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rangerr's avatar

What is a "normal" childhood?

Asked by rangerr (15765points) June 24th, 2010

My mother apologized to me today for me “not having a normal childhood” because of my sister’s disability.
This is something she brings up all the time, but I shrug it off because it makes no sense to me.

My childhood is the only childhood I know, so it seems normal to me..

Is there such thing as a “normal childhood”?

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37 Answers

Merriment's avatar

It is a very popular urban myth.

Something we strive to give our children, usually having never experienced it for ourselves.

knitfroggy's avatar

There isn’t such a thing. Just like there are no “normal” people.

YARNLADY's avatar

I thought I was brought up in a normal childhood, because our life was very similar to the ones portrayed on TV (1950’s), but many people call those portrayals fake and say no one really lived like that. I can’t say, since we did live like that.

dpworkin's avatar

See This be the Verse by Phillip Larkin.

janbb's avatar

If there is, can I take mine back to the store and exchange it?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

It is much easier to get agreement on whether a particular childhood is abnormal than it is to get agreement on what constitutes a “normal” childhood, even among experts in psychology and child development.

dpworkin's avatar

Maybe we can figure out what a “normative” childhood should look like, but each person experiences his childhood uniquely – my brother had a much nicer time with my parents then I ever did.

Ivan's avatar

Normal is overrated anyways.

judochop's avatar

Leave it to Beaver.

janbb's avatar

I would guess we might begin to define a normal or ‘normative’ childhood by its absences; no physical, psychological or sexual abuse, no deaths of siblings or parents and possibly, although this would be debatable, no divorce. My cousin, a psychiatric social worker, once said, “If you have two living parents, you are ahead of the game.” Beyond those crude parameters, it would hard to define it more stringently – happy families are not all alike. And is happiness a component of the norm or not?

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ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Having a severely disabled sister of my own, I can really relate to what you’re saying. Not so much my mother, but everyone around me has always said things that make me feel as though they felt sorry for me. I’m always told that I “had to grow up too fast” and that I never experienced a “real childhood”. I’m not sure what a normal childhood is supposed to be, but I really enjoyed mine. My sister passed away when I was 14, and, if a “normal” childhood meant one without her in it.. I’ll pass.

tinyfaery's avatar

Apparently, a normal childhood does include experiencing trauma. It appears to be the norm.

ubersiren's avatar

Normality means good and bad, pristine and flawed, beautiful and ugly, scary and peaceful, etc. You can’t have light without dark. A balance. Most people have “normal” childhoods. If you had a prominent death in the family, absent parent, moved to a new house every year, lived with a disability, etc. you’re probably more balanced than not. It’s when you’ve had 80% darkness or 80% light that you become abnormal. Abused children, I’d say, did not have a normal childhood with perhaps 90%+ darkness. Very privileged children, on the other hand, are probably just as abnormal, but experienced 90%+ pleasure and comfort.

Ivan's avatar

Two loving parents, one or two siblings, a relatively friendly and safe neighborhood, the same high school all 4 years, a stable group of friends, visiting family at Christmas, having picnics on the 4th of July, going on family vacations.

In other words, boring.

janbb's avatar

@Ivan What if you’re Jewish or Muslim – no normal childhood? JK

rangerr's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie That’s exactly how I feel. I wouldn’t trade having her in my life for any kind of ‘normalcy’.

@tinyfaery I’m still kind of shocked over realizing that so many people have gone through quite a bit of trauma. I don’t know if I’m glad I’m not alone, or if that only makes me feel worse.

@Ivan Are you saying consistency is boring?

Ivan's avatar


It certainly can be.

SuperMouse's avatar

I had a rather traumatic childhood, to use @ubersiren‘s analogy, significantly more dark than light. On the other hand, I was once married to a man who had what many might call a normal childhood. Two parents. Two sisters. Weekends on the boat at the lake. Upper middle class upbringing in the same house, same city. The whole nine-yards. Judging from the way this man has handled the inevitable traumas of life I’ll take my abnormal childhood any day. I don’t know what is normal, but being challenged as I was brought up by things that many children are sheltered from has given me a strength that might not have been there otherwise.

@rangerr, does the fact that I am engaged to a man who is quadriplegic mean that once we are married my children can kiss their normal childhood goodbye?

@janbb Bahá’í‘s don’t get normal either.


@YARNLADY Good answer! I believe “normal” childhoods are possible, and one just has to look at your experience as evidence. I had a pretty normal childhood too——freedom from abuse, exposure to violence, tragedy, parental divorce, and poverty. I enjoyed my childhood. Had fun exploring the outdoors in my backyard and at the park, riding my bike on nice summer days, playing with my faithful dog Ratso and a menagerie of other pets, and enjoying junk food and drink under the apple tree. With the fun, I got my share of bumps and bruises, scrapes and cuts, rainy days, long boring school days, bad teachers, bad marks, etc. But I also enjoyed the experience, looking back on it now. To me, that’s a normal childhood. Lol.

zophu's avatar

The way people use the word normal it usually means somewhere in between “healthy” and “common”. Maybe your mom was referring more to the uncommon nature of your childhood and not the healthiness of it.

