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Christine Carter, PhD

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Embracing an Ordinary Childhood for Your Kids

Posted: 03/15/11 09:52 AM ET

Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, love, belonging, creativity, and faith.
--Brene Brown

Last week, a friend told me that she thinks her kids will probably have a hard time getting into an independent high school in their area because they "aren't really good at any one sport." It then occurred to me that my kids really don't do any formal sports.

I started to feel panicky. I found myself thinking seriously about somehow getting my kids on a local team, even though they've already missed the try-outs for soccer and sign-ups for softball... and have very little interest in organized sports.

My kids are interested in less organized childhood things: playing with neighborhood kids; making daisy-chains and building structures for their pet rats; swimming, though not on a team; both of them would really like to be able to ride horses (technically this could be an organized activity, but for my kids, it is a fantasy activity); drawing with glitter gel pens; and dressing the dog up with ribbons. None of this will help them get into college -- or, sheesh, high school!

But all these things will be an advantage in life -- now and later -- because they are likely to lead to happiness. As vulnerability researcher Brene Brown makes clear in this compelling TEDxKC talk, it is in life's ordinary moments that we often find the most joy. My kids are probably not going to play the piano in Carnegie Hall anytime soon (that would take actual piano lessons, which their father and I have still failed to set up), but they are not living with the "low grade disconnection" that Brown describes, nor are either of them at risk to be as perfectionistic as I was as a kid -- another trap that Brown cautions against.

But sometimes, just like Brene Brown describes, I am afraid. Yesterday, especially, with all those frightening amber alerts, reminded me of our children's vulnerability every few miles. I am afraid that my children aren't safe enough, that I'm not a good enough mother, that I am not "exposing" them to enough extra-curricular activities or giving them enough opportunities in life. I am afraid that my children will not be extraordinary enough.

But extraordinary enough for what, exactly? Does living a fulfilling and joyful life even require one to be extraordinary? What more do I want for my children -- and myself -- than fulfillment and joy? Financial independence and security come to mind, for sure; also, to find mastery and flow in activities (and work) they love. But do those things come from being extraordinary, or from knowing who you are and what you want in life?

I love this video because Brown validates both my fears and my child-rearing strategies with her research on joy and vulnerability. This week, my Walking the Talk challenge is to relish the ordinary as a path to meaning and happiness, à la Brene Brown -- to not be afraid that my children will be ordinary children, but to actually hope for that.

Ordinary does not equal meaningless. An ordinary childhood, free from pressure to perform and achieve, may just be the shortest road to all the things I want for my children.

Do you hope your children are extraordinary? f so, why? What more than meaning, fulfillment, and joy do you want for your children? Why?


© 2011 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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