As a psychologist, I work with a lot of parents who disagree about how to best address their children’s problems or often, whether there is a problem to address at all. A good deal of the time, these perpetual conflicts are a result of the couple trying to solve a different problem than the one they think they are trying to address. The real problem might be feeling like a bad parent and trying to solve it by deflecting blame to the other parent.

But what does it really mean to be good or bad? Kids often tell me that “bad kids” are the ones who get corrected by the teacher or who hit or who learn differently. In other words, “goodness” is defined by actions and abilities. A lot of the kids I see think of themselves as “bad”, which is an extremely painful state of being. I say, “I’ve worked with thousands of children in my life and I’ve never met a bad one. All children are good. Sometimes even grown ups get confused about this. They think that there are good and bad people.” When I say these things to children, I am not just trying to ease their pain. I mean it from the very bottom of my heart to the very top of my brain.

We make good and bad choices. We have skills at which we are good and those at which we are bad. We perform good and bad actions. These statements are true for all of us on a daily basis. We do good things and we do things well. We do bad things and we do things poorly. Every day. Every person. Are all of these good’s and bad’s equivalent in terms of importance? Of course not.

People are beings, not actions, skills, or decisions. Actions, skills, and decisions are capacities, not entities. I believe that every living being is a miraculous creation. A miraculous creation is a good thing. Every person is a miraculous creation. Why is this so hard to accept?

I spent a good part of my early life worrying about being “good enough”. The hardest times were when I was depressed. There were some things I learned getting myself out of those depressions, though. A very important lesson was that even having failed at happiness by becoming depressed was not the end of my life. I came back from the illness. I was more resilient than I had realized despite my imperfections. It was an important step in stepping away from the question, “Am I good?”

Stepping away from “Am I good?” is a really important part of self-acceptance. I don’t believe that self-acceptance is a absolute. It is a process toward an idea. I believe that I have traveled close enough to it to make a very large positive difference in my life.

I am discovering the freedom in self-acceptance, in stepping away from the question, “Am I good?” It allows me to more frequently see myself and others as whole people with beauty and mess. I am a messy imperfect but loving person. By accepting this, I am actually better able to make good decisions, engage in good actions, and learn good skills. I have a lot more time and peace as I learn not to berate myself. I don’t devote energy to fancy justifications for my actions.

Getting wrapped up in that question can cause so many problems. Even if you don’t believe that people are miraculous beings and inherently good, perhaps you might consider that classifying oneself and others as “good” or “bad” is really not helpful to anyone.

What does it mean to be good? It means that we are here. It means that we can move on to more useful questions, ones that bring love and compassion to our lives, instead of keeping us stuck.