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.

True motivations

Guilt.

I have a lot of it.

It sets in every time my son goes off to his dad’s house. I didn’t do enough with the time I had. I wasn’t kind enough, certain enough, thoughtful enough, engaging enough. I wasn’t good enough. And now he’s gone. A mini grief every time he walks out the door. If only things had been different, so we didn’t have to be apart for more than a day. So I had more chances to be better; so I didn’t have to face this vacuum that I pour all my regret into. If only he hadn’t been ripped from me for half of every week since he was only a year old; back when I was still his whole world, and letting him go felt so viscerally like failing him. How could I let his dad take him from my arms like that, just to put him in childcare? How could I be so weak? How couldn’t I fight for him? I have to make it up to him and I’m running out of time.

It’s a bit sobering to realise that script has been going on somewhere in the background and I’m only just really looking at it now. I knew it was there, but I didn’t look at it. Seeing it laid out on my digital page like this makes it so clear that it is but another iteration of old, worn beliefs. How easily I can now trace its provenance.

But, regardless of its pedigree, it’s stopping me from sleeping.

During lockdown, we had our own Golden Age – my son was with me for five whole days of the week. Everything was better. We slept well, we ate well, we went to the toilet on time, we had a great routine and we were joyful. The swirl of chaos it felt like we had been living in settled and we built a steady life. But, eventually, his dad wanted to return to an even split. I didn’t like it. Makaloo didn’t like it. He protested, he cried, and he begged to sleep in my bed in case he had ‘the dream where I wake up in daddy’s house’. I can probably count the times he’s made it a full night in his own bed since on one hand. And I can’t sleep well with him next to me, so highly attuned I am to every movement he makes; so keenly attentive to any potential call to action. I’ve tried every sleep aid I can get my hands on, but nothing chills me out enough to make it more than a couple of hours.

Yet I can’t bring myself to evict him. Because letting him sleep there, snoring, sleep-talking, sprawling onto me, sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night or whimpering gently before he rolls over; waking up at 4AM and declaring he needs to lie on top of me…it eases my guilt. And it’s impossibly fucking adorable. There are so many things I feel like I’ve been deprived of the ability to give him, but I can give him this, so I do. To my own detriment.

I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. I argue with myself over it routinely; there are good reasons to advocate for both positions. But understanding and acknowledging my true motivations is integral to making an informed decision. So I’ll keep digging until I find a place to stand that feels solid.