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Wisdom of Winnicott: Aspiring to be an Ordinary Devoted Parent


A famous pediatrician coined the term “ordinary devoted mother”.  D.W, Winnicott, who wrote extensively until his death in 1971, focused on relationships between children and their parents (he referred primarily to mothers in his earliest works).  Winnicott stressed that left on their own, parents would raise happy and healthy children.  He stated that the ordinary devotion of parents is enough for healthy development and that parents do not need to seek advice of experts in order to be good parents.  Winnicott further argued that it is extremely important that parents NOT strive for perfection. Rather, it is important to be a “good enough mother”. He wrote that children actually need to see the day-to-day imperfections in their parents so that they know it is ok to make mistakes and it actually helps children be adaptable. 


Winnicott never knew about the internet.  But, he was surrounded by a plethora of parenting books and expert advice that was rampant in his time.  He cautioned parents to trust their own instincts and their love for their baby. He reminded parents that they would do the right thing if they listen to their instincts and focus on what their baby needs.  


In this age of instant information, where we are constantly bombarded with the latest trend promising successful children and a happy life, we should remember the wisdom of Winnicott.  It is not the extraordinary efforts that make us good parents.  It is the ordinary, every day nurturing and care-taking that is most important.  


Here are some of the teachings from Winnicott that we can apply today:


  • Love your children.

  • Love your children for who they are, not who you wish them to become (even on the days when they are a handful).

  • Take care of your children’s needs with nutritious food, warm shelter, kind words.

  • Nurture creativity through play, not expensive gadgets.

  • Play is not a luxury, it is a necessity.  It is not a reward for completing other tasks but an essential component for healthy development.

  • Screen-time is not a substitute for downtime.

  • Holding and comforting children is needed so that children can, eventually, learn to soothe themselves.  

  • Imagination is a key component of empathy; you have to imagine what the other person is feeling. Encourage your child’s imagination and empathy will follow.

  • The ordinary devoted parent is tremendously flexible and adaptable.

  • The family is a “facilitating environment”.  Within a loving and caring family, children will grow to become capable, secure, and happy.


Play and love and nurture your child in ordinary ways.  There is no secret to being the perfect parent. In fact, perfection may not be healthy for your child.  But, if you treat your child in a loving way, you can strive to reach the heights of ordinary parenting by being…good enough.


Dr. Melinda Macht-Greenberg is a Child Psychologist and expert in education and development.  You can learn more at


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