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You're “good enough”: Going Beyond Right and Wrong

Listening to Angela, a mother of a 4-month old, telling me about her effort to stop assessing her actions in terms of "right" or "wrong" and recognize her ability to act in the moment, becoming a creatively confident or "good enough mother".

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Angela, one of my friends has a 4 month-old baby and she was telling me today about how she has been lately thinking a lot about what she’s doing right or wrong. “She’s crying and not sleeping, so I might be doing something wrong. But, I might also be doing something right because she’s smiling a lot.”

I’m sure many parents can relate to this. I definitely could. She evoked the work by a Buddhist thinker who invites us to consider that there was nothing right or wrong “in principle”,but that right or wrong was defined “in practice”, in the moment. Hence, Angela tries to switch her questions from “Am I right? Am I wrong “in absolute terms”? to “What I’m doing right now for my child and for me?”

As I was listening to her, I remembered how reading the British Psychoanalyst and Pediatrician, Winnicott was helpful to me when I was in that same situation. Winnicott developed the notion of “good enough mother” (which works I think for fathers too). In fact,this notion stuck with me and has been guiding me in many other realms of my life.

Winnicott wrote:

A mother is neither good nor bad nor the product of illusion, but is a separate and independent entity: 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.

Winniccott reminds us that “just”being a “good enough mother” is already a lot of work. It is not that easy, yet it is a goal that we can all aim to reach. It might be easier than aiming for perfection.

He also highlights something very important about children: while parents should provide care and love for their children, there is a part of the children’s development and growth that does not depend on them: “Each baby is a going concern. In each baby is a vital spark, and this urge towards life and growth and development is a part of the baby, something the child is born with and which is carried forward” (Winnicott, 1991, p. 27)

What Angela is experiencing and exploring is how to be creative and confident as a mother. In other words, how to feel confident that she’s doing the right thing for her and her baby “at this moment” and to experiment with what works for both of them instead of looking up to rules heard, told or read.

This idea of “good enough”is not limited to parenting: I often think of it as an educator as I tried to develop learning environments that support my students in becoming critical thinkers that challenge the status quo and take seriously the need for thinking. I also think about it in my research work, and in many other aspects of my life.

Yet, this is not easy because we all think in terms of right and wrong, and not only as parents. Our society is all about norms, conventions that define what is right and wrong.“Good enough” is not a notion perceived positively: it sounds like being lazy,doing something mediocre. I don’t interpret it like this. To become “good enough” entails a lot of work, and constant practice, yet with the acknowledgement that we are on a journey and that it is better to do something that stay paralyzed in an attempt to reach perfection. It also requires to feel confident in order to stop thinking about judging things as right or wrong in absolute terms.

How these ideas of “good enough” and of going beyond “right and wrong” can help us for this challenge?

1. Many inspirations have pointed to defining the“right” education or stressing the “wrong” education, yet how can we recognize what is right or wrong for a child or a teenager, or for a certain group of children or a certain community?

2. In the interview by Ayelet, NP, was able to decide that what was “right” for his parents and his culture was not “right” for him.Yet, as Ayelet noted this is not easy to do. How can we support people in making these “in situ” interpretations of what is right for them, now?

3. This resonates with Asley's question on the universal vs. the individual:  "I wonder how universal these triggers might be, and how unique they are to each of us?" (see Ashley's comment in  http://www.openideo.com/open/creative-confidence/inspiration/the-story-of-doug-dietz-creative-confidence-in-the-mri-suite/)

4. It reminds us that we cannot design for the “normal”individual because there are so many individuals out there with different styles and preferences. How do we develop ideas that recognize and support this diversity?

5. It highlights that whatever we design with all the best intentions different individuals in different contexts will interpret these ideas differently. It is important to remember it and know that things will vary, evolve and we need to be flexible. We need to design for emerging practices.

6. How do we define “good enough” when it comes to create a learning environment that challenges, yet supports children and young people? Good enough is not about saying “this is it”, but about “trying now”knowing that you’ll have to try again.

7. How “good enough” can inspire creative confidence in young people without making them interpret it in a “lazy way”: no need to try too much, let’s just do it once and decide it’s “good enough”.

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