Navigating Grief & Loss
Body Memories & Trauma
Finding Holistic Practitioners
Sensory Processing Disorder
Concussion & PCS
Mindfulness & Meditation
Exploring Gender Identity
Despite what your friends and relatives may tell you, nothing can really prepare you for having children in your life. Some days will be great and everything will flow seamlessly (those are the days we somehow forget). Other days, you’ll be ripping your hair out in frustration, sadness, anger, or fear (sometimes simultaneously). All of this is completely “normal.” Children challenge us in ways we never imagined, yet we love them so fiercely that we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves.
Now that I’ve brought up the word normal, I’d like to explore it a little bit. As soon as someone is pregnant or finally signs adoption papers, the conversation inevitably turns to wanting a normal, healthy child. It’s the basis for all comparison and in every parenting book, so let’s take a moment to break it down. What does normal mean? According to the Oxford Dictionary, normal is:
Adjective: Conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected. (of a person) free from physical or mental disorders.
Noun: [mass noun] The usual, typical, or expected state or condition. [Informal] A person who is conventional or healthy.
Synonyms: Sane, in one’s right mind, right in the head, of sound mind, in possession of all one’s faculties, able to reason clearly, able to think clearly, lucid, rational, coherent, balanced, well balanced.
Alright. Let’s tackle healthy:
Adjective: In a good physical or mental condition; in good health; (of a part of the body) not diseased; Indicating or promoting good health; Normal, natural, and desirable; of a very satisfactory size or amount.
So if I were to use some synonyms, we really want standard, non-diseased children who are in good physical and mental health. I guess I can agree with some of that, but not the standard part. In fact, I really struggle with the word “normal” because it doesn’t really exist. What every book fails to mention or grasp is that every single person’s “normal” is different. For example, if you have a child with a food intolerance, it’s normal for them to experience stomach cramping, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and overall grumpiness. Even though it’s considered normal, it doesn’t mean that they’ll experience all or any of those symptoms with their trigger food. For a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, on the other hand, their “normal” is completely different from a different child with the same diagnosis. For example, my older child is what I’d call “sensory seeking,” whereas my youngest is “sensory avoidant.”
But this can change, depending on the day and on some variable I have yet to pinpoint. One day my youngest child will be okay wearing long sleeves and socks, and the next day they’re screaming before school because they don’t like how their shirt feels and they’re wearing her socks inside out (and probably no underwear). Just when I think I’ve figured it out, it changes (***note, this is the mantra of parenthood***). Hence, normal seems to be some sort of hallucinatory idea that causes parents intense anxiety and stress, which results in a frantic Google search (IS THAT NORMAL?!?! actually, yes, yes it is; everyone consults Google for everything).
I think the biggest challenge as a parent or guardian is helping your child determine their particular type of normal. It seems intuitive and incredibly simple, but it requires a lot of time, awareness, patience and instruction, which many parents don’t have. Between juggling a career, personal relationships, domestic duties, kids’ activities and appointments, survival seems to be the default option and getting in tune with your own body seems impossible, let alone your child’s. This is why I try to teach body awareness to my children. If they can learn emotion-based language and listen to their bodies, they will feel empowered to take care of themselves and advocate for their needs, building resiliency.
My job in all of this is to help you figure out your own unique normal and give you the support and information that you need to put your life back into balance. On the other hand, I’m really contemplating just throwing out the word “normal” and replacing it with a word like “happy,” or “resilient,” or “confident.” Those are traits that are far preferable to normal, and perhaps you’d also prefer to have happy, resilient and confident kids.
*As I’ve mentioned in various places throughout my website, I am not a licensed therapist and am not pretending to be one. I have not taken courses in Narrative or Art therapy. I also have a Master’s degree in Publishing, which allowed me to teach composition to college students (so I have a background in teaching and writing). If you are looking for a licensed Art Therapist, I suggest Art of Counseling in St. Paul. I also recommend Lyn-Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness for Narrative/Art Therapy.*