What does good enough mother mean?                                 Loss and grief as depicted in the movie “Wild”

Good enough mother

As a busy mother and a therapist, making time for date night is a rare occurrence. Yet, when it does happen, I feel inspired and rejuvenated in both my personal and professional life. Over the holidays, my husband and I managed to escape from parental responsibility and dirty diapers for a night and enjoyed a lovely dinner at a local Italian restaurant, followed by a movie, “Wild.” It got me thinking about motherhood, raising children and the important things in life – beauty, creativity, nature and the incredible resilience of the human. I wanted to share my thoughts with you and pay tribute to all mothers out there, yet again!
If you have not seen it yet, “Wild” depicts the real-life story of a young woman, who decides to literally “walk her way back to the woman her mother raised her to be” after her mother unexpectedly dies of cancer at 45. We see how the pain of the loss overwhelms her and pushes her to act in an effort to cope, unfortunately, a self-destructive one. Promiscuity, drugs and adultery become trusted companions, who make her feel ecstatic for a short period of time, forgetting the deeply saddening loss of her mother – a woman of happiness, hope and joy for life even in the face of poverty and abuse.
When the sexual escapades leave her divorced, pregnant and disgusted with the woman, she had turned into, the grieving daughter embarks on a hiking journey through the Pacific Crest Trail, alone with her thoughts, memories and grief. We are invited to experience the pain of mourning the most important person in ones life, our mother, and eventually find ourselves inspired, with a new appreciation for beauty and good enough mothering.

        The British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the term “good enough mother” in 1953 to describe the process of mothering that provides good enough care to an infant’s needs, recognizing that no mother can know 100% what her child needs and naturally, will fail to satisfy and frustrate him/her as a result. In the process of this, however, the mother creates the conditions for the child’s ability to overcome obstacles independently and to apply oneself in the world. Good enough mothering is, according to Winnicott, essential to normal infant development and allows for the child to utilize his/her own resources to create and achieve in the world. 
In the movie, we see a not-at-all-perfect mother, who married an “abusive alcoholic,” who did not graduate high-school and who overindulged her already grown up son. But we also see a strong woman with passion for life, a great love for her children and an ambition to continue learning and complete her education at 45. We see a good enough mother, who somehow managed to leave the “abusive alcoholic” and make a living for herself and her two children, and to teach them to appreciate the beauty in the world and to put their “best self” forward even in times of anguish. One could easily speculate that it was this fundamental good enough mother, living inside her daughter, who was able to pull her out of death and misery and push her back into life.
We come to understand that addiction, promiscuity and self-destruction are often symptoms of something else, an attempt to cope with the unbearable pain of loss, abuse and trauma. We cannot always face our problems alone and most certainly, we do not always have the luxury to escape in nature with our thoughts and the words of wisdom of others like the character in “Wild” did. Therapy is not very well represented in this movie. In fact, it’s mocked a little – what does $10 therapy give you versus a $50 therapy? Still, I know that therapy can help and it does. Just like mothers, we, therapists, are not always perfect but I would like to think that we are good enough.
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