British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott coined the phrase ‘good enough mother’. He came to realize that babies and children actually benefit when their caregivers fail them in manageable ways. However, to be good enough, one must know how and when to step in and repair the rupture in the attachment bond. The sooner the better or else the child could end up feeling distressed and unsafe.
Imperfect World, Imperfect Parents
Winnicott hypothesized that children need their mothers or primary caregivers to fail them in tolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world.
The point is tolerable and manageable because it has to be short-term. It cannot be a continuous period of neglect, abandonment or abuse.
According to attachment therapist, Dr. Allan Schore, resilience is built on tolerance of negative experiences. However, the quicker a parent can notice the rupture and skillfully repair it, the better a child will learn to self-regulate. The child learns to trust that even though it is an imperfect world, my parents are there for me and will not abandon me. Our mental wellness is based on knowing we are safe and supported.
Tips to repair the ruptures with your child
1) Be Aware, Breathe, Take Time Out
We parent from our own historical perspective. What we were blessed or cursed in our childhoods comes back to haunt us as parents. We respond to how our own parents responded to us. For many of us having a child is revisiting our own past. We need to be aware of our triggers – our children unwittingly revive the forgotten ghosts from our childhoods. –
Parenting is a constant exercise in mindfulness-awareness of our hurts and abuse while relating from a place of understanding helps harness negative outcomes. Many times it is not our child’s behavior that is wrong, it is our faulty perception of the situation.
So take a deep breath, analyze the situation. Sometimes the best option is to take time out – take a bath, listen to soothing music, chat with a friend or rant on facebook. Ignore your child until YOU are in a better state.
After all, distance does make the heart grow fonder.
2) Repent But Do Not Repeat
The most important relationship rule is to apologize when wrong and that also applies to our kids. You need to say ‘SORRY’ loud and clear when you goof up. Your child will not respect you less. They will understand that you are human but you care enough to want to repair the rupture in the relationship. Truth is what sets us free and stops us and our kids being stuck in a limbic loop. Wrong is wrong, non-acceptance fuels a sense of injustice. Your child will grow up with the “feeling” that “something is not right”.
A child is naturally forgiving of his parents’ foibles if they feel it was a genuine mistake and not intentional. However one must be aware of not repeating the same behavior or else your child will stop trusting you.
Further, if you keep blowing up and behaving like a jerk every time something goes off-track your child will stop respecting you. Life for them will be akin to walking on egg-shells. Unbridled chaos is the worst kind of situation to be in, hot-cold, calm-stormy. Constancy is crucial for their mental well-being,
3) Keeping Communication Open
Communication is a two-way street and skillful parenting involves good communication. Learning to deeply listen to our child’s gripes, anger, unhappiness, hurts, etc is vital for building trust and comfort. Anything is open for discussion and negotiation.
I remember once griping to my mother’s unfairness just because she gave my brother a bigger allowance. I protested saying, ‘Yeah, you love him more than me,’ calmly she explained, ‘You know he never asks for money. I know you keep taking from your Dad.’ It was the truth which I could not deny but neither did she vehemently silence me by telling me to shut up.
Clear, honest communication is the key to maintaining good relationships. All parents need to learn to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk. Explain why don’t be defensive and shut down any dissension. Worse still don’t deny and dismiss your child’s perceptions and feelings. Lying and pretense could skew their sense of reality leading to psychosis later in life. They begin to doubt and distrust even the simplest realities. Your child has a right to be heard. If you had to discriminate or act unfairly give a valid reason or else apologize.
4) Hugging & Holding Space
There is nothing like a hug to make up. Physical touch is the best way we can reconnect with our child. Warm physical contact releases ‘oxytocin’ the love hormone which also promotes trust and safety. When you hug, pat, cuddle and kiss your child you show them they are precious to you and that you are there for them. A warm hug cancels out all the bad vibe due to misattunements in our interaction. It is an instant reset repair button.
Good enough parenting is all about holding space for your kids. Give them space to argue, discuss, disagree and find their own solutions. There are no right answers or straight paths. Allowing them the space to be who they are without judgment makes them self-reliant and teaches them tolerance. Allowing space for autonomy reduces relationship conflicts and builds self-esteem.
Dr. Dan Siegel – On Optimal Attachment
Parenting expert, Daniel Siegel, MD. states that ruptures are inevitable breaks in the nurturing connection with the child. What is important is not that ruptures never occur, but that ruptures are repaired. If they are not dealt with, deepening problems in the relationship between the child and caregiver can affect the child’s sense of self.
I don’t believe homegrown terrorists or school shooters or ISIS brides come about overnight. Rather they are the outcome of the cumulative accumulation of repeated unrepaired ruptures. According to neurologist Dr. Robert Scaer, it is the everyday negative experiences that mold our personalities, choices of partners, appetites and much more.
Every relationship has its ups and downs. The saying ‘a stitch in time saves nine‘. holds true with relationships too, particularly with our kids. Good enough parenting is about reigning in the downslide as soon as possible. Don’t let matters fester for long. Reach out, discuss and reconnect – repair the rupture.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish