Should you aspire to be a good mother or should you wish to be a good enough mother?
Yes, there is a distinction, there is a difference between these two.
Western civilization has failed in managing literally every conceivable type of relationship between parent and child, between two adults in a marriage, other types of intimate relationships, sexual scripts, gender roles. Everything in Western civilization is in turmoil, everything is in vertigo, the whole thing, the whole edifice is crumbling, and with it, society and culture.
No wonder, no wonder, that people are at a loss as to how to be parents.
What does parenthood mean? How does one become a good mother, a good father, or at least mother figure and father figure, maternal and paternal?
We don't have answers, and the answers that we do have are highly inadequate.
What are the roles of a good enough mother?
A mother who provides her children with the equipment necessary to cope in the world, to go out into reality and to manage and to thrive and to flourish and to bloom.
What are the three gifts that a good enough mother gives her children?
Gift number one, she exposes the child to risks.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Gift number two, she pushes her child away from her.
And gift number three, she mediates reality, she organizes reality, she interprets reality for the child.
Let's review some of these functions.
Exposing the child to risks.
In medicine, we have the hygiene hypothesis. Children should be exposed to pathogens, bacteria, viruses, dirt, in order to develop the kind of immune response which prevents allergies.
One of the main reasons that asthma and other allergies had exploded among children is because parents are too protective. They are trying to prevent the child from contracting any kind of disease.
It's a no-no to eat soil or dirt. It's a no-no to not wash your hands as a child.
And so the good parent, the good mother exposes her child to risks.
Risks are messages. Risks are signals about reality. The child needs to experience risk in order to learn what to avoid in the future.
The lessons of vigilance and caution are embedded in the experience of risk.
In the absence of such experience, the child grows up to be naive, gullible, clueless, unable to read cues from the environment properly.
Exposure to risk is the function number one of a good parent.
A good enough mother pushes the child away from her. She encourages the child to separate from her, to become an individual, indivisible, divisible from her.
She encourages the child to venture out into reality, into the world, to grandiosely take on other people, environments, situations, circumstances.
She pushes, puts herself aside as an observer, spectator. She does not interfere. She does not intervene. She is not over-winning or domineering. She doesn't blackmail the child emotionally. We'll come to it a bit later.
The good enough mother pushes her child away. That's function number two.
And function number three, when the child takes on the world, when the child first separates from mommy and walks two steps or three steps or ten steps towards the world, when the child takes on reality in the form of peers, in the form of circumstances.
Mother should be there. Mother should be there to help the child organize the world, understand the world, comprehend it and interpret it.
This is the third function of mother, of a mother or a parent actually, fathers as well.
Their role is to make sense of the world, to introduce the child to the rules of society as socialization agents, to acquaint the child with the rules of nature.
This is hot. Don't touch it. It will hurt. They are the ones who buffer the child, at once allowing the child to properly interact with reality without any firewalls and without any partitions.
And on the other hand, helping the child navigate these new rapids, these new shores, these terra incognita.
When is a mother a good enough mother?
The very phrase good enough mother was coined by Donald Winnicott, who was a pediatrician and later a psychologist. A good enough mother, according to Winnicott, is when she gradually and increasingly frustrates her child.
Yes, you heard me and Winnicott correctly. A good enough mother frustrates her child.
She does not grant the child everything he or she wishes. To grant the child everything is to isolate the child from reality. To grant the child everything is to create entitlement and later on in life narcissism. That's bad.
You need to teach the child the concepts of scarcity, the need to work and to invest, the need to commit in order to derive favorable outcomes from the child's environments.
These cumulative denials of the child's wishes, these negations of the child's delusional and fantastic magical thinking, they're crucial to the emerging perception of an external world, to the formation of an unimpaired reality test, reality testing.
The more the child is exposed to frustration, to denial, to heartbreak, the more the child becomes resilient and strong and self-sufficient.
The good mother encourages the child's separation from her. The good mother encourages the child to individuation via the formation of inviolable, unbridgeable, respected personal boundaries.
The good mother does not sacrifice her autonomy or her identity. She does not fuse. She does not merge with her child. She does not treat the child as an extension. She keeps herself apart, not aloof, apart. She teaches the child, I stop here and you begin here. That's where I stop. That's where you begin. That's where you end and reality begins.
The main chore of a mother, the main function of a mother, is to teach the child the concept of boundaries and then to help the child develop some.
