The mathematics of the ‘good enough’ mother

The mathematics of the ‘good enough’ mother

Nearly every day I try to weigh up the many ways I might have failed my daughters in the previous twenty four hours against those instances that might meet the definition of ‘good enough’.

The phrase ‘good enough mother’ was first coined by Winnicot (a British psychoanalyst and paediatrician) in 1953. Through mother-infant observation he discovered that a certain amount of ‘failure’ by the mother actually benefited her child – it allowed them to develop a certain level of what today would be described as ‘resilience’. I have to remind myself of this constantly, because I feel like I fuck up daily.

Today’s tally looks like this:


  1. Allowed my eldest daughter to have toast for lunch.
  2. Got distracted for a good hour or so trying to look for jobs and left her watching TV.
  3. As soon as my youngest went down for a nap, I went to have a cigarette (my nicotine habit is a source of great shame, even though I try to mitigate the harm as best I can by timing my few cigarettes with periods that I know she won’t need to breastfeed for a good few hours).
  4. Was so in my own head that I cut short a make-believe game we were playing because I couldn’t concentrate.
  5. Didn’t have enough patience with either child at bedtime.
  6. While my eldest was cuddling up next to me as I fed her little sister, it made my skin crawl. Not because I don’t love her cuddles, but just because it felt overhelming. I tried not to show it, but I hate the idea that she might sense that.

Good enough

  1. I took the girls out to the shops in the morning and bought my eldest some Smarties as a thank you for brings so lovely while we looked for presents for her sisters birthday.
  2. I helped my eldest make a card for her sister.
  3. I painted butterflies with them.
  4. I didn’t freak out when my eldest refused the stir fry I made for lunch.
  5. I took the girls to the playground for an hour.
  6. I managed to keep to our schedule and have them both fed, bathed, stories read and asleep by 7:15. 
  7. I have bought balloons, presents and flowers ready for my youngest’s first birthday tomorrow (this is tempered by the fact that I’m very aware my youngest hasn’t got a ‘big’ present from us like her big sister did because we are broke).

All in all, I’m calling today a draw.

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