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1000 words On “What is Normal?”

I’m running a workshop for new parents in March, so I’ve been looking at parental challenges. For me, one of the most common questions I ask myself is, “Is this normal?”, which got me thinking, what is normal?

We can see what our parents think, what our friends with children think or ask the internet, but consider the astonishing fact that the chances of that child existing are a billion to one and that the genetic lottery of human procreation hasn’t only happened for that child.

It happened for their parents, their grandparents on both sides, their great-grandparents and so on through all of history! And for every single human that sequence of events is entirely unique.

So what is normal? “Normal” is how we cope with that uniqueness, we look for patterns to identify with so we don’t feel alone. 

Early humans formed groups as we moved from nocturnal to diurnal (day time) activity and found a great number of benefits. We were safer in a group, we warmed ourselves by the same fire, then we had children together and we hunted together. 

Through sharing the spoils we started to eat the same food and use our bodies in the same way, evolving a physical identity. We shared the same resources and so we would wear the same furs and continually our group identity cemented.

Soon enough we were the forest tribe, our children were “children of the forest tribe” and they were born into something “normal”.

This “normal” arose because we were conforming to the standards upheld by our community and afforded to us by our environment. We are the forest tribe, we make our shoes from deer hide because we can easily get deer hide, deer hide shoes are normal.

However… If we are the “savannah tribe”, and there aren’t as many deer, we weave shoes from grass because we can easily get grass, therefore, woven shoes are normal. 

But which one is NORMAL “Normal”? Obviously, the answer is, they both are.

Family life has evolved dramatically since those times, the tribe became the extended family, which in turn became the nuclear family and as such, the instant support network available to modern parents has diminished inline with the size of their close community. 

However, the requirements to successfully raise a child have not changed. They must be fed, they must be kept clean and free from disease, they must be sheltered and warm and they must learn to become a part of the wider society in which they’ve been born, in short, they must grow and become normal. But “which normal should they become!?”. 

Let’s personalise this because here’s the beautiful part! For any given behaviour, as the parent, you can DECIDE which “normal”!

Is it normal for your child? That billion to 1 genetic fluke? “Yep, they always stick their fingers in my ear when I carry them, it seems to help them feel safe”. 

Is it normal for your family? “Sure, we don’t mind them using their hands to eat spaghetti hoops, we think food should be a full sensory experience”. 

Is it normal for your extended family? “My parents used to put me in the buggy in the garden for my nap whatever the weather. By the way, we’re going camping next weekend if you want to come along?” 

Is it normal for your community…? Maybe not! The broader the community, the tighter the rules, simply because the rule has to be the best fit for everyone within it. 

But that doesn’t make the behaviour abnormal for them, your unit or your extended family (and to be clear “extended family” isn’t necessarily a group bonded by genetics).

It takes bravery to stand out within a community, but you won’t be the only ones. 

In every group there are outsiders, but in the same way that early humans came together for safety, companionship and belonging, the outsiders come together and they’re on the inside again, and over time a new normal is formed.

Normal, by definitionconforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” feels static and fixed, but in the real world what is standard, typical or expected is a fluid and flexible thing.

Standards are always changing, and hopefully for the better. There are millions of voices crying out for new standards in all areas of life, gender equality in the workplace, racial equality in opportunities, trans rights, the 4 day working week, parental leave, animal welfare in large scale farming, climate change, etc.

Take smoking, less than 20 years ago smoking in pubs, bars, restaurants,nightclubs and most workplaces was normal. After the smoking ban in 2007, the British Heart Foundation reported “air pollution in UK bars reduced by as much as 93 per cent” and even though there was a fear that people would stay at home and therefore expose their children to passive smoke, the opposite is true, “We’ve seen a great shift to people smoking outside, so most children in the UK now live in smoke-free homes.” 

— A Glasgow University study showed that, before the smoking ban, the number of hospital admissions of children with asthma was increasing on average by five per cent each year in Scotland. In the three years after the ban, admissions decreased 18 per cent per year. —

When new standards become typical, they become expected and therefore normal.

So when you find yourself staring, mouth agape, at your child running around the soft play centre in just their underpants with no idea where their trousers are, and you ask yourself “is THIS normal?!” try and think which standards you’re holding the behaviour against. 

Do they get hot easily? Do you take your trousers off as soon as you get home and pop a pair of shorts on? Do you usually see these friends at the swimming pool? Then look around the room, find the parent who’s giving you a knowing look and a smile and know your child has given them the gift of feeling just a little bit more normal.

If you want to talk more about normal, coaching, parenting, or anything at all, you can find me on Threads or Tiktok, or if you would like to discuss a coaching session or series of session with me, fill out the “About You Quiz” and I’ll get back to you.