I’m a good enough mother, and my undies are good enough too.

On more mornings than I care to remember I’ve driven to work with the warning to ‘make sure you’re wearing clean undies in case you have a car accident’ ringing as a warning bell in my mind. My undies were clean enough, that wasn’t the problem.

It was the fact that I had my husband’s underpants on. Oh no, I hear you say, she’s rabbiting on about underwear again. Why was I wearing my husband’s jocks; padded and generous in all the wrong places, sometimes even threateningly loose in the elastic department? (I tell a lie – they’re quite comfortable, especially the boxer trunks.)

Are You Wearing Underwear

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1b46QHe

Because there is at least one undies thief in our family. This is how it works. Clothes never found their way into the now defunct washing system (now teenagers do their own). Think busy teenage lives, school, study, jobs, better things to do/think about, so much hair to straighten, eyebrows to pluck before the bus, so little time…….Teenager opens her drawer – no undies. What to do? Borrow your mother’s, not that you’d admit to it, of course.

The funny thing is, I’m no longer trusted to purchase undies, apparently I have no idea, or taste. But my ‘voluminous’ knickers are good enough to ‘borrow’.

If I was a good mother, the voice of guilt sitting on my shoulder nags, I would venture into that teenage bedroom in a space suit and decontaminate, fumigate, tidy up, collect, sort, and fold. I would take out the rubbish, compost, clean their bathroom when they don’t follow through on their chores. I did when they were younger, but not now.

Most of us are full of self-doubt and feel the pressure to be a perfect parent. I have listened with devoted attention to the various experts on parenting. In our desire for certainty, we listen, we follow, we have faith. But experts (see previous post – Are you a hedgehog or a fox?) do not agree on toilet training, teething, walking, sleeping, breast-feeding, introducing solids, sterilising, behaviour, nappy rash, reflux or when to start school . Expert advice changes from one decade to the next. I guess that’s scientific research and progress. The trick is to take it with a grain of salt and follow your gut feelings.

I remember reading about Donald Winnecot and his ‘Good Enough Mother’ years ago with relief, as if he’d given me permission to be the best mother I could be, a well-intentioned human, yet imperfect as well. That my maternal shortfalls could benefit my offspring was an unexpected bonus. But I didn’t take him too seriously because I’d only found him by accident, squirrelled away in some research whilst writing a uni essay. Winnecot was a pediatrician and psychoanalyst in mid-20th century Britain. In Winnecot’s own words,

‘The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities. The way to become a good mother is to be a good enough mother.’

donald winnicot

Dr Donald Winnicott
Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1gkBPpE

I liked the sound of a good enough mother. So I was building my daughters’ independence and resilience, that was and still is my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I agree with Sheila Quirke in her Huffington Post article, ‘The Good-Enough Mother’,

‘The concept frees me with its liberation from expectations. I never have to be perfect, I only have to be good enough. If you read further into Winnicott’s theory, you learn that striving for perfection is a sure path to screwing your kids up in epic proportions.

good moms

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1e6xy8u

My daughters cook meals, sew on their own buttons, do their own laundry, write their own resumes, essays, assignments, job applications etc. Of course they ask for proofreading or advice, ideas etc. But I know parents who take these tasks on as if they were their own. Some mothers tidy their teenagers’ bedrooms (deep breath ….. guilt knocks at my door as I even write this). My daughters feel confident asking for re-marks at school when they believe they’re justified. They are able to negotiate, have the moral courage to stick up for others, are their own successful advocates when things go awry in their various part-time jobs (that’s another story).  My husband and I try to give them the space to make their own decisions, yet encourage discussion. My daughters know their parents are behind them, they just have to ask. And they do, and I ask them advice in return.

