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Why being a “good enough” parent is better than being perfect!

So you have heard somewhere about how good it is to set up language routines to military precision, to ignore your children when they don’t speak your language, and to never make the mistake to slip into the majority language… and now you are thinking that this is not possible for you, so you must be a failure!

Well, this is where your good enough parent fairy comes to remind you that children can develop good language skills if you put time and effort into your routines, but you can’t beat yourself up if your life does not fit the fairy tale one you think you may be aspiring to!

Parents often feel overwhelmed and inadequate when it comes to raising children in general, but the added stress of being the only person trying to pass on a language can make parents feel like they are not good enough, especially if the child tends to respond in the majority language.

The concept of the good enough parent was popularised by Bettelheim from the writings of the British psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott, who introduced the concept of the “good enough mother.”
In Bettelheim’s own words:

“In order to raise a child well one ought not to try to be a perfect parent, as much as one should not expect one’s child to be, or to become, a perfect individual. Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings. Efforts to attain it typically interfere with that lenient response to the imperfections of others, including those of one’s child, which alone make good human relations possible.”

So the good enough parent who approaches bilingualism should not aim for perfection, whatever that might mean. The perfectionist parent will always think that if there is a problem or something has gone differently to the original plan, it must be someone’s fault. Very often we meet parents who blame themselves or their partner if the child is using language differently to what they had expected.

But blaming ourselves, feeling that we have failed or thinking that there is no hope, is not going to help your family or your child.

We talk about putting effort into bilingualism, but what is a good enough parent for a bilingual child?

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