Counselling, Reflective Practice, The Inner World, Ways of Being

A good enough mother

good enough mother

I have been thinking a good deal this week about mothers-both real and “as-if”. I remember reading that over protective parents produce accident prone children. Presumably because more confident parents allow their children to take healthy risks. Arthur Ransome’s quote fits here “Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won’t drown.” I also like Winnicott’s idea of the “good enough” mother. Presumably one who trusts herself and her children sufficiently to allow them to negotiate their world in their own terms.

The image above is that of a Tiger mother, the mother who ferociously pushes  her child to achieve- and not simply to achieve, but to excel. (The complete opposite of a Winnicottian mother.)  The reason I chose it was rather different. For me it represents the child who can face down their tigers. The child who has been given a good enough start to have a strong sense of their self worth.

A friend has started a blog about leadership. He writes well. You can find him on Twitter @AndrewGBale. The blog I am going to mention is “The Leadership Parable”. In this piece Andrew talks about three levels of leadership. Level one leadership, he suggests, is where nothing goes wrong, but nothing very exciting or different ever happens. Level two leaders are those  who “… when you look back at their areas of responsibility in a few months, have found faster and better ways of doing what they do.”  Then there are those rare creatures who have attained Level three leadership skills. These are those people who “… are able to look beyond what is being done and can see a better vision. A way of achieving transformations in their teams to not only achieve the same things better, but to deliver qualitatively improved results.”

I read his comments and smiled, thinking “How interesting. Very perceptive. Good blog.” And moved on. I am not a manager. Nor, mostly, a leader-although I try to lead my students in my lectures. I am a clinician. So my task is to enable. To facilitate. To enquire. But not to lead. Then I came back to Andrew’s comments and reconsidered them as hall marks of good clinicians. Or good mothers. Or good organisations. I have seen endless nurses* who fit into the level one tier. Nobody dies on their shift. There are few drug errors. Notes are written up on time. Ward rounds are conducted perfectly well. But there is no passion for their work. They do not sit and wonder about what patient A’s voices might mean to them. Then there are level two nurses*. These find quicker ways of organising patient’s notes. Their ward rounds are over quicker. The drug round runs smoothly. PRN medication is always available. Drug charts always written up clearly and neatly. But there is a tendency to see patients as product. They are there to be managed. Ably and competently. But managed.  Level three clinicians are, indeed, rare. These are the one’s whose notes are written -but not in Copperplate. Their care plans are simple. “I will meet C three times a week for 30 minutes.” Their ward rounds will go on because they want to be the best advocate they can be for their patients. They insist on the patient’s voice being heard. They will worry about their patients. they will ask awkward questions. And carry on asking until they get an answer that “fits.” If I’m ever a patient, I know who I want looking after me!

I think good enough mothers are level three mothers. Not in a super ego driven way. Not in a Tiger mother way. But in a way that is genuinely interested in their children. (And in the same way that the word “nurse” stands for any clinician, so “Mother” stands for anyone who has a parenting role. A good enough parent wants the best for their children. Is secure enough in herself to let her children play and explore-although this may not always be “safe”. (I remember talking with a patient who had come to see me because of his anxiety was crippling him. His wife had similar issues. They had just had a baby and this was raising their anxiety levels sky high. He said that his wife was very stressed and trying hard to be a proper mother. I mentioned Winnicott’s maxim to him. “Oh Yes. She’s trying so hard to be a ‘ good enough’ mother.” I felt so sad for her. The whole point of Winnicott’s comment is to take the pressure off mothers. “Good enough” is good enough.

My experience of the NHS, Education, Social Work and all allied professions is that it is peopled by individuals who are Tiger driven. Everything they do is fuelled by  a fear of “What will Tiger say if I do this?”  The rapacious Tiger has eaten the Good enough mother. The result seems to be organisations lead by orphans. But orphans who have been duped into believing that Tiger is truly their mother. I think this piece by Brian Patten says all that I been trying to say. It is his piece ProsePoem towards a definition of itself. I think he would be a Winnicottian mother, not a Tiger mother.

I’m told that the link to the poem was broken. Here is the full poem.


When in public poetry should take off its clothes and wave to the nearest person in sight; it should be seen in the company of thieves and lovers rather than that of journalists and publishers. On sighting mathematicians it should unhook the algebra from their minds and replace it with poetry; on sighting poets it should unhook poetry from their minds and replace it with algebra; it should fall in love with children and woo them with fairytales; it should wait on the landing for 2 years for all its mates to come home then go outside and find them all dead. When the electricity fails it should wear dark glasses and pretend to be blind. It should guide all those who are safe into the middle of busy roads and leave them there. It should scatter woodworm into the bedrooms of all peg-legged men not being afraid to hurt the innocent or make such differences. It should shout EVIL! EVIL! from the roofs of the world’s stock exchanges. It should not pretend to be a clerk or a librarian. It should be kind, it is the eventual sameness of contradictions. It should never weep until it is alone and then only after it has covered the mirrors and sealed up the cracks. Poetry should seek out pale and lyrical couples and wander with them into stables, neglected bedrooms and engineless cars for a final Good Time. It should enter burning factories too late to save anyone. It should pay no attention to its real name. Poetry should be seen lying by the side of road accidents, hissing from unlit gasrings. It should scrawl the nymphomaniac’s secret on her teacher’s blackboard; offer her a worm saying: Inside this is a tiny apple. Poetry should play hopscotch in the 6pm streets and look for jinks in other people’s dustbins. At dawn it should leave the bedroom and catch the first bus home to its wife. At dusk it should chat up a girl nobody wants. It should be seen standing on the ledge of a skyscraper, on a bridge with a brick tied around its heart. It is the monster hiding in a child’s dark room, it is the scar on a beautiful man’s face. It is the last blade of grass being picked from the city park.


*For “nurses” substitute your own profession. The categories are quite flexible.







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