Why 'good enough' parenting is good enough

For anxiety sufferers, it can be heartbreaking to recognise the same struggles in their children.
For anxiety sufferers, it can be heartbreaking to recognise the same struggles in their children.  Photo: Getty Images

A couple of years ago I had somewhat of an epiphany. I was reading Sheryl Sandberg's memoir, Lean in, a deeply absorbing read, and I came across this paragraph:

"Trying to do it all and expecting it can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment.

"Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst." As someone who strives for perfection in many areas of my life (professionally and personally), I am happy to fall spectacularly short in other areas (such as dusting, folding fitted sheets and reverse parking).

A few years ago, shortly after the birth of my third child, I made the liberating decision to lower my expectations, and my standards. At a time when my life was turned completely upside down and chaos became my default setting (having three kids under the age of three will do that to you!) I needed to surrender in order to survive. Essentially I had to kick "perfect" to the curb and get satisfied with "satisfactory".

It was a revelation.

I learnt to distinguish between essential items (feeding and dressing my children, non-essential items (perfect piggy tails, daily baths) and downright impossible (an empty laundry basket and a tidy house). Instead of berating myself about all the things that I could have been doing better, I focused on what I was doing adequately. "Good-enough" parenting became my philosophy, rather conveniently!

In the same way business and life coaches espouse the "done is better than perfect" motto, I am calling parents to get comfortable with "good enough" parenting.

Here are 5 ways you can get on board:

1. Decide what matters and what doesn't.


It's pretty simple: Embrace the few things that really matter, and let go of the many things that don't. Does it really matter if your kids get fed fish fingers two nights in a row? Will your friends care if your home shows evidence of real people actually living there, rather than presenting as a display home? Will it matter if you don't bake that cake for the kinder cake stall because you have too much on your plate? Will anyone notice (or care) if you turn up to school pick up wearing baby vomit?

2. Know the difference between obligation and genuine enthusiasm.

So many of us make social and time commitments out of a sense of obligation – whether it's FOMO (if you suffer from it, you won't need the acronym explained) or FOSN (fear of saying no). It's OK to say no to things. In fact, it's absolutely essential that you do. I have come to realise that saying no is really a powerful way of saying yes to the things

3. Let go of unattainable standards.

It's impossible to maintain a showroom of a house when you are living with pre-schoolers who are partial to plastic, playdough and poo! Forget it. You will drive yourself crazy if you think you can live like the IKEA catalogue would have us believe. Accept the mess, tidy as best you can, but don't bust your boiler over it!

4. Resist pressure to 'do it all'.

You can still be a contributing member of the school/kinder community without attending every single assembly, working bee, Bunnings BBQ and fundraising event. If you're a working parenting, volunteering commitments can be particularly tough. You simply can't do it all. Even if you're not working, but you're trying to juggle all the balls - out of obligation rather than enthusiasm - you may combust! Be realistic about what you can take on. The success of the school fete does not rest solely on your availability to man the fairy floss stall that day. Let go of the self-imposed pressure to be available for everything.

5. Decide on your baseline and opt-ins/opt-outs

Perhaps you're someone who can easily leave the house in the morning satisfied with getting your kids dressed and fed, and nothing else. Or perhaps you can't stand the thought of returning to crumbs on the bench or dishes in the kitchen sink. We are all wired differently. Do you value sleep, or order more? I am happy with a little from Column A, and a little from Column B. The beds are "loosely" made, hair is brushed but forget about braids, lunches are made but they're not gourmet, and everyone is fed and dressed. My personal grooming is minimal. Makeup is most certainly an opt in, and I don't opt in very often! You don't need to let your standards go altogether, but it's OK to lower them a little, maintain your baseline and distinguish between essential and non-essential.

Sometimes 'done' is better than 'perfect', and 'good-enough' parenting is good enough…

Do you strive for perfection? Are you able to distinguish between perfect and good enough?

Michaela Fox is a freelance writer, blogger and mother of three. She muses on the ups and downs of motherhood on her blog Not Another Slippery Dip, and believes in the 'good-enough, guilt-free' philosophy of parenting. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.