Jocelyn told me the other day that I make her happy. This happened after she had mentioned that cake makes her happy. So I asked her what else makes her happy and was pleased to hear that I am up there with cake! I then decided to ask her what makes her angry (because I can’t help my psychologist-self coming out!). The very first reply was ‘You’. So I replied “Good, I now know I am playing my role as mommy very well” I make her happy but I also make her angry. That is how it should be. I am not perfect. I let her down, disappoint her and even cause her to be angry but she loves me greatly and I make her happy. Jocelyn has learned that mommy is not all good or all bad. She is a little bit of both and that’s OK.
I don’t always remember this as I am a perfectionist by nature and I still try to be the perfect mom with dismal results on many occasions. I read recently that perfection is an illusion because in a perfect world the goalie stops all the balls and the shooter kicks them all in! Lately as I try to hold the needs of both of my children I am bound to ‘fail’ one of them. I live with a lot of guilt that as I tend to Tyler’s needs I am letting Jocelyn down or as I tend to Jocelyn’s needs Tyler needs me. I cannot possibly be perfect for both of them (or for me for that matter!)
I then remember Donald Winnicott and thank heavens that I learned about him during my psych studies (and even better, actually remember what I learned!) Donald Winnicott was a pediatrician who went on to study psychoanalysis. His theory of early development and resultant personality formation was very closely aligned to attachment theory. Attachment theory focuses on the importance of the bond between baby/child and caregiver in developing the personality of the child. The type of early attachment will determine the type of personality that is shaped and how the child relates as an adult. So naturally the more predictable and secure an early attachment the more likely it is that a child will grow up to have healthy self-esteem, resilience and the ability to relate in a healthy manner with others, as well as choose relationships with others who are generally psychologically healthy as well. While the more negligent or inconsistent or even traumatic the child’s early attachment experience is the more likely it is that the child will develop low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and a difficulty trusting and relating to others. (This is the simplified version and how much I still remember!)
However, Winnicott took it further – he spoke about the ability of mothers (or the primary caregiver) to create a holding environment for children so they are able to be themselves, learn and grow, express themselves and make mistakes in a secure space. The importance of the mother’s role is thus to enable the child to feel good enough while being real (rather than developing a modified false self in order to gain acceptance). The best way a mother can do this is to simply be ‘good enough’ herself – not perfect but normal and real.
“The foundations of health are laid down by the ordinary mother in her ordinary loving care of her own baby” Donald Winnicott.
So often what we hear from ‘authorities’ on child development makes us as parents feel like we are failing miserably. I love Winnicott’s theory because a) it makes sense to me and b) it’s something I can aspire to and feel capable of doing. I love the fact I am allowed to make mistakes, possibly let my children down, get angry with them unnecessarily at times and it’s not the end of the world. I don’t have to feel like the world’s worst mother!
In my other blog I recently added a post on the fact that stress is only truly bad for us if we believe it is bad. This was prompted by a book by Kelly McGonigal called the “Upside of Stress” and soon after saw an interview with her posted on Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog. In this article I read something I know and something I tell clients often -yet I seldom remind myself – and this is the fact that (moderate) stress is beneficial for our children. In fact, when I read this after a particularly stressful week and lots of experiences of cutting my daughter’s bread the wrong way and generally feeling incapable of meeting her needs at all (partly because they seem to change daily!), resulting in me losing my patience; and I have to admit I became a little tearful as I remembered with relief that IT IS OK. I am OK and she is OK. When I can’t be there for Jocelyn because I have to be there for Tyler or be there for myself or be there for my clients I am preparing Jocelyn for a world that will not always understand and meet her needs. Yet, I am preparing her for it in a gentle way where I can acknowledge her dislike of the situation and remind her she is still loved.
I really wanted to share that with all of you moms and caregivers – please let go of the guilt. You are good enough and you are perfect in your imperfection as you give your child permission to be imperfect yet good enough and loved. What an amazing gift you are to your child/children!