Join any group of parents and you will hear one universal question being asked over and over again. From the time our kids are born, until they move out of our daily sight, we are constantly looking for something to tell us that our kids are “normal.”
Is it normal that my preschooler…cries, hits, bites, sleeps, doesn’t sleep, eats, doesn’t eat, yells, stomps, ignores, stutters, doesn’t like what other kids like…and on and on.
Is it normal that my middle schooler….cries, won’t do homework, sleeps, doesn’t sleep, won’t shower, doesn’t have friends, talks back, stomps, slams, whines, picks on his brother, doesn’t like what other kids like….and on and on.
Is it normal that my teenager….cries, sleeps too much, won’t get up, won’t go to bed, won’t talk to me, talks too much, used alcohol, talks back, stomps, slams, whines, doesn’t like what other kids like…and on and on.
Is it normal? Probably. Okay, so now what? And if it’s not normal? What then? Just because something is normal, doesn’t mean that it makes it any easier to face in the moment. And even if a behavior is not typical, it doesn’t mean that the same parenting response will have the same result for every kid. That’s because in order to really address any behavior, we have to meet our kids, exactly where they are. And exactly where they are is never the same as exactly where any other kid is.
But still, finding normalcy in a developmental struggle is powerful. Maybe not so much for our children, but for us. When we ask, “is it normal?” what we really want to know is that we are not alone. That every other house on the block is just as crazy. That every other living room has toys strewn about. That somewhere close by other teenagers are slamming doors. That other families are struggling to help their pre-teen with the overwhelming awkwardness of the first school dance or feeling the frustration of hearing a child “talk back”. When we say is it normal, what we really want to know is “do you feel my pain? Are you as lost as I feel?”
In essence, we want to know that WE are normal, and that this feeling of not having the answer is okay. We want to know that other parents grasp for the same straws that we do. And for the most part, we can relax. Because it’s true. If there is a parent out there that isn’t befuddled by sleep or food or poop or emotions or language or whatever at least some times, then they are…well, not normal.
And for the most part, we know that our kids are normal too. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to address the issue. And there in lies the tricky part. Just because something is normal, doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about it. Experimenting with alcohol or sex as a teenager may be normal, but it doesn’t mean that we just get to shrug it off. Hitting a peer with a truck may be normal for a toddler, but it doesn’t mean we ignore the behavior and walk away.
Nope, just because something is normal, doesn’t mean it’s any easier to handle. And when it’s just us, in our homes, face to face with the preteen whose homework woes send them into a toddler-like meltdown, the fact that it’s normal doesn’t help us figure out what to do in that specific moment, with this specific child.
Really, in the moment, for the child, “normal” doesn’t mean much. What works for one child may not work at all for another. Supporting our children through these “normal” developmental struggles requires us to consider our child, our family culture, our expectations, our boundaries. I have written several posts on why this is so important, including Know Thy Child and 7 Criteria for Good Parenting. In the end, knowing what to do in any parenting situation requires us to look deeply at our children and ourselves to find what works, rather than looking towards normal. The good news is that when we let go of trying to find comfort in “normalizing” our child we can do just that. We will listen more intently to what our child is saying, look closer at what our child is doing and trust more in the individual that they are and what their behaviors are telling us. And when we do that, we will be able to move towards what they need, regardless of what the statistics say. Sure it’s hard, but hey, that’s normal.