What are we “accidentally” teaching our kids?



10 and unders Junior Olympic relay medalists.

The “good enough” parent is a philosophy I read about today in a CNN article called “Screw up (in small ways) at parenting. It’s good for your kids” by David G. Allan. Here’s an excerpt:


“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.”

I really agree with this philosophy, because nobody is perfect and we teach our children so much more by our actions than our words. It’s the concept of “do what I say, not what I do” that is messed up. For example, if we constantly tell our kids to be forgiving and welcoming to all their friends and then we talk behind people’s backs and are judgmental and unforgiving about the smallest slight, what are our children going to learn?

My kids really excelled at what they did whether it was sports, academics, leadership, etc. I’m a perfectionist and believe in putting forth your best effort, which they did. However, I don’t think my perfectionist traits helped them out so much now that they’re older. Do they really need to be the best at what they do? Or, like the article says, is it okay to be “good enough?” Maybe someone who believes they are “good enough” is well-rounded and happy? If I had a do-over as a parent, I think I’d take back my emphasis on performance and results. Not that being the best is a bad thing, but it’s okay to not be best swimmer on the team, or valedictorian or the one who brings home a wheelbarrow full of academic awards. It’s okay to learn from mistakes, not feel pressure and still be passionate about what you do.

Here’s another excerpt about the lessons learned from the CNN article:

“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.”


My son and friend at high school graduation.

What’s your opinion about being “good enough” as a parent or a person?


4 thoughts on “What are we “accidentally” teaching our kids?

  1. I have agreed with Winnicott’s “good enough” philosophy for a long time, and used it with patients and clients often. Over the years, its also become increasingly clear that being honest with our kids is essential, as is modeling the real things in life–failures, losses, disappointments, mistakes. Own your stuff, including when you screw up, apologize, make it right if necessary, and move on. A much more important skill than knowing every “fact” in a class–the facts change or are updated, better to know how to learn, and how to adapt to the real messiness of human relationships.

    • Great comment! It makes me think of my daughter’s club coach, who wouldn’t criticize a bad swim, but instead would ask what she could have done differently. He appreciates it when his swimmers take ownership. I think that was helpful for her learning to adapt and taking responsibility for actions.

  2. Well said! I also worry somewhat that we are over-structuring environments for our kids. I played football, baseball, etc. as a kid – with NO parental supervision most of the time. We had no coaches and we had no referees. Of course, sometimes we would argue and someone would leave angry. But that was rare. And you know what happened the next day? The kid realized it was no fun not playing with the other kids. You might like these three blogs:
    Family Matters: Parts One, Two and Three.

    A three part series exploring how the happenstance of our birthplace (over which we obviously have no control) has a huge and lasting influence on our lives.




    • I will check out the three blogs. Thanks for commenting! I agree that sports and activities used to be unsupervised by adults compared to today.

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