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The Family Therapist is In
"Good-Enough" Parenting
June, 2005 - Issue #8
Psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott came up with the phrase, "good-enough mothering." That phrase could be changed to "good-enough parenting." Winnicott said that parents can't expect perfection from themselves and that they will make mistakes. Normal parental mistakes will not prevent a child from developing into a healthy adult. Knowing that we'll make mistakes doesn't mean that we shouldn't work to build our children's self-esteem. In fact, one of the biggest parenting mistakes we don't have to make is forgetting the three most empowering words we share with our kids: I love you.

Understanding the importance of these words and practicing them daily plays a vital role in building our children's self-esteem. When a parent is asked if they love their child, the usual response is, "Of course I do." But, when asked about the last time they told their son or daughter or showed them, the response is much less definite. Simply loving is not enough. It's so important as parents that we show our children love - that we verbally, physically express it. Children need to know that they're loved for who they are today, not what they could do or what they could become or because they've done something we want.

Because kids, including teenagers, are very concrete and "now" oriented, they need to be communicated with daily - they need to hear they're loved daily. Can you think of three ways of expressing love that your child will recognize? Besides saying the words, it's important to brainstorm other active ways to "say" the words. Maybe it's cooking their favorite meal, spending time doing their favorite activity, asking for their opinion, listening, avoiding judgment. Let your child know that they're unique and have something important to contribute as an individual and a family member. Lots of hugs and kisses! (A teenager may not accept these - but maybe a pat on the back would be allowed). Do you catch your child doing something good and give them positive strokes? Do you use open displays of love and affection? When you get upset with your child do you withhold love and affection? Sometimes when parents and children are arguing the words I love you are spoken less and less or not at all. Children need to know clearly and unequivocally they're accepted and valued in their family even during conflict. They need to be secure of their place in the family. "I love you" should be unconditional. Parents who are able to put aside their anger long enough for an "I love you" at the end of a difficult day are building their child's self-esteem. As a mom or dad, even during an argument we want to be able to say, "Okay, it's been a tough one today, but I need you to know I love you very much."

Maybe during your own childhood expressions of love weren't modeled so it wasn't something you were comfortable with when you became a parent. It's okay to say to your son or daughter, "I wish I would have held you closer, and hugged and kissed you more when you were little. And I hope you'll let me hug and kiss you now that you're older because I love you so much." Remember parents, we will make mistakes but it's never too late to say "I love you."

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As always, I hope you'll share your ideas, thoughts, and questions with me by emailing kschafer@insidescv.com.
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