I have failed my children at times. Sometimes I’ve done it more spectacularly than others. There are things I would not do now, can’t believe I did in times of stress, sleeplessness and fear (why did I listen to some of those controlled crying ‘experts’?) I don’t dare tell you how old the Amazon Princess was when we watched Jurassic Park as a home movie because I thought it was like Disney (I turned it off, but she begged and begged me, so we watched it together from behind the lounge). On one income back then, their father and I didn’t dress them in designer baby clothes, or take them to Europe before they started school, or high school, or…….

My girls know I’m human, and that they mean the absolute world to me, despite my neglect of their laundry, school/uni lunches, and dinner on Sh Bam nights. I’m an engaged parent, a human who makes mistakes and owns up to them, most of the time. 🙂

Besides hopefully building my daughters’ resilience and independence, being a ‘good-enough mother’ who only does ‘good-enough’ housework has allowed me to chase a dream and write a book, so I’ll stop complaining about whose undies I’m wearing.

I think a lot of us are worried we’re not good enough mothers. Parenting is one of the most emotional, messy, undignified, joyful, adventurous and rewarding things I have ever done. I know I’m not alone.

To quote Brene Brown, “I’m enough. My kids are enough.”

Are we under such pressure to be perfect mothers because we parent in such a Western, individualistic culture? Do enough mothers talk to each other about what it’s really like to be a ‘perfect’ mother and juggle other, competing pressures such as career, appearance, study and family/life admin, deciding if your kids are too sick for child care when you need to go to work?

love and fear

Photo credit: A Common Prayer. A cartoonist talks to God. Michael Leunig


This entry was posted in good enough mother, Parenting, winnicott and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to I’m a good enough mother, and my undies are good enough too.

  1. Susan,

    Brilliant post. I would ascribe the social pressures of being the ‘perfect’ mother as being a function of a narcissistic society. A good mum is a great mum; a ‘perfect’ mum is likely somewhat of a narcissist. It’s great that you’ve taught your daughters to be confident and self reliant – that’s a mark of super mothering in my books.

    Particularly good was your reference to Winnicott. When common sense and real life observations closely align with a theorist’s or expert’s opinions, we have confidence in those opinions. I’m going to use the work of another psychoanalyst–a VERY controversial one–in the sequel to my current book. Similarly, his research on gender narcissism will match perfectly with my experiences and observations regarding ideological feminists.

    The underwear thing is way, way too funny. I’ll send you the manuscript tonight (my time) / tomorrow morning (your time), and you’ll soon see why. Great minds think alike; fools seldom differ.

    What a serendipitous morning (here) to find your superb post. Well done indeed, Madam! Now I’m off to finish another round of editorial review before firing you the manuscript.

    Mind if I reblog this one?

    • Thanks for the offer to reblog, happy you liked my post. Again, you have made me go and look something up. Lots of references to our narcissistic society on Google.
      I do think there’s a lot of pressure on women towards perfectionism, to not make mistakes, which empathy and good communication can be an antidote to.

  2. Reblogged this on The Mirror and commented:
    For all you wonderful moms out there–especially mine–, Susan’s post is too good not to share.

  3. Excellent. The knicker situation is rampant in my house – males and females searching for something, anything in anyone’s drawers. Socks too. And tights. Madness.

    But you are so right on the good enough idea. I have seven kids and there was no way designer anything was going to feature. Not being particularly fond of housework anyway I’ve always done enough to keep things ticking over. No more, and sometimes less. Life is too short. Added to that I believe in training my kids up to cope for themselves. Two of them are now in flats and doing really well at budgeting and cooking et al. Only five more to go. 😉
    Funnily enough, I’ve just today done a post about kids having to get on with a ‘part-time’ mum while I pursue writing as well as working full time. They know they get the best of what I can give. Just sometimes, most times, the best has been used up elsewhere. They get what’s left at the end of a long day. It makes them more self-sufficient.
    The idea of perfection of any kind is a rod for anyone’s back. Normal is really being a bit abnormal. Each to their own finding their way round the myriad roads and diversions.
    Really enjoyed this. Just confirmed what I hold true to. – Saying that, I’m sure my kids would love it if I picked up after them but that’s not going to happen at their current ages. :)x

