The good news? Research shows that parents don’t have to be perfect to raise secure children.
The good news? Research shows that parents don’t have to be perfect to raise secure children. Parents just have to be “good enough,” which essentially means expressing a few important qualities a good portion of the time.
Attachment theory posits that children who have strong, healthy attachment bonds grow up with an inner sense of stability and security that allows them to explore the world and develop their unique, authentic personalities. We call these people “securely attached.” Their basic worldview is “I’m okay and the world is okay.”
Research has shown that securely attached people have high self-esteem; they are willing to take risks towards their goals; they seek out social connection and support and tend to have trusting, long-term relationships. Aren’t these the very things we want for our children—as well as ourselves, our partners, our friends?
Our work at Inward Bound Mindfulness Education helps young people (and their parents, families, teachers, and communities) develop skills in mindfulness and relating as foundational tools for life. In my role as a mentor with youth, I’ve been struck by how aligned the qualities of secure parenting are with the fundamental skills we cultivate in mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations.
The Touchstones of “Good Enough” Parenting
This isn’t always being physically present, it’s being emotionally and attentionally present when we are interacting with our kids. We know when we’re distracted and only paying half-attention. So do our kids.
A good enough parent pays attention to and is interested in the emotional and mental experiences of their child and feels an empathic connection with them. This attunement allows the child to feel seen and known.
Healthy, secure parents soothe and reassure their child when they are distressed, caring for the pain in whatever way they can, and assuring them that they will be okay. This can be more important than fixing things or making them better right away.
This is our unadulterated pride when our baby learns to roll over or stand up. We want this enthusiasm and delight in our child’s learning and development to continue throughout their life, connecting positive emotions with their developing sense of self (i.e., self-esteem).
As parents, this skill requires us to let go of our illusion of control over our children’s lives and become champions of their independent self-development. We support them in pursuing their interests, regardless of our own priorities and desires for them. This helps our children learn how to explore their unique inner and outer world.
We can’t map out our children’s futures and we can’t protect them from the inevitable ups and downs of life. We can help them cultivate self-awareness, self-esteem, and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.
Mindfulness practices, which more and more young people learn in school, builds upon similar touchstones, with similar results. Mindfulness helps to develop awareness, kindness, and curiosity. It cultivates empathy and compassion for oneself and others. Finally, it builds equanimity, which we need as parents especially, as we learn that ultimately, we aren’t in control of other people’s happiness or unhappiness, a lesson that can be particularly important, and difficult, in relationship to our children.
Parenting is not easy. We will never be perfect. What is more helpful is a realistic understanding of what we can be so that our children grow up secure, happy, and healthy—which the research shows is attainable by all of us “good enough” parents.
If you read this article, you’re on track to cultivating everything you need to be “good enough.” Just keep going.
Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) offers in-depth mindfulness programs that guide young adults in developing self-awareness, compassion, and ethical decision making, and empowers them to apply these skills in improving their lives and communities. See upcoming online programs—and check out this Mindfulness in Parenting post on iBme's blog.