Friday, March 25, 2005

The Good Enough Parent

One of the best books I've read on child rearing was The Good Enough Parent by Bruno Bettelheim. This is from the introduction:
In order to raise a child well, one ought not to try to be a perfect parent, as much as one should not expect one's child to be, or to become, a perfect individual. Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings. Efforts to attain it typically interfere with that lenient response to the imperfections of others, including those of one's child, which also make good human relations possible.

But it is quite possible to be a good enough parent -- that is, a parent who raises his child well. To achieve this, the mistakes we make in rearing our child -- errors often made just because of the intensity of our emotional involvement in and with our child, -- must be more than overcompensated for by the many instances in which we do right by our child.

The book never was widely read, probably because it was not an easily read how-to book, but an invitation to look at a child's world from the child's point of view and to remember one's own childhood to discover what hidden agendas we bring to the world of parenting.

I'm thinking of this book after pondering the "Mommy Madness" articles. My siblings and I are also trading anecdotes in preparation for our parents' 50th wedding anniversary. It is quite fashionable nowadays to find a few flaws in one's upbringing and attribute all sorts of psychic harm to one's childhood trauma. Maybe that's what makes those Mommies so crazy. They have become accustomed to pursuing and achieving perfection, they fell that less than perfect parenting will ruin their kids, yet there is no such thing in parenting.

Working on an Indian reservation gives me a totally different perspective. The lucky rez families have stayed intact through the generations, but many families are still rebuilding after generations of alcohol abuse, poverty, and the old practice of forcibly separating kids from their families in an attempt to make the kids "less Indian".

I work with some people who suffered through abysmal childhoods, but they are determined to do better by their kids. They have forgiven their parents and are even caring for those parents who forgot to care for them. I know that when I get really stressed with my kids I blurt out the same things my mom said to me, and I'm thankful that my "inner soundtrack" is reasonably sane. My friends who were raised in foster homes and orphanages, my friends whose parents were literally never sober, these people are inventing parenthood from scratch. I am in awe of their bravery and dedication as they forge through what is, to them, uncharted territory.

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