I used to hate normal. Now I’m a mother, I’m all about normal. Like everyone else, I moved to the suburbs. I have a house with a fence. I have a car. I go to the supermarket and school pick up. Mothers remind me sometimes of a converging herd of animals – seals maybe – all involved in mini-interactions, looking this way and that way, but somehow the end point is all of us moving in the same way, and being the same.
I met a new mother at the park last week. She had just moved from an edgy inner suburb, and she was explaining her reasons for moving and they were all such weak reasons, and she seemed to know it and kept talking around and around as if she could figure out why she – who had sworn off the suburbs, who hated the suburbs, who was waaay too cool for the suburbs, had just moved here. She was sleep deprived. I wanted to explain the seal theory to her, but it wasn’t the right moment.
Moving to the suburbs isn’t really about having a back yard, because most people don’t, actually, have much of a back yard anymore and anyway, that’s just one thing. It’s not about schools, because people move before they’ve even gone on a school tour. It’s about being normal. I think it’s a deep instinct that kicks in along with all the other mad mother stuff, along with the hormones in pregnancy. Normality.
Social status protects children. The fact is, social status of families is strongly and consistently linked to child outcomes in our society, in other societies, and even in other species. And to take Ishiguro’s metaphor from the Remains of the Day, social status is not like a ladder, but like a wheel. The closer to the hub (i.e., the more normal), the greater your social influence. That is why normality in parents corresponds to good outcomes for children.
So many of the parenting rules seem ridiculous and random in those moments when we’re awake enough to think properly. Kids need both parents. They need a home, a back yard, music lessons. They need to go to school. None of that stuff can be justified in terms of mechanics of how children grow and learn, because children need those things because other children have them. If we lived at different times or different places, then our children would need quite different things. They need to be normal. Somehow, deep down, we believe that, and that’s why this normal thing happens when we have kids.
That’s my theory anyway.