In Parenting, 30% is not a failing grade
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Many of the clients who see me for help with their parenting have a common concern; they wonder how to be a perfect parent. Many are tying themselves into emotional knots with worry that they are permanently damaging their children. Most parents have the best of intentions and an indescribable degree of love for their children. What they don’t often have is the skills to parent effectively in the emotionally tricky place between stepping back while providing space for the child to grow and the need to step in when the child is facing danger. Society shames parents for “getting it wrong” all the while knowing perfectly well that parenting is the original “on the job training” context. No wonder people are stressed out!
Earlier this year, I took the Circle of Security training in Manitoba, Canada to help me better understand the more universally applicable ways of effectively parenting. It looks at attachment from birth across childhood. There have been a number of take-aways which I feel compelled to share because parents often give themselves a way harder time than they should. They heap guilt and criticism on themselves and other parents and assume that the smallest misstep will create lifelong scars for their children.
Although it is possible to psychologically damage our children, the truth is that children do have resilience. What we do and how we treat them is an important part of how they develop and function out in the world and for sure, there are things we could do that are damaging. However, there is hope because it is never too late. The major point that needs to be made to well-intentioned parents is that from decades of research beginning with the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, one of the things we know about being a “good enough” parent is that you only have to be attuned to the emotional needs THIRTY PERCENT (30%) of the time to raise a securely attached child. For more on attachment theory, I recommend this video.
Attunement is actually more important than a striving for perfection. Simply put, attuning to your child means being truly present for them. It has been described by Peg Streep as a mother aligning “her internal state with that of her child”, (read full article here). The direction of the attunement is always from parent to child since adults are capable of helping children organise their feelings rather than the converse situation. In order to adequately attune to another person, we have to be aware of our own internal emotional experiences and states. The reason for that is the ability to identify what is coming up for us and making the decision to put that aside so we can be present for our child. As you can well imagine, it is impossible to be able to do this all day, every day. This is why, people who work with clients on their parenting, (like I do), encourage parents to work towards being “good enough”. The magic number for this type of realistic parenting is being attuned to your child 30% of the time.
For all the people out there putting themselves under enormous pressure to be a “perfect parent”, please, please give yourself a break. It is impossible to get it right 100% of the time and you know what? NO ONE does. The concept of the “good enough” parent is attainable and has been put forward as the best option for all parties concerned. It considers that our feelings about our children are not always “perfect love”. We can feel annoyed, enraged, disappointed, exhausted and sometimes discouraged towards our children and, they also have the same feelings towards us in return. This is normal. For that reason, the concept of perfection in parenting is not just unrealistic for the parents, it also imposes unnecessary pressure on children to be “perfect” too. As much as possible, we should strive to avoid modelling that mindset as it strips children of their individuality.
Just aim to do what you need to be a good enough parent. Your child will get far more benefit from that approach in the long run. Ignore what society tells you and instead, learn about your child’s natural cycle of going out to explore the world and returning to you as a secure base. If you act appropriately on that 30% of the time, you are killing it at parenting.