I do not like to be good enough. I do not like to be just okay. Last summer, my family rented an AirBnB. It was wonderful, truly the best vacation we had ever had. I privately messaged the owner with a list of minor issues with the home so she knew to repair them, because the home had been booked solid for months, I assumed she just didn’t know about them. Really simple things like burnt out lightbulbs, or peeled off wallpaper or missing towels and cutlery. I assured her that the house was wonderful, it wouldn’t affect our rating of her home, and we hoped to come back, it was just an FYI. When it came time to rate the home, I gave a detailed review, praised the home endlessly, and gave it 5 stars. Her review of me came up, where she criticized me for being too wordy in emails (guilty as charged, look at me now, I can already tell this post is going to be too long) and said I was “just okay.” JUST okay? Just OKAY?! JUST OKAY?!?! I wiped all the surfaces with bleach wipes, stripped all the beds, washed all the towels, left a thank you note, cleaned everything, swept, wiped down the fridge. Just okay?!
I tend to be a perfectionist in some aspects (not all). I like things to be done a certain way. I have high standards for myself and my children. I like my fitted sheets folded in perfect rectangles, I like my toilet scrubbed a specific way, I like my scrambled eggs cooked on a screaming hot cast iron in 40 seconds and removed immediately and topped with the perfect amount of coarse salt. When it comes to baby and kid stuff, don’t get me started on car seat safety, and I am probably the only person I know who is sanitizing bottles post-first birthday. I don’t offer solid foods before 6 months, I nurse all my bios to natural weaning age, I use rigid formula preparing protocol for our fosterlings, and I document the heck out of everything I do.
So a few years ago when we were fostering our 4th kiddo and the social worker said “Rachel, I’m not looking for his mom to be perfect. I’m not looking for her to be you. I’m looking for her to be just safe enough. Just good enough. Just okay enough to keep him alive.” I was of course flabbergasted. How could you take a child out of a home with everyone’s underwear was folded in perfect envelope shapes, and stacked like files in their little drawers and move him somewhere where the bare minimum is “just good enough to stay alive”?!
We just celebrated 6 years of fostering a few weeks ago, and I’m finding that indeed, not everyone has to be me. They don’t have to face all their canned goods the same way and have spreadsheets for their Costco shopping. They just have to be able to care for the child at a safe level. They have to feed the child 3 times a day. And sometimes those parents are going to feed their kids apple juice and Cheetos, something this mother just doesn’t do. Sometimes they are going to let their kids sleep with the TV on, a travesty in my home. Some parents are going to let their children graduate to a booster before the maximum weight on their 5-point car seat, a thought which literally gives me palpitations.
I shouldn’t look at the family of the child who is placed in my home and say “if this baby is gonna go home, they need to be a carbon copy of me.” I have to say “will this child be safe— enough?” A lot of times the answer is yes, even if I really fight that answer. And if the answer is no, being that the goal of all foster care is, what my friends? Ding ding! Reunification, that’s right! Then I better do everything in my power to set them up and help them be good enough, safe enough, okay enough. That means I have to mentor, I have to co-parent, I have to celebrate their every achievement, I have to sit with them in court and show them I’m here to cheer them on, I have to write safety tips and schedules for them, I have to help them set up everything they need to make their home safer. And the hardest part? I have to be at peace with it if and when that child that I have loved, fed, clothed, kissed, cuddled, wept over, advocated for, driven all over the countryside for appointments, prayed over, and indeed written a book’s worth of notes, documentation, spreadsheets, charts, and schedules— goes home to a house where they might eat donuts and soda for breakfast.
At the end of the day, I have no legal or biological right to that child. Yes, they feel like my own. But they aren’t my own. So if the powers that be say the place they need to be is with their family, in their home, kept just safe enough, it’s not my job freak out in the corner that their parents aren’t AS safe as me. Or AS organized as I am. Or AS responsible as I am. (Let me just be real and add here that I WILL be rocking back and forth in the corner freaking out, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I shouldn’t! 😂)
I lost my mind last year when I was rated as “just okay”. I actually cried about it. I vented to my sisters and my friends. I could not believe that someone had the audacity to rate me as “just okay”. I had to go to God and deal with my pride over how upset I was at being seen as mediocre. My incredibly talented and funny friend created this embroidery piece for me, and I have it hanging in my room to remind me that as highly as I might have viewed myself leaving that AirBnB, someone else thought my standards were just okay. Talk about humbling.
If the requirement for parenting was perfection, then none of us would be able to parent. Heck, some of you run way tighter ships that I do, and if you were the required standard, I would also surely fail, spreadsheets and all. My encouragement for you, if you’re like me, is to stop judging parents because they aren’t you. No one is you, except you. And that’s okay, and also? Sometimes being just okay, is actually okay.
(Note: I want to be clear that this is something I am working on. This is literally me preaching at me right now. Trying to tell myself these truths when I feel like every fiber in me is fighting it. This is not something I have attained, I am not some holier than thou perfect person who doesn’t judge people. I do a LOT. And so as I am writing this, my number one audience member is me. I really hope I can learn this lesson sooner than later!)