Just me

I recently took my son on an exciting camping trip near Chester. We pitched our tent on a small site, made friends with the people with marshmallows, explored the haunted caravan, spent one long day at the aquarium and another, longer day at the zoo, then packed up early one morning and headed to a festival for…let me see…fourteen hours of careening from spectacle to spectacle, before staggering through the doors of a hotel just after midnight where we would wake up at 7am sharp and lounge around getting our money’s worth, later watching a post-breakfast episode of Friends that Mak was completely engrossed in for some reason.

The amount of times along the way that strangers were shocked and sympathetic that it was ‘just me’ orchestrating and operating whichever part of the extravaganza they were witnessing was notable. Which, I mean, I guess is understandable. I’ll be the first to agree it takes a village, and there have been many times in the past where, lacking such a robust support system, I have struggled with parenting. But this was a choice. A choice I make regularly.

It was hard going sometimes – he has a lot of five-year-old energy and he hogs the airbed as effectively as if he were a European bison (we were looking at an animal atlas today). But when it’s just the two of us, boy, are we nimble. I like the freedom of catering just to our own whims.

Also, sleep deprivation really amps up my social anxiety, so navigating a group setting all day, after sharing the bed with the bison all night, is not my idea of easier. Which does occasionally make me worry that I’m just avoiding, on account of my own frailty, a situation that would actually be more enriching for Makaloo than ‘just the two of us’.

I’ll never be perfect. But we had a fucking excellent trip. And ‘just the two of us’ did involve me pretending to be a mermaid singing a sea shanty for a large group of fellow festival-goers, so I’m giving myself some extra points for that too. I probably just have to keep playing to my strengths.

Good enough

There is this concept of the good enough parent. The idea is that you don’t need to be perfect, exceptional or outstanding to raise relatively healthy children, you just need to be good enough. It’s intended to present a more reasonable, realistic and forgiving standard than some alternative paradigms, particularly in regard to expectations of motherhood. It’s also backed up with fairly solid evidence, which should make it more reassuring. Fairly solid evidence is about the best you can hope for in psychology, the majority of the time.

But the Good Enough Parent raises in me a fear. What if, despite my efforts to be outstanding, I’m not even, in fact, good enough? What if, after all the toiling, careful consideration and eager sacrifice, it turns out that my parenting is not even sufficiently mediocre? What if I’m trying this hard and failing to meet even the lowest recommended standard?

Can you tell I’m used to being an overachiever? Can you tell that that overachievement has historically been fuelled by a deep-seated insecurity in my own worth?

It would be far easier for me to face trying to do a very difficult thing. I’d even have quite a bit of confidence. But I have, in contrast, very little faith in myself when it comes to succeeding at a merely reasonable thing. I expect myself to get distracted by some exciting difficulty, and completely miss the easy win. I know I don’t work the way I’m supposed to. Exceptional goes both ways.

My saving grace may be that one time, years ago now, I heard Richard Branson, of all people, advise that you must cover your downside. And I hated that idea so fucking much that the wiser part of me latched onto it and wouldn’t let me forget it. And now it’s always a factor: Remember to cover your downside. It’s always a question: Have you covered your downside? It certainly hasn’t made me rich yet, but it has probably informed my parenting.

So, maybe I have covered my downside as a parent. Maybe I’ve buffered my son from extremities. Maybe it’s possible to both lean into the exception and still follow the rule.

Unfortunately for me, there is no objective answer to these sorts of queries. The what ifs will never cease. Such is life.