One of my friends has a stellar blog in which she also explores the adventures of woman- and motherhood. A couple of days ago, she wrote about her eldest daughter waking her up to ask her to come soothe the little girl with a simple, tender gesture: tucking the girl's hair behind her ear. My friend mused about how hard she is on herself as a mother and wife, and how for this one instance, she actually let go of all those expectations and lived in the moment. She writes, "I tuck my daughter's hair behind her ear. That's all. That's enough."
This touching moment reminded me of a psychologist I studied in college, Donald Winnicott. He came up with the concept of the "good enough mother." Basically, this is the idea of an "imperfectly attentive mother who does a better job than the "perfect" one who risks stifling her child's development as a separate being" (Wiki 10/25/09). I remember loving this concept even as a self-centered college senior, faaarrrrr from parenthood. It gave me permission to stop being such a damn pefectionist and realize that, many times, there are actual, tangible benefits to being "good enough."
When you are good enough--instead of perfect--you can find more balance in your life. Obviously, no one can be perfect, so wouldn't it be lovely to let ourselves off that meat hook and just do our best to be "good enough?" This means I can commit to getting my papers graded by the time I'm asking my students to write a new essay--but I don't have to sacrifice my weekends to get them back any earlier. This means I can run as a hobby, pushing myself to keep going when I'm tired, but refusing to get looped into the competative "personal best" mania so many runners embrace. This means I can eat Hagen-Daaz, even if I no longer fit into the clothes I bought just last summer because really, who needs to wear sundresses now anyway? You get my point.
I have actually attempted to adopt the notion of being "good enough" for the past 12 years, and I do think I'm the better person for it--at least, my anxiety levels have gone down in some arenas thanks to good old Winnicott's discovery. Oh yes, perhaps I could have gone to a grad school with a better reputation if I'd killed myself to study for the English GRE while working full time...or perhaps I could have figured out that credit cards are evil before racking up some debt I'm still paying off...or maybe I could have taught summer school classes or traveled somewhere to help others instead to work on my tan...but in the end, I have very, very few regrets about the choices I've made based on my "good enough" philosophy.
Now if you think I'm sounding self-righteous, please know that I'm still working to turn off that little voice in my head that wheedles, "Good enough is never good enough..." But at least I have a good role model in my friend. And perhaps it's enough to simply keep trying to let good enough really be good enough for me.