The Good Enough Family
We’re coming to the end of our exploration of the 12 competencies of healthy families. Today we look at number 11: Function is defined as each member being able to authentically say that this is a pretty good family to live in over time.
This competency smacks of the ideas of pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott when he described the “good enough parent.” Good enough parenting provides a solid foundation while the child grapples with the natural disillusionment that comes from living in an imperfect world, particularly as the child comes to realize the imperfections of the parents.
Good enough parents meet the anger and disillusionment of the child with an environment that allows them to cope with the shock of the loss of the parents’ omnipotence without destroying their curiosity about reality. In the end, they can relate to the parents as real people, not as fantasy parents.
Perfection is Over-Rated
Similarly, healthy families are “good enough” families, in that they cultivate an environment in which perfection isn’t necessary, and yet in which the imperfections aren’t so destructive that any member of the family would prefer to be in a different family. That’s a pretty broad stroke, potentially allowing for too much imperfection, so we must remember to temper this competency with the other competencies of healthy families.
Because a healthy family allows for imperfection, it also includes a process of repair. When one family member inadvertently hurts another family member, which happens even in healthy families, the two individuals in the dyad are able to address the breach and re-establish trust.
Furthermore, such breaches are able to be dealt with in the dyad, without relying on triangulation to siphon off the tension, which only pushes the problem down the road where it can get temporarily lost–until a build-up of lost problems creates an avalanche set off by a small impact.
Where there are breaches of relationship and repair attempts, there must also be the willingness to forgive. Healthy families teach and model this process. Of course, in healthy families, breaches aren’t so deep that hurts seem better “repaired” by cut-off. Healthy family members take ownership of harm done to others in the system and are quick to make amends and rebuild trust when they realize they’ve caused pain.
In his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learn in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum lists some of the simple rules of life that he learned in early childhood. “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere,” he says. “The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all–the whole world–had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are–when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
When it comes down to it, good enough families practice the simplicity of the Golden Rule, and in the end they end up liking and enjoying each other well enough.