Keeping it real - our view on parenting

At My First Five Years, we know all children and parents are individuals, each with their own characteristics, interests and ideas. We are here to support every parent to notice and celebrate their child’s unique developmental journey, and to avoid the pressure of comparison. We know that being a parent is often full of joy, but it is sometimes hard work too, so we think about 'realistic parenting', which is linked to the theory of 'good-enough parenting’. In this blog, I am going to explain more about ‘good-enough parenting’ and why being realistic about your parenting might be best for your child and family.  

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Social comparison theory and parenting 

Sometimes when you become a parent, you find that suddenly everywhere you look there seems to be conflicting advice about what you should or should not do for your baby. When you look at social media it can feel that there are definite choices you have to make or a ‘side’ you need to take. In reality, when you chat to friends you realise that we all adapt our approaches to our individual child and family, and other parents are usually supportive of each other.  

Social psychologist Leon Festinger described social comparison theory in 1954, which suggests that all people use social comparisons to support them to make judgements about themselves. The theory suggests that we all look at those around us and think about how we compare to our impression of them. We make downward, upward and lateral comparisons with others, so might see ourselves as better, worse or about the same as those around us.




In terms of parenting, we might look at what we see on social media or at a toddler group and this might impact how we view our parenting.[1] If we feel that other people are doing a better job than us, this might make us feel less confident in our abilities. When looking at images on social media, we find ourselves comparing our real life to the idealised images of other people’s lives.[2] However, social media can be supportive and friendships can develop online, as there is something reassuring about knowing you were not the only one awake at 3am with your baby or experiencing your toddler’s tantrum in the supermarket for the first time!  

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It can be helpful to remember that most of us are more likely to share the positive aspects of our lives online, and this applies to parenting too.  


What is ‘good enough’? 

At My First Five Years, we know that the early years of children’s lives are important for their development, health and happiness, and we also know that we all keep learning and developing throughout our lives. We know parents and children are individuals and we know that parenting is incredibly rewarding, but also hard at times! We believe that what parents do is amazing and very important, but this does not mean that we have to be perfect all the time and this is where the theory of ‘good-enough’ parenting can be helpful! 

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The idea of the ‘good-enough mother’ was suggested by paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in the 1950s. He referred to mothers as generally mothers were viewed as the main carers of babies and young children. The idea is that trying to achieve perfection at all times is unrealistic as parents are human beings. However, aspiring to be ‘good enough’ is realistic and achievable, and allows us to be human.[3]  

For example, you might plan to support your child to have the emotions they have, while calmly supporting them to understand the boundaries or limits you need to have in place. However, one day, after a long day at work, when you are trying to make a meal, you might find that you respond by saying, “Just stop crying, it’s time to eat. You have to come now.” This might result in a difficult mealtime, or very little food being eaten, and you might feel disappointed that you did not calmly follow your usual steps of naming your child’s emotion and supporting them to regulate. However, the idea of good-enough parenting is that if you are sensitive and warm towards your child, you do not need to be immediately responsive to their needs every time.  

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Some people might be unsure about the term, ‘good enough’. Surely we all want to be the best parents we can be, is talking about good-enough parenting an excuse for mediocrity? Perhaps being good enough allows us to be the best parents we can be, as it removes the pressure to be perfect, with the increased likelihood of burnout that striving for perfection can bring.[4]  


Keeping it real 

At My First Five Years, we think of it as realistic parenting because, although we know being a parent is amazing and brings real joy at times, you won’t find us saying parenting is easy. We know that informed parents can be empowered to do the very best for their children and we are here to provide you with information based on science and research.  

At My First Five Years, we know that parents are committed to their children and to finding out more about their learning and development. We love our children and put their needs first, we are consistent and have fairly predictable routines, but we are human and remembering that removes the pressure to be perfect. It allows us, as our children develop, to talk to them about how we manage our emotions, and to show them how we act if we get something wrong.  

If you have had a hard day and the end of day routine is feeling a bit much, you can acknowledge this, and say to your child that you need a moment to calm down before helping them. Your child sees how an adult regulates their emotions and might begin to find ways to calm themselves. They can also see how adults find strategies to behave differently next time. After the mealtime incident, you might say to your child, “I was feeling tired today and I did not give you time to calm down before you came to have tea. I wonder what we could do next time?”  

The theory of the ‘good-enough parent’ links to a view that as a parent you don’t have to have all the answers yourself, sometimes you might seek advice from someone else, which you may take as it is or adapt for your child and family's needs.[5] Sometimes you might need a break or some support, and by doing this you are continuing to put your child’s needs first and showing them how you look after your own needs. By seeing how you do this, your child will learn ways that they can look after their own mental health and wellbeing as they grow up. 

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Most children need us to be responsive and consistent most of the time and understanding this is how the theory of good-enough parenting developed. However, some children might need more consistency than others, for example, if your child has experienced trauma in their lives, they might need a higher level of consistency and you might need some extra support with your parenting. This can sometimes be the case for children who have been adopted as a result of neglect or abuse.  


Support for real parents 

Our app will support you to notice and celebrate the skills your child is mastering as they grow, as well as giving you some tips for looking after your wellbeing. Through further reading in the app, you can find out more about your child’s development and ways you can support them to develop and learn.  

Check out our app on the app store:




[1] Vogels, E.A. & Perunovic, W.Q.E. (2020) Comparing the apple of my eye: Parental reactions to academic social comparisons of their elementary school-aged children. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 50, 41-52.  

[2] Coyne, S.M., McDaniel, B. & Stockdale, L.A. (2017). “Do you dare to compare?” Associations between maternal social comparisions on social networking sites and parenting, mental health, and romantic relationship outcomes. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 335-340.  

[3] Mabey, C. & Kinghts, D. (2017). Leadership Matters: Finding Voice, Connection and Meaning in the 21st Century. London:Routledge.  

[4] Sorkkila, M. & Aunola, K. (2020) Risk factors for parental burnout among Finnish parents: The role of socially prescribed perfectionism. Jounral of Child and Family Studies, 29, 648-659.  

[5] Kellett, J. & Apps, J.(2009) Assessments of parenting and parenting support need. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Retrived from: Assessments of parenting and parenting support need | JRF Accessed on: 4th January 2022.