YARNLADY's avatar

@zophu Good answer thank you for that perspective.

free_fallin's avatar

I imagine being around a disabled sibling has given you more compassion than most people would have. Maybe she did mean it in @zophu‘s perspective. Consistency can be boring just like normal often can be. Unfortunately the most balanced people are usually the ones who have dealt with something deemed abnormal in their lives. Abnormality builds character.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Maybe something from a TV sitcom, but nothing like my childhood. Of course I’m the reason for that, autistic types don’t have “normal” relationships.

DominicX's avatar

I agree about the middle between “common” and “healthy” as @zophu said. What I had growing up was “normal” as far as I’m concerned. No trauma, few negative memories (that would put it close to the “healthy” side) and at the same time, it wasn’t too different from what’s portrayed in the media despite being raised in an upper class family (more “vacations on the lake” then?) which in my opinion, steers it to the “common” side. Having both is what makes it “normal”. That’s just how I would think of it.

Being so uncommon that it can’t be considered “normal” seems much better to me than being so unhealthy that it can’t be considered normal. Maybe you lived in two different countries as a child, thus making your childhood “uncommon”, but maybe it was the time of your life. Uncommon doesn’t necessarily mean “bad” as many people seem to assume it does.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think it is whatever the person saying they had a normal childhood means.

Pandora's avatar

What she was probably referring to was that she may feel you don’t get equal attention from her. Her major concerns go to your sibling because they need her more.
She also may feel she relies on you too much and you aren’t allowed to enjoy as much free time as other children your age. So in a sense she feels she has short changed you of certain joys she feels your are entitled too.
I felt that way at times with my son. His sister had a lot of health problems and at times I felt I wasn’t there when he needed my time. I relied on him to handle his problems since they weren’t always and immediate need. Where as his sisters needs could be life or death.
But honestly I felt bad for both. Like you though they both understood and felt I did all I could and felt their childhood was quite normal despite all the tough times.
It did take time to realize they had a very normal up bringing. Its called living life the best you can.

mattbrowne's avatar

Here’s one explanation:

A normal childhood is one that results in so-called secure attachment behavior. In this case the child uses the caregiver as a secure base for exploration. There are protests caregiver’s departure and seeks proximity and is comforted on return, returning to exploration. The child may be comforted by the stranger but shows clear preference for the caregiver.

rooeytoo's avatar

I just finished reading Jodie Picoult’s latest book and it dissects thoroughly just this subject. The child who is troubled, ill or whatever, gets all the attention, time, energies of the parents. While the others take a back seat. Sometimes this causes resentments or causes the
not ill child to act out or misbehave as a way to garner some parental attention. I don’t think it is an uncommon situation.

So I think normal would be a family where the attention is divided somewhat equally and not centering around one kid for any reason.

gemiwing's avatar

I think the problem with her statement is the word ‘normal’. Normal doesn’t mean healthy, productive or any of that. It just means that’s the norm.

I agree with @rooeytoo @zophu . She just wanted you to know she would have given you more if she could.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am not sure what normal means. If it means being like some sort of average, that is not necessarily a good thing. There have been claims that, except in extreme cases, our family environment has only a small impact on who we become.

I am not sure how apt it is, but there is the famous quote from Tolstoy, indicating that he seemed to think that there was such a thing as normal (if we take happy to be normal). Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

BoBo1946's avatar

ummm…what is normal? My parents did the best they could and that is normal to me!

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

When I consider what is “normal”, I often ask myself why anybody would aspire to be or to experience that which is normal.

I’ve often taken comfort in not being normal!

eden2eve's avatar

One of my sisters was plagued with many difficulties from birth, which continue to this day. She is an incredible human being, and I would not give up one minute of her life for a more “normal” childhood. I love her with all my heart!

What is so heartbreaking, is that she carries a profound burden of guilt for her existence, and the impact her medical issues have had upon the others of our family. She is suffering, due to this burden she has assumed, emotionally and physically to such an extent that it makes me almost hysterical to even see her at this point. She is completely bedridden, and her slightest movement or a touch anywhere on her body elicits such pain that it virtually tears my heart out. She longs to die.

I completely understand how she has come to this level of devastation. Some family members are directly responsible for this due to their selfishness and lack of compassion. There has been discussion about the trials that her condition brought to other family members, and in some, but not all, cases, she became aware of them. I’m very angry, and I think that the biggest wish in my life is that I could give her what was denied to her, and that I could somehow erase her pain and give her that “normal” life that she deserved. The rest of our family had nothing even close to the trials that she has had, and we have NO reason, nor right, to complain.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

If “normal” means the norm, I’d like to know what that looks like.

In thinking about what the households of cousins and friends were like, every one is different. In my humble opinion, @Pandora hit the nail on the head. Your mom feels a sense of guilt for not giving you and your sibling equal time. It’s a shame that she’s still struggling with this. Maybe you should show her this posting and thread. It may not resolve her feelings; but then again, maybe it will.

Aster's avatar

I think when they say a “normal” childhood what they really mean is a nice and happy one. Mine was very happy. Which, from what I hear, is abnormal.

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