My son goes back to school tomorrow. Alas, I’d assumed it was today. So there we were at the school gates, with him in his uniform and me all set to drop him off and make a dash for work, when … Well, actually, that last bit was a fib. I found out I’d got the day wrong the night before, so managed to palm him off on a classmate’s mum. But that’s not as good an anecdote. As far as parenting’s concerned, if you’re going to mess up, you really should do it properly.
As a parent I’m really quite competitive when it comes to making a balls of things. What’s more, I don’t think I’m the only one (which is something of a relief; there’s nothing more pathetic than being desperately ambitious when no one else is arsed). Like most mums and dads, I realised long ago that being the best parent ever is totally out of reach. On the other hand, being the most ridiculously, comically incompetent parent feels much more doable. And hey, it’s an achievement of sorts. It shows you’re not just coasting when it comes to this parenting game.
Lots of people are out there aiming for the Crap Parent title – daddy bloggers reporting on every slapstick detail of nappy changing incompetence, mummy bloggers wallowing in their slummy-scummy-utterly-non-yummy household mess – and I’ll be honest, I admire them all. It’s not that I aspire to be like them (although that would be another good excuse for why my house is such a mess). It’s that I am already like them and yes, I take a perverse sort of pride in it. I mean, I try my best to adhere to rules of basic safety, but the truth is, part of me genuinely thinks that in order to have well-balanced children, you need to fuck up a little. Otherwise your perfection would just freak them out and drive them over the edge.*
Even David Cameron is into competitive crap parenting. Honestly, that’s what the whole “leaving a kid in the pub” thing was about. And to a certain extent, it worked. Parents across the land, who otherwise hated his guts, found themselves thinking “yeah, we’ve all done something like that”. That’s the thing about competitive crapness – while it might seem counter-intuitive, it actually brings people together. If you go to a baby group and tell everyone how frequently you’re breastfeeding your infant, someone is bound to think you are thereby judging them for choosing a different feeding method. If, on the other hand, you tell everyone that yesterday you almost dropped the baby down the loo, they’ll absolutely love you (the other parents, that is; I can’t speak for the baby and his/her lifelong fear of being flushed away).
I suppose the serious side to this is that we all know, deep down, how fragile our children are. We’ve all had moments – be they through tiredness, absent-mindedness or just sheer stupidity – where something terrible could have happened to our child due to our own incompetence. And then we might read about parents who’ve had similar momentary lapses, but for whom the impact has been far more devastating. Hence bigging up our own idiocy seems to lessen its potential effect, or at least downplays the real fear of where it could lead us. And I guess if I was going to be really pompous, I could say something about the close proximity of comedy and tragedy in all aspects of life. Oh look – I just have!
Anyhow, the whole school drop-off thing was a total non-anecdote. I must try harder at this. But then if you have to work at incompetence, you haven’t really got it, have you? Unless you can be incompetent at being incompetent. Under the Official Crap Parenting Guidelines, is meta-incompetence allowed?
* Actually, there’s a book proposal I’ve just thought of: Too-Perfect Parenting: Why Being Rubbish Is Good For Your Child’s Growth. It’d a bit like French Children Don’t Throw Food, but without the annoying national stereotypes (which is just the PC way of saying “without the French”).