The Good Enough Child

The renowned English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott amously proposed the idea of the “good enough mother.” Winnicott taught that parents should understand that they cannot provide everything the child demands. Yes, the child will grow frustrated, but the developing child’s frustration is essential to autonomy and to growth. Parents need not be – indeed never could be – perfect. It is good enough to be good enough.

As a rabbi I have often seen the reverse. Children whose parents are at the end of life blame themselves for not being there for aging parents at every minute. Many who have spent days or weeks by the bedside of an aging parent are unable to be there at the exact moment of death and beat themselves up over this presumed omission.

I would like to extend Winnicott’s idea of the good enough parent to “the good enough child.” The Torah teaches “Do not cast me off when I am old” (Ps. 71:9). That is sane and sage and compassionate. It does not say that you must be devoted unfailingly to care for an aging parent. We are flawed creatures with multiple responsibilities and confusing choices. Neither parents nor children have to be perfect; they can, without guilt, be good enough.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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