John Whelehan Therapeutic Counselling

Counselling Psychology in FULHAM & Epsom

Soil that is dirty grows the countless things. Water that is too pure has no fish. – Hong Zicheng

"Soil that's dirty grows countless things; water that's too pure has no fish," as Hong Zicheng wisely stated. This metaphor, while possibly offering practical advice on aquatics, struck me with its broader implications this morning during my children's swimming lessons.

While chatting with another parent by the pool, my two other children were happily running around. The parent empathized, acknowledging the challenge of managing them all with patience and care. This led me to ponder the expectations placed on parents and whether projecting ourselves into the world amplifies social pressure to conform to an unattainable standard.

There was a time, not long ago, when our self-perception derived from a more close-knit social group – perhaps a village or a subcultural community with shared standards. Today, our lives are more public, the village is global, and people we'll never meet can comment on our lives. The visibility of falling short and the impact on our behaviour are worth considering.

Reflecting on a group of well-behaved young people celebrating a 21st birthday in London, I admired their maturity. Yet, it made me uneasy. Recalling my own experiences at that age, I realized the waiter would have preferred serving them over my friends and me two decades ago. Our exuberance was louder, we got drunker, and we wouldn't have held it together as well. We were carefree, oblivious to the fact that our night out might be publicized on the internet.

Getting it wrong is a constant in my day. I often fall short of my expectations and those of others. Today was a case in point. Managing three young kids with kindness and patience requires a level I don't always possess. Just before bedtime, my 19-month-old son and I had a disagreement – he won. My unrealistic expectations led to a disproportionate emotional reaction. His honest response prompted my six-year-old daughter's advice and my subsequent apology.

It's okay to get it wrong; that's the message from Donald Winnicott and Heinz Kohut. The 'Good Enough Mother' theory acknowledges that perfection isn’t necessary. Imperfect parenting allows the child to draw on previous experiences, fostering self-sufficiency. Kohut's Self Psychology emphasizes that falling short provides opportunities for internal growth.

An imperfect world is beautiful, and considering the fundamentally flawed nature of humanity, we should fit right in.

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© John Whelehan

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