Month: July 2012 (page 1 of 3)

When “good enough” really is good enough

Dear Wendy,

Way back when I was an undergrad, I took my first developmental psych course at the University of Ottawa. The course name makes it sound unbearably dry and boring, and judging by the amount of coffee consumed in class it probably was. But I had a huge advantage over my much younger classmates: at the point when I was restarting my degree work, Adrian was just over two years old (I did mention that this was some time ago, right?), which meant that I had a built-in child development laboratory right in my house. To me, this was the coolest thing ever.

So as I was learning about Erikson‘s developmental stages, I could go home and say, “Hey, Adrian—whaddaya think? Is your struggle over whether to eat peas or broccoli just part of your ongoing efforts to develop autonomy?” He never really gave me a satisfactory answer, mostly because his mouth was full of peas, but I knew. It was. Jean Piaget gave me a better handle on cognitive milestones, and watching Adrian explore his world and figure stuff out gave me a front row seat.

Of course, we had to cover B.F. Skinner and his famous “Skinner boxes,” arguably one of the best-known undergrad psych bugaboos, but I loved it all—because right under my nose, I could see operant conditioning at work. (Me: “You put your own socks on! Yay! Such a big boy!” Adrian: “Yes! I a big boy!” After which he took his socks right back off…and put them on again, looking hopefully in my direction.)

And then there were the attachment and social learning theorists, John Bowlby and Albert Bandura; fascinating stuff for a fairly new mother.

"The mother"

“The mother” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of this came back to me while Rachel and I were driving back from Toronto on Sunday. She has a habit of asking Big Questions (“What makes a good parent? How will I know if I am one? And how can I make sure I don’t screw up my kids when I eventually have them?”) that force me to dig way back in the old memory banks for satisfactory answers. The best I could do this time was to tell her that good parenting means paying attention to your child’s cues; and ultimately, it means doing your best to understand things from the child’s point of view, so you can reach them at their own level.

The most important advice I could give her, though, came from a British psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott . He coined a phrase that’s still used today, “the good-enough mother.” Winnicott, bless him, believed that to be a truly excellent parent (okay, he said “mother,” but I think we can assume that if he’d been writing today he would have included fathers) one need not be perfect. In fact, he said, it’s actually good for kids to have parents who are imperfect.

Yes, it means our little treasures will grow up with some foibles and quirks, but that’s okay. It’s called “being human.” Obviously, this doesn’t mean we don’t have to love them or provide them with what they need to grow and thrive, but it does mean that we have some leeway, some scope to be a little off-kilter. You can see why I would find this comforting.

So I was wondering: if you were to advise your kids on how to be an excellent parent, what would you tell them? I’ll leave you to ponder that while you grapple with jet-lag this morning!

Lots of love,


In which I fail at photography

Dear Wendy,

Well, shallow or not, it was a lovely weekend for Rachel and me, too. Gillian did a magnificent job arranging the shower, Kirsten was delightful as always, and it was so nice meeting her new family, as well as her friends. And of course, your dress was so pretty—very mother-of-the-bride, without the matronly look. All that, and egg salad sandwiches too! Hurrah!

As always, though, I fear that I failed majorly in the camera department. I had such great intentions, even charged the camera and stuck it in my handbag, with a stern note to myself to take pictures of everything. But once we were actually at the party, I got busy talking to other guests, and it wasn’t until the end that I remembered I’d actually meant to document the entire event for posterity (and this blog). I chalk it up to the fascinating conversations and general merriment. Gilly, this is all your fault.

But speaking of photos + bridal events, Adrian sent me a gem this morning. Basically, the moral of this story is: “If you’re unsatisfied with your wedding photos, don’t under any circumstances ask your geek friends to Photoshop a solution for you.”

And on that happy note, I’m off to the gym.

Hope your trip back to London is smooth and uneventful, and I’ll see you again…at the wedding!








Deep down, I’m really quite shallow

Dear Karen,

It’s amazing to contemplate, but today is the day my daughter who “only wears dresses” is having her bridal shower. Equally amazing to me, the shower is being hosted by my 2nd daughter – how did they both grow up to such an age where either becoming a bride or hosting a major party was a possibility??
I’m not going to go on and on about my feelings on this important day because I’m saving that emotional outpouring for the actual wedding. I just want to shout, jump up and down, whoop and holler, about this new stage in my family’s life. When one of us does or achieves something, it affects us all so this isn’t simply Kirsten getting married. It’s Gilly and Michael gaining new siblings. Lars and I becoming part of an even larger family. And me getting to buy a new dress or two.

Or three.



“How a Mother Can Make or Break Their College Student” Oh Really?

We’re reblogging this here for your edification and enlightenment, without comment. We’d love to hear from you: what do you think? Would you ever consider using this service for your kids? Is this the ultimate in helicopter parenting, or just an extension of the time-honoured “care package”? How would your kids react if you were to sign up for this kind of service?

East, west, home is (usually but not always) best

Dear Karen,

You’re right. It doesn’t matter about the distance apart, it matters if you’re close at heart. Oh, crap I made a rhyme and turned it into a sappy greeting card sentiment. Maybe I should become a greeting card writer? I’m putting that on my to-do list.

We knew, living abroad all those years, that one day our children would leave for university. At the time, the local universities didn’t seem suitable. Of course, all that has changed now and there are very good, if not great tertiary institutions in Hong Kong. Anyway, that’s beside the point because at that time, we were happily going down the road of foreign universities for our precious kids: University of Toronto, York, and Carleton, all in Ontario and all about as far from HK as you can possibly get, without renting the Space Shuttle.

If we had been living in Canada instead of Asia, I’d have encouraged them to go to local schools like University of British Columbia or Simon Fraser University. They would have lived with us (I’m indulging myself here, don’t try to stop me) during their 4/5 years of study, graduated, moved to an apartment in Vancouver (which is where I’m living in this fantasy), found a suitable and loving partner, got married, and given us wonderful bouncing grand babies, all within 10 km of our door. Ah, bliss!

But would it have been bliss? Hmmm, not sure. I’m a stay-awake-all-night-until-I-hear-the-front-door-open kind of mother and living with a young adult who is living an active social life would have turned me into a blithering, sleep-deprived idiot. I would have been nagging about their homework (or whatever it’s called in uni), cleaning up after them, feeding them, all things which they learnt how to do to varying degrees, on their own. By the way, never let it be said that it’s only boys who are messy, okay? You haven’t met messy till you’ve met girls who grew up with live-in domestic help. I honestly thought that having a helper plus a mother who is obsessively clean (thanks Dad, aka Mr. Clean) would ensure a life of tidy homes and cars. How wrong I was, Karen, how wrong I was.

Man, have I digressed this morning. Point is, we knew what we were getting into and yet were taken by surprise when the Day of Reckoning arrived. Near, far, makes no difference.


Older posts
%d bloggers like this: