In a world that encourages us to always be 'the best', Shevonne Hunt has decided to embrace the glorious imperfection of being average.
Recently I had what could be considered a mid-life crisis. In the shower one morning it dawned on me that I had not discovered the meaning of life. I had not created any social movements. I had not acquired any impressive skills.
I was, in fact, living a very average life. I felt a deep satisfaction when I managed to put clean sheets on the bed or when I cooked something the whole family ate.
In a world that exhorts us to achieve and to be as productive as possible, I had embraced the possibility of being completely average.
Resisting the pressure to be exceptional
British-Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton says that in today’s modern world, we have started to equate the word ‘average’ with ‘failure’. Alain says, “We imagine that a quiet life is something that only a failed person without options would ever seek. We relentlessly identify goodness with being at the centre, in the metropolis, on the stage.”
The true definition of average means that only a few can be exceptional. There is a reason there is only one Evonne Goolagong Cawley, one Annabel Crabb, one Julia Gillard (choose your own heroes here). These people are exceptional, but that doesn’t somehow make you less.
In my time as a parent I have struggled with homework, avoided playing in parks, and still haven’t come up with a single idea to mysteriously activate my ‘best life’. In moments of boredom I dip into my Instagram feed and see parents doing amazing projects with their kids and cooking up a storm in the kitchen. It makes me feel like a total failure.
Why you feel like you’re parenting under a microscope
Of course, no one is telling me that I am a failure. It is just the act of comparing myself to others, combined with what I think I should be doing, that has landed me in a pool of puddles on the phone to my sister.
On said occasion, my sister calmly reminded me that I was doing a great job, that my kids were happy and healthy, and that nearly every mum she speaks to feels the same sense of failure.
CEO of the Parenting Research Centre, Warren Cann, says, “There is no doubt that in all of human history there has never been more discussion about parenting – how to raise children – than there is now.”
So much conflicting information, so much judgement. And yet Warren believes that parents today are going great guns. “In my opinion, this is the best generation of parents ever. Never before have parents thought so carefully about how they are raising their children. This is the conscientious generation of parents.”
And that’s not just the Instagram influencer with a spotless kitchen doing craft projects. That’s you and me with our piles of unwashed dishes watching She-Ra on Netflix with their kids (it can’t be just me, can it?)
The gifts of average parenting
It takes a lot of strength to embrace average parenting, but there are gifts in doing so, for yourself and for your kids.
Sarah Napthali, author of Buddhism for Mothers, says we all gain when we abandon the need to be exceptional. “Buddhist teachings help us to realise that we are so much more than our achievements or what we produce or create. We can all put so much pressure on ourselves to achieve, to be a winner or to be some kind of special somebody. Buddhism is about not being limited by the labels we put on ourselves, whether it be ‘successful’, ‘respected’, ‘popular’, ‘prolific’, ‘creative’… What a relief to ease up on yourself.”
Let go of the labels, Sarah says, and appreciate the life you have.
“The greatest benefit to slowing down and cultivating contentment with the life you have is for your children. Children are no different from adults in their need to be noticed, heard and understood, but if we live in a constant, stressed rush, we risk losing crucial moments for connection.”
For me, average parenting hasn’t been a conscious choice. I get wrapped up in the need to be productive, to be busy, to be an exceptional parent and human being. But then sometimes I will slow down. I will snuggle up between my kids on the lounge and turn the TV on; we’ll stay in our pyjamas until lunchtime. When I do this, my kids are fine, and so am I.
Oscar Wilde sagely counselled, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”. So I’m going to embrace his guidance a little more, even if this ‘self’ is an average one.