Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Normality of Normal

To a child, everything is normal.

Who knows what is normal for an egg?

As a parent, this presents us with quite a responsibility.  Because we very quickly realise that whatever - whatever - we do will be regarded as the way things are.  From bedtime routines to parents arguing, from TV time to what we eat - everything is normal for our child.  They have nothing else to compare it to.

And even when they do get old enough to realise that not everyone lives like we do, it's still the other people that are different.  Not us.  Not for a long time.  Perhaps, for certain things, even for the rest of our lives, even when we know better.

No, this is normal.  Really.

The problem is, as adults, we are still, most of us, trying to work out what's normal.  Especially when we have children, and suddenly a whole host of things become normal that never were before.  Like feeding a baby five times in the night, or negotiating with a screaming toddler in the supermarket, or explaining all of our bodily functions to a curious four-year-old.  It's no wonder we find ourselves surreptitiously looking around: are we doing this right?  does everyone else have this problem?

Because normal, of course, is defined by those around us.  That's where normal gets weird.  For example, we walk to school almost every day.  In this place, at this time, that is not normal.  There are a handful of other families that do the same; most drive.  But in this place fifty years ago, that would be normal.  It would also be normal not to have a TV, a smartphone, or a computerThese days, worries about screen time notwithstanding, that would be a serious disadvantage.  You just would not fit in.

Of course, we don't always want to fit in.  By the time we reach adulthood, we have spent a certain amount of time considering how different we want to be.  We know that being comfortable is more important to us than wearing the same thing as everyone else, or that being vegetarian is more important to us than eating what everyone else does.  But then you have a child, and are forced to consider how much to impose those differences on another human being.

I don't think this is normal, though.

In the novel About a Boy, Marcus, the boy of the title, has a mother who is firm on her views about things like eating at McDonalds and buying fashionable footwear.  Will, the single, commitment-free guy who is unwillingly dragged into their family affairs, immediately diagnoses Marcus as needing a decent haircut and a pair of Adidas trainers.  Through his influence, both Marcus and his mum start to reassess each other's values and decide what is important to them.

We generally don't want our kids to be bullied because of our differences.  But also, we don't want to give up what is important to us in order to fit in with the ever-changing normal.  Engaging with other people provides useful checks and balances - yes, these temper tantrums are usual - but provide us with endless comparison worries (shouldn't he be talking by now?)  We're always questioning ourselves, always trying to find that perfect balance.

Don't worry.  It's normal.

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