The New Normal | Parent Wellbeing Blog
When I had children, I am not sure what I expected. Difficulty, sure, but what did I expect them to be like? I think I assumed a level of ‘normality’, once the initial post-birth check that they had all their fingers and toes was completed. Now, I wonder what I thought ‘normal’ was.
We know that acceptance and self-compassion are part of our wellbeing, so my suggestion is that we start by throwing away ‘normal’ and embrace weird. Weird is a fact of being human, beyond an adjective – a noun – a living, changing object – a thing that we all hold within us and need to embrace.
As my children have entered their teenage years, I have been amazed and excited by their attitudes to things that my generation thought were fixed. They take social norms and rules and dissect them. A couple of years ago I made the mistake of commenting on the fact that my son’s avatar in a game appeared to be an amazonian woman with giant fairy wings. “You’re a girl” says me casually (so ancient, so out of touch), “Mum!” he replied, “this is 2020!” Gosh, I thought, how wonderful.
So, identity and self-image are changing, but still a real minefield for teenagers. When a gap between your thighs is still considered the ultimate in beauty, we are in trouble. Caitlin Moran, in her book about motherhood, talks about dealing with this issue with her anorexic daughter. To tackle it, she encouraged her daughter to create an inspiration wall in her bedroom of things she found beautiful. She felt that the key was to be able to identify her own internal concepts of beauty; rather than be a passive receiver of the misguided concepts of others. Don’t be beauty, find it.
We know the world is changing. Disney has shaken things up with some feisty female roles – Rapunzel no longer languishes in her tower. However, they remain way behind the curve when it comes to preparing girls for life. Maybe girls will only really know what to expect when Rapunzel has eye-tics, wakes up at 3am because her head is too round (I’m not even joking), doesn’t like to be hugged and sometimes can’t get out of bed because turtles are dying.
In school, my recent favourite term is Neuro-Diversity. Just as we vary in colour, religion, race and gender; so do we vary in our neurological functions. Children are a neurological hotch-potch – a spectrum of colour – that we still try to make conform to what is considered normal. ADHD, ASD, Tourettes, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia … so many ways to think differently. Considered to be ‘difficulties’ or even disabilities, yet what do parents of these children say? When parents are asked what they would do if they could be offered a magical drug to take their child’s ‘difficulty’ away, an overwhelming majority choose no. Why? Because the weird in their child is unique and taking it away would take away something fundamentally special about that child.
Ken Robinson felt that education crushed creativity in children and, as teachers at MCM, we are working hard to nurture qualities such as curiosity and grit in our pupils. As an Art teacher, I hope that I bring out creativity in my pupils, but I am aware that I still abide by certain rules of thumb. Colour between the lines? Why? Hey, let’s go all Jackson Pollock on this life (or, colour between the lines if that’s what makes you happy.)
Our resilience has been truly tested over the last two years, but I would suggest that holding on to a concept of normality has been a big hurdle to overcome. Humanity’s ability to adapt and rethink is a wonderful thing, and worth celebrating. Rising anxiety in teens may well be because they see a plethora of global dangers to overcome, and they are being led by a generation of adults who caused the problems but have no idea how to solve them. Our gift to ourselves and our kids could be to support them in breaking down rigid concepts of normality and telling them that it is OK to be strange. Our quirks are what make us special and in themselves, they are perfectly normal. Let’s move away from ideas of abnormal, and start thinking of the extraordinary. Once we have done that, they will have the resilience to march into an unknown future and confront it with their amazing array of skills and problems, questions and solutions. If they like, they can even do it dressed as an Amazonian fairy.
Mrs Hannah Cassidy | Head of Year 5, English and Mathematics