One child may be easier for you to parent than another. There are no perfect parents or perfect children. As with any relationship, some of us are better or worse matches for each other. Striving for balance and learning, with humor by our side may be our best allies in walking the path of the "good enough" parent.


  1. Stern, Daniel (1983) The Early Development of Schemas of Self, Other and Self with Other: in Reflections on Self-Psychology: ed. J. Lichtenberg and S. Kaplan pp. 49-84; Hillsdale, N.J.: The Analytic Press
  2. Mahler, Margaret ; Pine, Fred; and Bergman, Anni: The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: (1975) Basic Books, N.Y.
  3. Winnicott, D.W.(reprinted1989) The Family and Individual Development: Routledge: London and N.Y.
  4. Huntley, Rebecca (1991) The Sleep Book for Tired Parents: Parenting Press, Inc P.O. box 75267 Seattle, Wa 98125.
  5. Bradshaw, John, vaious books and tapes, Houston Texas, Center for Recovering Families.
  6. Linton, Bruce (1992) The Developmental Stages of Fatherhood: Unpublished dessertation: Columbia Pacific University. Dr. Linton is also the founder and developer of The Father's Forum in Berkeley, California where he conducts fathering groups.


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