A few years ago, I had psychotherapy. I got quite a lot out of it, at the time – more than I’ve ever got from cognitive behavioural therapy or the dreaded “mindfulness”, which has always grated against me. You look at your relationships with other people around you, which naturally gravitates towards family, from family to childhood, and childhood to early memories, dictated by how your parents were around you. I had some comfort, then, from thinking about how my life had begun, all the ways in which I had been influenced by my parents and how I had made choices based on the scaffolding that had been put up to support me.
I look back at that a little differently today. One thing about becoming a parent – I honestly didn’t want to end up writing “what I’ve learned from becoming a parent” pieces, but that’s all that’s in my brain at the moment – is that you find yourself transported back to your own childhood. You start seeing it through new eyes, through the eyes of your own parents, wondering how they must have dealt with you when you were difficult, frustrating, annoying, colicky, angry, silly, happy or whatever, when they’d had a fraction of their usual sleep and all they wanted was a snooze in an armchair without you pestering them for something every half an hour.
All the comfort I had taken from therapy, where I was able to place blame for things that had gone wrong in my own life, or explain my own failures through some kind of inherited or learned failure, are no comfort anymore, and it’s tempting to pull away those blocks from beneath me. I don’t want it to be possible for your mum and dad to fuck you up, now that I am one; I don’t want someone to sit in a chair in a dimly-lit room one day and tell a nodding stranger about how I ruined everything for them because of how I didn’t do X, Y or Z, or how I did A, B or C.
People talk nowadays about neural connections and what happens when not enough are made. I’ve read enough about attachment behaviour disorder to understand the theory of what happens when a child’s needs are not met and what happens to them as a result. In addition to being paranoid about dropping my child on her head when lifting her helpless, whimpering body from one place to another, I’m terrified of doing something that’s not good enough, or doing something wrong that’s going to wreck her future, with the best will in the world. Am I going to get things wrong? Am I going to make her happy enough? Or happy at all?
I look back at my own parents. I imagine them, like me, tired, exhausted, seeing afternoons through the cloudy film of sleepless nights, trundling from one dirty nappy to another, one bottle of milk to another, one screaming, yelling time when you don’t quite know what’s going on and you don’t know how to solve it. I wonder what I must have been like to look after, and how hard it must have been. I end up thinking how hard it must have been for them, rather than what damage, if any, they did to me – and they probably didn’t do any at all.
You want to be the product of your parents, but more than that. You want your child to be the product of your parenting, but to be more than that too. You want them to be better than you could even have imagined. You want them to be better than everything you could possibly put into them, and to find happiness, whatever that is, somewhere. And I think some kind of happiness is possible, whereas there have been times before when I’ve wondered about that. Happiness is possible. It’s possible because you’re not going to wreck someone else’s life; you’re not going to be the most brilliant parent either and make them amazing, but that’s fine, because they’re not your remote-controlled drone, you’ve got to take the stabilisers off the bike at some stage and just hope for the best, and watch, and enjoy what happens, even though you’re terrified.
Being a parent is the only thing in life where I’m absolutely terrified of getting things wrong but I don’t have a single worry about impostor syndrome. I’m not an impostor – I can do this, as well as anyone else can, and everything I do has a purpose, even if it seems mundane at the time, because it all adds up to this one aim, of making a person who can succeed or fail or do whatever they want, because you gave them every single chance to be themselves.
It’s not like a job; it’s better than a job. It’s scary beautiful, amazing, tiring, difficult and stressful, but never anything other than what it is, and never boring, at least not so far. And it changes this afternoon, evening, tomorrow morning, and everything changes every day, and never stays the same. You get things wrong; you carry on. You carry on, and it’s going to be all right, because even though once it seemed like the most remarkable and unlikely and improbably thing ever, you can do this. I can do this. It’s going to be all right.