The New Normal is Just Not Normal

We are more stressed than we realize.

This past sunny Saturday, I listened to parenting educator Kim John Payne in his soft-spoken stage voice talk about how the research shows that our stress levels, the constant stress we moan about each evening before we turn to sleep, then toss fitfully on the bed since the stress never fully leaves us.

explosion-000023120581_MediumThis stress, he said, is the same as if our village were under attack – “The new normal level of stress is unheard of in the history of human evolution – as if invaders are attacking your village.”

We are under attack.

It comes from wanting more, doing more, filling our schedules with endless obligations.

It comes from piling on the homework, limiting or eradicating recess, adding academic pressure not offset by play.

Kim mentioned the negative learning outcomes from homework. He discussed the “magnetic north of popular culture vs. the true north of family values.”

He said, “It’s ok for children to be bored. That’s the time when they become self-motivated and creative.” And as the job market evolves to need people with an entrepreneurial focus, this down time of boredom is essential to creating the confidence and resilience that comes from taking risks, trying new things, thinking outside the box.


When I was a child, “bored” was a four-letter word. We simply were not allowed to say it. The implicit find something to do rang out from my mother’s uninterested gaze when we claimed to be bored, and you know what? Inevitably, we did.

Out of boredom comes creativity, the kind of self-inspired creativity not borne out of a screen. Simplify your family life and you prepare kids for future success, the speaker said.

Then, “You have to stay true to your own values.”

Which made me wonder … what are our values? Do you know yours?

And by values, I guess I’m saying, what matters to you. What you live and die by. When you will stand up for right and when you will banish wrong. What is important enough for you to take a stand on.

Is there anything?

For so many people, I’m afraid the answer is NO.

It's ok to be bored. Actually, it's very fertile time.
It’s ok to be bored. Actually, it’s very fertile time.

We are increasingly living in a time of self-leadership, which we can see from our current election ruckus. While I’m not certain that is a fabulous tidal shift, it is what it is, and we’d better embrace the times that are a’changing.

Bullying, he said, is socially over-controlling one’s environment. Why are bullies (who, by the way, aren’t just children) trying to over-control their environment?

Because the environment is whacko. It needs control. It demands it.

If you make your environment simple, there is no need to control.

Evil is a lack of empathy, he said. We can give our children empathy through purposeful work. Gratitude grows out of contributing to the meaning and purpose of the family. Children – and really, all of us – need a purposeful place in the family and in our community, which is the antidote to all the many screens that seek to entertain but really convince us to relinquish control and descend into the pits of powerless despair.

A few weeks ago, I went through my sons’ room and rooted out all the things they didn’t need. I got rid of the clutter. I made their environment simple.

The books for younger readers went into a plastic bin in the basement for my eventual grandchildren to enjoy. Old forgotten library books were delivered back through the library slot, way overdue.

Half-broken cheap toys fell into the trash. Outgrown clothes went to the charity bag. I swept and dusted, filling the trash with everything that had accumulated.

With so much there, they could not see anything.

When the boys came home and walked into their room, they exclaimed with joy. “Wow, it’s so clean!”

On the bench by the door sat a drawing book to teach how to draw trucks. “This is so cool,” said Shaya, who immediately sat down to try to draw.

The book had been there the whole time. He simply needed a clear environment to see what he already had.

The speaker told of four pillars of family simplicity – environment (de-clutter), rhythm and predictability, simple schedules, and filtering out the adult world.

Kids playing in the rain under colorful umbrellaSimply put, let children be children, with all the freedom they need to roam and explore the world around them safely, so that they can grow into adults who think for themselves and know how to discover and create.

One small noble change that can transform your family, the speaker said. Keep it small, so it’s doable.

This year, I promised myself no more than two meetings in one work day. When I don’t follow my own parameters, I am skittish and overdrawn. When things get out of whack, apply rhythm. That is the answer.

Not only do I want to protect my children from seeing the world as not beautiful. I need to protect myself, too.

Safety vs lack of safety; trust vs mistrust. Everyone needs a sense of purpose and skill.

He said when a child throws a tantrum, the best action a parent can take is to sit down and do something they normally do. Knit. Color. Pay bills. Cut cucumbers for salad.hands slicing cucumber on the cutting board

Perhaps we all can think about that…when society or its leaders throw their tantrums, why can’t we just do what we always do? Take a walk in the woods, bake muffins, read Harry Potter to my son, polish nails with my daughter.

That’s the fastest way out of a tantrum, and the easiest way back to normalcy. Quiet, calm, and order. That’s all any of us need for a good life.

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