Category Archives: self-acceptance

Perfect parents

Women’s group.  Six members.

All mothers.

One has been discussing problems her grown children face.  Which leads into reviewing her failures as a parent.  Which makes her cry.

The others listen and nod sadly.

After a minute I say, “Question for the group.  Is there such a thing as an unguilty mother?”

They look at me, startled.  Then at each other.

“I doubt it,” I say.  “Every child deserves perfect parenting.  No child ever gets it.  And every mother knows this and feels bad about it.  So feelings of inadequacy and failure and guilt are built into being a mother.”

“Always?” one asks.

“Maybe not,” I concede. “Occasionally I meet a parent unaware of his or her inadequacies.  But they’re usually narcissists, and they usually scare the crap out of me.”

The crying mother sniffles.

“I can’t help feeling guilty,” she says.  “When they hurt it feels like my fault.”

Right, Mom.  You, me, and most every parent I know.

Look, guys.

Perfect parenting is not just impossible, it’s unnecessary.

The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott once famously argued that kids don’t need perfect parenting — just parenting that’s “good enough.” Winnicott wrote,

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.

Catch that last line?

The mother’s imperfection is what helps her child adapt to reality.

So relax if you’re not perfect.  You can’t be, and you don’t have to be.  And it would probably be bad for your kids if you were.

Personally I take comfort in how one of my supervisors once defined good-enough parenting.

“The sign of successful parenting,” he said, “is that your kids can pay for their own therapy.”

Good dog

Alone in the kitchen, running late.  I’m nuking coffee for my travel mug when it occurs to me that my car’s out of gas and I haven’t left myself enough time to buy more. 

I get angry.

“Shit, ” I say to myself.  “Stupid.  Stupid.”

“No, no,”  another voice answers.

“You thought about this,” it says.  “Last night 0n the drive home.  You weighed the pros and cons and decided you were too tired to stop.  Remember?” 

I remember.  My anger at myself fades.

End of story.

Why tell you this? 

Because I found it remarkable.

Last year I published a post here which began,

I’d like to introduce you to my dog.

Please look down.

You’ll find him attached to my ankle.

Titled “Bert’s dog” (and accompanied by the disturbing  illustration below), it went on to describe that part of me a Gestaltist would call my Top Dog, and other shrinky types might label my Inner Critic or Punitive Superego.  

You know the part I mean.  You’ve got one yourself. 

It’s that inner voice that knows each of your faults and weaknesses and never lets you forget them. 

The part which pretends it’s protecting you or moving your forward when actually it’s just making you hate yourself.

The part that behaves as if relentless self-criticism somehow gives you more control of your life instead of making you feel more and more helpless.

That part.

Anyway, I wrote about how I call mine Dog for short, how he’s scared and tortured me my whole life, and how I learned to live with him over the past six decades.

The post ended,

So.  What to do with a dog like this?

Well, it helps me a lot to remember what I’ve learned about him.  That Dog isn’t me, just the scared worried part.  That he’s unappeasable, and that he lies, and that he’ll say or do anything to survive.

All this gives me some distance from his voice.  It means when he starts growling I can say “Oh, you again.  Shut up,” instead of taking him too seriously.

Which is just what I did in the kitchen this morning.

I found it remarkable because for so long — despite everything I tell clients and everything I tell myself — I was never entirely sure it would happen: that I’d actually outgrow the abusive voice that’s dogged me since childhood and replace it with a kinder, gentler inner parent. 

Realizing that I had, standing there by the microwave, felt like a cool breeze on a hot day. 

And the microwave’s bing sounded like music.

You, too, can train your Dog.


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Self–talk refers to the dialogue that goes on inside your head when faced with conflict or life challenges or even simple day-to-day concerns. 

This aspect of yourself has a running commentary about everything you do.  It never lets anything go by with out some comment, remark or evaluation.


Becoming aware of this process is the first step in taking charge of this part of yourself that can create a lot of unnecessary stress.

The automatic reactions you have to this constant barrage of negative thoughts, judgments and evaluations can keep you feeling stressed and less able to meet life’s challenges.

~ From Self-talk and stress at



   * * * 

I never dreamed that there’s a possibility of stopping until my teacher told me that I could stop.

I thought something would have to descend on me.  Or there would have to be a level of purification.  Or there would have to be some alignment of the planets….

But he said, “Forget all that — that’s part of the conversation.

“Just stop right now.  Just be still.”

~ From Silencing the mind by Gangaji (1:54).


* * *

You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

You’re on your own.

And you know what you know.

And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…

Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!


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