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Successful parents just need to be ‘good enough,’ these child psychologists say: Here’s what that means

When Lauren B. Quetsch and Tim Cavell were batting around potential titles for their recently released book, Quetsch suggested “I Love My Kids, But ….”

Both Quetsch and Cavell are psychology professors at the University of Arkansas who specialize in child psychology.

The title was written off as “too negative,” Quetsch said, and they eventually settled on “Good Enough Parenting: A Six-Point Plan for a Stronger Relationship With Your Child.”

The title and contents of the book, Cavell said, are meant to push back against the commonly used phrase “effective parenting.” 

“We argue that the myth of effective parenting can sometimes be a burden for parents,” he said. “It seems really unfair because it fails to appreciate so many factors, specifically cultural, familial context.” 

We argue that the myth of effective parenting can sometimes be a burden for parents.

“Good Enough Parenting” acknowledges that parenting is not only difficult but surprising — and there are many times you’ll want to say, “I love my kids, but ….” 

Often science-driven books that collect and synthesize data into short quips about how to be an effective parent don’t really account for how much you, as a parent, are going to get it wrong. 

“A good enough parent, just by the nature of their effort, will fail,” he said. “They will not meet their child’s needs, but that’s an opportunity for a child to learn things on their own. Being a good enough parent is giving their child a gift that will help them learn.” 

Acts such as limiting screen time or teaching your child a second language can be great but can also pull focus from what Quetsch and Cavell believe is the most important part of parenting: learning to relate to your child.

“It’s a long-term, one-sided gig,” Cavell said. “It’s about managing the relationship, not managing the behavior.” 

In order to help parents create a good relationship with their child, Quetsch and Cavell identified six pillars that focus on how to connect.

Use these 6 pillars to better connect with your kids

1. Goals

With every other undertaking in your life you probably have personal goals. With children, though, many parents only consider what they want their kids to accomplish. 

In their book, Quetsch and Cavell suggest thinking about what you as a parent want to accomplish. 

Then when you’re questioning whether you’re “doing it well,” you aren’t comparing yourself to the books you’ve read or the other parents you see. You can check in with your own goals. 

Don’t hold yourself to a goal that doesn’t make sense as your child grows, Quetsch said. 

“We can have an idea about how we want to parent and talk about it,” she said, “but when you actually get into it, your kids are going to give you their own temperament, and you thought you had it all figured out, and maybe not.”

More likely than not, your goals will change with time. “It’s continued discussion,” she said. 

2. Health

Like goals, “health” is about your health, not your child’s. Quetsch and Cavell believe it’s important to maintain good physical health but put a large emphasis on tending to your emotional health, as well. 

Practicing mindfulness both before and after you have a child are key to being a present parent.

We can have an idea about how we want to parent and talk about it, but when you actually get into it, your kids are going to give you their own temperament.

3. Structure

Is the way your life is organized today child-friendly? What rules and rituals are in place? 

These are things you should consider before your child is even born. 

“Do you have a chaotic life or one that provides a sense of safety?” Cavell asked. 

Once you have a child, you’ll probably have to make some changes in how you live, but it’s good to be aware of what structure you are bringing a child into.

4. Accepting

By putting in effort to understand and love your child and not guiding them away from who they want to be, you’re communicating a message of acceptance. When a child feels accepted, they don’t question where they stand with you or how much you value them. 

Cavell encourages parents to have a “posture of discovery” when relating to their child. 

“You have preconceived notions of this kid,” he said. “We think they are going to be one way, and then they arrive. Let’s discover who this child is and if we can get into a rhythm with this child.” 

What exactly does acceptance look like during the day-to-day? 

Quetsch offers an example of a couple she was counseling whose child wanted to play only with clocks. The couple was concerned that their child wasn’t taking to the other activities that kids their age seemed to enjoy. 

Quetsch’s advice: Just play with the clock.

Do you have a chaotic life or one that provides a sense of safety?

5. Containing

Some kids will be misbehave more than others. Parents who are too punitive can undermine the relationships between them and the child, but parents with too light a touch might lose the respect of their child. 

Between controlling a child who is misbehaving and appeasing them, there is a third option: containing. 

Containing means meeting a child where they are. Be selective about which fights you want to pick. 

In one sentence you can empathize with your child not wanting to go to school while also enforcing the rule that they need to get out the door. 

6. Leading

Leading sits conceptually between accepting and containing. 

It refers to a parent modeling values they wish their child had but not intervening if a child’s behavior is at odds with those values. 

This is especially important for parents of older kids who are experimenting with their own autonomy. 

‘It’s about how to build a relationship’

Integrating these pillars into your parenting won’t have any short-term effects, Cavell said. 

Accepting your child’s tantrum in the grocery store will not make it end any sooner. 

Being mindful might not give you the amount of patience you need for a fussy toddler. 

After all, Cavell said, “you wouldn’t want to be the victim of bad behavior no matter what relationship you are in, and being a parent is not any different from that.”

But focusing on what is going on between you and your child as opposed to what parenting books tell you child-rearing should look like will help your child feel valued and independent. 

“It’s not about knowing a lot about parenting,” Cavell said. “It’s about how to build a relationship.” 

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