    • Seven kids, full-time work and you write, you have my respect and admiration! Please tell me you have a cleaner or very helpful mother?? Yes, life is too short to chase every dust bunny and cobweb.
      I like what you said, ‘the idea of perfection is a rod for anyone’s back’. I agree about the tights and socks, what about anything to do with hair – brushes, straighteners, spray, dryers….Thanks for the follow. 🙂

      • I don’t have either to help unfortunately. 😉 But all the more reason for the kids to do their own. And a bit around the house too.
        As for what goes ‘walking’ from rooms……nothing’s sacred! I’m tempted to get a lock for mine. Just to annoy them. :)x

      • After a few ‘last straws’, I wanted a lock on my bedroom door, but my husband got all uppity about it, “Not locking our kids out…..”
        Just had a wicked thought, could lock him out too!!
        Your poems are wonderful, I really, really like them. Do you just dash them off on your blog? 🙂

      • I’m dashing them off right, left and centre just now. 😉 Floods of words. Might get swept away in the avalanche!

        My temptation with the lock is to lock myself in! Resist all intrusions.:)x

      • Amazing that you are so prolific! Like a well inside you. Don’t stop! 😄

      • I’m beginning to be somewhat embarrassed at the amount. Heading towards 500 posts inside 4 and a bit months. There must be something wrong with that, I’m thinking. And then I think, bugger it! Go for it. So I am. :)x

      • Wow, 500!! As if you’re downloading from somewhere, ha ha. I really enjoy it! 😄😄

      • I didn’t mean downloading from the internet, BTW, from a ‘greater’ source.

      • Well, if He’s looking for a mouth He’s found one! 🙂
        I think I’m just going a bit crazy with it and have been since I joined here. Too many years of not doing anything with my writing other than filing it away. And now it’s all a fresh flow. Loving it right enough. :)x

  4. Lee-Anne says:

    Yes navigator1965 I concur! I am sure you are an excellent mother Susan as your blog posts exude kindness and sensitivity. I laughed out loud while reading about your undies-thief…fortunately for me my undies are so uncool my teenage daughter wouldn’t touch them with a barge-pole 🙂 I am still washing for her (but must train her very soon!)

  5. Aussa Lorens says:

    I think it’s good that you have them do these things for yourself and have a realistic understanding of who you are. My mother waited on us hand and foot– did our laundry and left it folded on the foot of our bed, prepared AND cleaned up dinner… and I didn’t appreciate it until I was way out of the house. It makes me sad. It will be a very long time before I ever have teenagers but I’m pretty sure the phrase “What, are your hands broken?” will be like a catchphrase in my house 😉

  6. Peekiequeen says:

    Loved your post! Reassuring to me as a mom of two pre-pre-teens when I feel I don’t do enough. But like the quote above reminds, I’d rather have a dirty floor and happy kids than a sparkling house and kids who hate me. Cheers!

    • I think kids love connecting with their parents. They will remember time together far more than their parents doing things for them that they could have done themselves. Don’t forget, dirty floors help boost immune systems! 🙂

  7. vicbriggs says:

    What a lovely post, Susan. And thank you for reminding me of the good-enough-mother concept. I first came across it at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in London and I do think it is a brilliant theory. There is too much emphasis on being perfect, so much so that people kill themselves trying to achieve the unachievable, but being good enough? Well: that’s the whole point in the end – liberating 🙂

    • Vic,

      Are you a psychoanalyst or an aspiring psychoanalyst? If so, do you have a beard? I heard it’s a job requirement to be part of the club.

      • vicbriggs says:

        I am neither, but the thinker I am writing my thesis on was a trained psychoanalyst and I strive to be thorough in my research. 🙂

      • Ah. So no beard.

        Which thinker? I’ve developed a rather significant respect for psychoanalysts in general.