The good mother acknowledges her own moments of weakness, exasperation, depression and fallibility. She does not idealize herself. She does not devalue herself. She does not idealize the child. She does not devalue the child. She keeps herself real, feet on the ground, pragmatism, nor exaggerated, nor undermined or underestimated.
The good enough mother harbors realistic expectations of the budding relationship and she reacts proportionately to the child's behavior or misbehavior.
She has no mood swings. She's not labile. She's stable. She's firm, but she's not harsh. She's just. She's predictable, but she's never dull. She encourages her offspring's curiosity even as she indulges her own curiosity.
But she never treats the child as a toy. She never instrumentalizes the child. She never uses the child or leverages the child to realize her own wishes, dreams and fantasies, unfulfilled ones.
She never parentifies the child. She never renders the child her own mother or her own father. She never colludes with the child against her spouse or intimate partner. This is emotionally incest.
The narcissistic mother is never a good enough mother. She is a control freak. She does not easily relinquish good and reliable sources of narcissistic supply, such as her children. She needs admiration, adulation, attention all the time from all her children. She does not let them go.
It is the role of her children to replenish this narcissistic supply. The children owe it to the narcissistic mother.
Also, she feels to make sure that the child does not develop boundaries, to make sure that the child never becomes autonomous or independent or self efficacious.
The narcissistic parent micromanages the child's life, encourages dependent and infantile behaviors in her offspring, regresses them on purpose, sometimes maliciously, keeps them stunted, keeps them the opposite of thriving, the opposite of flourishing.
She magnifies her children. The narcissistic parent bribes the child by offering the child free lodging or financial support or help with daily tasks or an allowance. The narcissistic parent emotionally blackmails the child by constantly demanding help and imposing chores, claiming to be ill or disabled or in need of assistance. The narcissistic parent even threatens the child, for instance, to disinherit the child if she does not comply with the parent's wishes.
The narcissistic mother also does her best to scare away anyone who may upset this symbiotic relationship or otherwise threaten the delicate unspoken contract between narcissistic mother and supply child. The narcissistic mother sabotages any budding relationship that her child develops with other people. She lies, she deceives, she scorns, she criticizes, she undermines, she gossips, she bed mouths, she sets traps to ameliorate the uneasebred by this emotional ambivalence.
The narcissistic parent resorts to myriad control mechanisms. So we can divide these control mechanisms into groups. There are many.
The first group is guilt-driven and the emblematic sentence of guilt-driven control mechanisms – I sacrifice my life for you, you owe me.
Then there are the co-dependent control mechanisms – I need you, I cannot cope without you, I will die if you leave.
Then there's the goal-driven control mechanisms. We have a common goal which we can and must accomplish together. It's a kind of shared fantasy. And then there's shared psychosis or emotional incest. You and I are united against the whole world. It's me and you. Or at least we are united against your monstrous, no good father. You are my one and only true love and passion.
Then there are the explicit control mechanisms. If you do not adhere to my principles, beliefs, ideology, religion, values, if you do not obey, me or my instructions, I will punish you.
As Lydia Rangelovska had observed, the narcissistic parent often regards himself or herself as a martyr, a martyr, a saint. He uses his alleged suffering as a kind of coin, coinage, as a currency, a mode of communication, an explanatory and organizing principle which endows the lives of the parent and of his children with meaning, direction, message and mission, victimhood as an organizing principle.
Being introduced into the narcissist drama, being inducted into her life is a privilege, an honor, an initiation and the true hallmark of intimacy.
The guilt trip induced by the narcissistic parent is not time limited because it is not linked to a specific action of the perpetrator child. The child cannot atone, cannot repent, cannot absolve herself. She can never make good and the guilt trip is intended to elicit never ending compensation.
It is not designed to bring on a restoration of the relationship, a reparation or a rehabilitation of the offending child. No, it is intended to control. It is a tool of control. It is an instrument of manipulation, guilt, guilt and shame.
The culprit is meant to feel guilty for merely existing and for as long as she exists.
A typical narcissistic mother would say, my life could have been so different, I could have accomplished so much more had you not come into the world to disrupt it.
This exercise of control helps to sustain the illusion that the child is a part of the narcissist, an internal object, an introject, an extension.
But maintaining this illusion calls for extraordinary levels of control on the part of the parent and obedience on the part of the child.
The relationship is typically symbiotic and emotionally turbulent, but regrettably long-lasting, trauma bonding sets in via intermittent reinforcement and emotional blackmail.
And then it is way too late.