Tania Gerard helps nonprofit organizations, grassroots groups, and individuals to create sustainable well-being. She created The Congruency System, that allows you to discover your unique, individual truth and take ownership of your life. Tania believes that you don’t need to fit in to belong; that it is possible to live in joy, inspiration, hope, and peace through love and understanding. Tania parents two kids, is always catching up with her reading list, and hosts The Congruency Café on Facebook.
When my youngest kid was in kindergarten, the teacher called me for a meeting. “I’m worried about your child,” she said. She listed the behaviors that concerned her. Standing up and walking around instead of remaining sitting on a chair. Working independently instead of following the directions for the craft in question. Inventing dance steps and twirling while rehearsing for the Mother’s Day festival.
I smiled as I listened to her. Yup, that was my child. The same one who climbed the bookshelves even before being able to walk. The one who decided to stay in daycare by refusing to leave with me after dropping off their sibling. The little one that asked for a side shave as their 6th birthday present. The kid who squeals in delight when wearing a glitter tutu over a pantsuit.
“I’m afraid your child is not normal,” the teacher declared, mustering all her compassion in those few words. I took a deep breath. The moment I had been expecting since my children were born had finally arrived. “Well,” I confessed, “we are not a normal family.”
You see, I am what you would call a weird person who parents weird kids. Ever since I can remember I stood outside of the lines of normalcy. The social conventions that everybody seemed to understand, didn’t make sense to me. I had this terrible habit of questioning, asking why things were the way they were.
When I chose to become a mother, I wanted to offer my kids an environment of love and acceptance. A family where they could find out who they are and marvel at their constant evolution.
Normal is relative.
When we say “normal” we actually mean “what everybody in this group of reference thinks things should be.” The idea of “normal” is not a scientific, fixed term. It depends on who is observing and who is being observed. It’s defined by time, place, and social conventions. “Normal” is another way to say “us” and create a sense of otherness.
My children were born in a country I didn’t know. I had moved a couple of years before and, as it often happens, I didn’t know any other families before I had my own. New parents are usually held by their extended families and communities. Normalcy sneaks through the door in every family visit. It shows up as guidelines to follow, as decisions already made about how to live life.
But when my first baby was born I found myself in the middle of two different “normals.” Sentences that started with “in this country…” were common. Everything from food, garments, lullabies, routines, and sleep habits was in constant debate. The world that surrounded me was different from the world I had known as a child.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the only way to parent multicultural children was to make my own decisions. This meant that most (if not all) of my choices were going to be perceived as “not normal.” But I wasn’t interested in a normal family, I wanted a functional one.
Functional is not normal.
There are more academic definitions of what a functional family is. But the way that I have come to understand what a functional family looks like is:
- One or more adults who feel comfortable with who they are,
- creating a safe space for the children to discover who they are
- and learn to make the decisions they need to have a meaningful, joyful life
If “normal” means to become the person your community thinks you should become, normalcy ends up being the exact opposite of functional. To expect someone to be “normal” is to draw an arbitrary grid and expect them to twist and turn to adjust to it.
I have learned that the only effective way to enjoy a functional life, is to become a functional individual. The journey of feeling comfortable with who I am has taken longer than I expected. Now, I know that this journey doesn’t end and that it involves loss, peace, and joy -sometimes all at the same time.
I am constantly evolving as an individual. Every day, I discover new parts of my identity to share with my children and community. But I don’t walk alone. I’ve had to figure out how to be true to my own personal process while holding space for the two young human beings who walk beside me. So I made three promises to them, and I strive to deliver every day.
One: I will take ownership of my free self.
I can only model what I want my children to learn. By establishing a relationship of compassion, acceptance, and worth with myself, I open this possibility for them.
As parents, we are trying to protect our children from the dangers that we see. We see a danger in challenging the norm because we’re afraid of not fitting in. We judge ourselves because we’ve been told that we are inadequate. We deny embracing who we are because we battle with unworthiness. Parenting from these fears is not protecting our children: it’s taking away their chance to feel safe and strong in their truth.
Toni Morrison wrote “freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” By taking responsibility for our well-being, honoring our feelings and tending to our own needs, we establish an honest relationship with our children. By feeling and acting comfortable with who we are, celebrating our uniqueness becomes the only “normal.”
Two: I will not make decisions for you.
Years ago, I believed that my job was to keep my kids safe and healthy while they learned to do it by themselves. When they were babies, “safe and healthy” was easy to define. As they have grown older, feeling safe and being healthy has a different meaning for each of them. Today, I know that my job is to help my children to learn how to make decisions that will keep them safe and healthy throughout their lives.
This includes validating their emotions and believing that their experience of the world is different from mine. It also involves rehearsing how to ask for help and receive it. In tough times, it has involved asking them for their opinion and making sure they felt heard. And, as they become teenagers, it involves acknowledging that they are the experts on themselves and that my life experience is a resource for them, not a framework.
Three: I will see you for who you are today, every day.
Our lives are the sum of our experiences. Many of these experiences are invisible and have not been put into words. However, the way we see and interact with the world changes every minute, as we process these experiences.
One of the biggest challenges in any long term relationship is being able to honor the shared history and, at the same time, to be open to the evolution of the person we love. When we are attached to our idea of who someone is, we can’t see who they become. And for us to see others in their growth, we need to be aware of our own transformation.
It ends with me. It starts with them.
The pain of being put into the box of someone else’s expectations ends with me. Every morning, I make the decisions that will help me to deliver these promises to my kids. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. It means I choose to heal my story. It involves setting emotional boundaries that allow me to take care of myself. It translates into honest conversations, where I don’t need to be right. It means that, even if I am not perfect, I show up bravely to be their mom and connect with them, heart to heart.
The world that denies people their truth ends with me. The new “normal” of love, respect, and acceptance, starts with them.
If this piece resonates with you, I invite you to connect with me at The Congruency Café on Facebook., where I share resources for creating sustainable well-being in your life.