      • vicbriggs says:

        Cornelius Castoriadis. He was born in Istambul. His family were Greek and fled to Athens when he was a child, during those dreadful times when ethnic cleansing came to the fore in that part of the world: Turks that happened to be of Greek origin had to return to their homeland and vice versa. As a teen he became politically involved, and this endangered his life so that he had to escape certain death by embarking on the Motoroa for France. It is in France that he wrote all of his significant work. Abandoning Marx because he believed that Marxism no longer held the answers for contemporary society, he joined Lacan and trained as a psychoanalyst. But then of course, this eternal rebel, decided that Lacan got things wrong too, and he decided to fashion his own psychoanalytic theory by returning back to the roots – that is Freud. 🙂

      • I will look him up for sure, probably not before Navigator1965. 😀

      • vicbriggs says:

        Just don’t begin with The Imaginary Institution of Society. It is his magnum opus, but somewhat heavy going. I prefer his polemic writing and those on modern and ancient democracy personally. His Reflections on Racism in World in Fragments are certainly worth a read. 🙂

      • I’m going to have to learn more about him. Interestingly, there is a very controversial NYC neo-classical psychoanalyst who has remained true to Freud as well. This guy’s concept of gender narcissism has had a significant influence upon my own thinking.

      • Will leave this one to you two to sort out! Off to bed, navigator1965 & Vicbriggs! 😀

    • Thanks Vic. If I’m good-enough at my mothering to minimise my kids’ wobbly edges, maximise their resilience and maintain good relationships with them, then I am content.I do love that word – liberating. 🙂

  8. Loved this! “I’m a good enough mother, my undies are good enought, too..” And dang it, people like me! Great post!

  9. geanieroake says:

    I always hated the fact that I wasn’t perfectly consistent. I’d lay down the law, then get too lazy to be the enforcer. My floors are sticky too, and have been for days. Thanks for saying it’s O.K.

    • I know! You have the best intentions, then get too tired/frazzed to enforce! A (very respected) girlfriend admitted she hadn’t mopped her floors for a couple of months and I could have kissed her. But she reads and plays a lot with her kids, so where’s the problem in the long run? Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

  10. What a wonderful post, Susan. So much of it rings home. I now feel happy to fall into the category “a good enough mother”. Heaven knows the floors in my house get very little attention, but my heart’s in the right place and my children are very accepting of my multitudes of short comings. I just have to share this on my other blog. Too good not to. 🙂

    • Thanks for reblogging my post, Amelia!
      I came across Winnicott when I was a young mother but the older I get, the more sense he makes in mothering in a balanced way for all, that teaches children resilience.
      Your bear post was a great service, can’t fathom what people do to animals (and each other).
      Looking forward to more of your posts, and will really get my act together and read your book now! The comments on Amazon intrigue me as a teacher. 😊

      > Date: Sun, 10 Nov 2013 01:34:28 +0000
      > To: susanlattwein@hotmail.com

      • My pleasure for the reblog, Susan. I loved your post. Until reading it, I had been feeling guilty for years for being a less than perfect mother. But, my children (now in their early twenties) are happy, kind, caring, intelligent and well-balanced young people. So being a good enough mother obviously is good enough. It all makes perfect sense now! LOL 🙂
        Thank you so much for offering to read Mungai. I do so hope you enjoy it. 🙂 🙂

  11. Great post! I try to follow the same concept with my kids. Theyre twins 11 yr old girls, a 5 yr old girl, and a 2 yr old boy. Glad to know this will pay off when theyre older!

    oh and I love your theme, so pretty!

  12. First off, I went, “Oh Susan, you didn’t. You are REALLY talking about this” in your opening. By “didn’t”, I don’t mean the sexy stuff you had on underneath but that you would talk about it. LOL!!

    Secondly, “adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.” Very cool. Huh.

    Helicopter Mom’s been helicoptering less since she started blogging.

    Thirdly, this is a fabulous post. Sounds like you’ve done a great – rather, not so great? – job with your girls. LOL


  13. Hilarious! It all works out in the end.

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