Man! Do you guys ever think Beth is gonna blog again?
Over the course of parenthood, I have been struggling with something that I haven’t found the words to articulate until a few weeks ago. When I did find the words it seemed so painfully simple, I wonder how I could have missed it. My struggle is with “normal”. To be fair, normal is something that I’ve wrestled with all my life; I’m just now seeing the symptoms of “normal” in the way I raise and view my kids.
What is Normal? Normal is an imagined sense of what everyone else is that we are not. Normal is a standard that we strive for because it makes us comfortable with our place within our culture. It gives us a sense of “ought-ness”. This is how life “ought” to be. If we fall outside this neat little box that our norms define, the discomfort compels us to steer whatever component lies outside back in.
Sometimes, when we sense that “normal” is unattainable, we redefine or caveat it with things like “What’s normal for an adoptive kid?” or “What’s normal for a family of seven?”
On the other hand, normal gives a sense of success and perhaps complacency when we have achieved beyond what normal is. This happens all the time in my spiritual walk. Christians that are very good with the mechanics of their faith (like myself) may think “God, I’m tithing and going to church every Sunday, and that’s way more than a lot of Christians… I think I’m giving you enough.” When said aloud, it seems so much more blatant and biting then when I say it in the back of my mind quickly where no one can hear, but it is true. If I’m doing better than average or “normal”, complacency sets in, and I justify giving God less. However, this is a topic for another blog…
When we first started on this adoption road, I asked one of the family counselors at the Pathways training the following question: “I know that adoptive kids will need special attention, but how long should I expect before they behave, act, and feel like normal healthy kids?” Her answer: “Would you be OK if the answer is never?” Out loud I said, “….hmmmm…..maybe” and walked away slowly. Inside, I said “no”.
At first, the idea of not ever being “normal” was something I had a hard time accepting for my future kids. I wanted to be OK with that, but in my mind’s eye, each one, with enough love, would grow up, do well in school, marry a nice spouse, be a contributing member of society, and continue the cycle. If that was normal, I didn’t want to accept anything less. In the back of my mind, this was also going to be my measuring stick for “How well did I do as a parent?” when I evaluate in the winter of my life.
That was over a year ago. After, 8 months of on-the-job training at the parenting gig, I’ve noticed that I’m so busy taking care of my kids, I sometimes forget to look around to re-calibrate my “normal” compass. However, the few times I do, I began to question the paradigm. I know what life is like for us. I see what life is like for others. However, when I overlay the two, I still see the misalignment, but I’ve begun to question the wisdom of realigning.
As I’ve been thinking about it, I am finding that normal causes us to do some things that are so un-natural and un-healthy that we destroy the very thing we are trying to normalize.
I hear about men, in an attempt to give their family the best (normal), working at a career so hard and with so much attention that their family takes a back seat and suffers for it.
I hear about parents who want to give their child every advantage and experience they can (normal), that the busyness of their life becomes so barren (if I may loosely quote Socrates).
And just like a Greek tragedy, in an attempt to avoid our fate, we hasten it.
Why is that? Well, I am beginning to understand that the underlying problem with normal is it causes us to ask the wrong question. We ask “what is normal?” and we stop asking “What is the best for my family?”
So that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been asking “What is best for our family?” Here are the answers we’ve come up with over the past few months.
- Going to church at least three times a week, reading the Bible every night, and praying before every meal and bed so our kids understand that God is a priority in our lives.
- Spending time with each other and not sitting in front of the TV.
- Being out of debt.
- Giving our children added comfort and an added skill (when they are older) by becoming a truly bilingual family.
- Driving a truck that is six years old and a van that is seven years old because they both run fine and are paid off.
- Sharing everything.
- Always having a light on at night.
- Teaching our kids that their past was hard with problems that most kids don’t have to deal with, but it does not define their future. Further, it is never to be used as a crutch or excuse for doing less than their best either.
- Taking baths three at a time.
- Spending about two hours a night, immediately after school working on homework in another language.
- Eating as a family, at the table, all at one time.
- Living in a tiny house (see previous blog post).
- Beth sometimes mowing the lawn and me sometimes doing the dishes when the other needs help.
- Having term life and disability insurance to protect our children if anything were to happen to us.
- Apologizing to our kids when we, the adults, mess up.
- Not having video games, iPads, etc…
- Integrity. I want my word and my family name to be sacred. If the Nichols’ say something, they do it. If the Nichols’ commit to something, they follow through.
- Only having about $5 to $10 of “just for Tyler” money in my pocket… which usually gets spent on the kids anyway.
- Working hard to not let our feelings dictate our actions (for the adults and the kids both).
- Learning to have fun without spending money… This weekend, if the weather holds, will be camping in the back yard.
- Severely limiting choices for our children because it is too overwhelming for them and hard logistically for us.
- Having an attitude of gratitude (Thanks Upward soccer!).
- Always moving forward, whether that be learning to use the potty or being elected senator of our state. We are always reaching for that next rung.
- Working hard to make every act of discipline a teachable moment.
What is normal? I don’t even care anymore. I don’t want to live that scripted life.
At the dinnermesa,