Let's encourage our children to live a life more ordinary

Back in 2006 when The Canberra Times marked International Women's Day with our edition of the liftout Femme, I indulged myself by putting my then four-year-old daughter on the cover.

''Make March 8 the day you lift your daughters to the sky and tell them that anything is possible,'' I wrote, literally lifting her to the sky for the photo shoot. (There'd be no way I could lift the almost 13-year-old over my head now, as she likes to point out, she's almost taller than me.)

I look at that statement - ''tell them that anything is possible'' - and I don't know if that's the tack I'd take with her now. It's not, you know. As much as we hope that we, and our daughters, will change the world, we probably won't. We'll go to school, get jobs, make friends, lose friends, form families, fall out of love, fall back in love, dye our hair, drink too much, forget birthdays and dance inappropriately and embarrass our children. But there'll be nothing special about our lives. Nothing at all. Except the laughter, the memories and the friendships we make.

A distant friend who has decided to make a midlife sea change with her family and buggered off to Byron Bay, posted something the other day which struck a chord:

Wise words from William Martin:
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives
Such striving may seem admirable, but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

We often forget this. The extraordinary will take care of itself. As mothers do we need to step back?


Why do we still fill our children's hearts and heads with ideas that they are special, beyond the fact that they will always be special to their mothers? Why do we urge them to strive for things they may never achieve, nor even want to?

Why can't we just let them be? Let them be to find out what it is in life that brings them joy, whether it be hand-kneading dough or growing basil or running long distances or being kind to dogs?

Things that may never change the world, nor make them millions, but will allow them to be happy, allow them to find who they are. Not who we want them to be, nor who they think the world wants them to be.

One of my favourite stories of the year came from a cookbook, of all things. The Pocket Bakery (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $39.99) tells the story of Rose Prince and how, when her children said they wanted some pocket money, she got them baking bread to sell to the neighbours.

Her son Jack was a bright and talented child who wasn't coping well with the rigours of a new high school. At 13 he was asked to leave, and two schools later, Jack became uninspired by the whole idea of formal schooling. They tried home schooling but that didn't work either and with his behaviour becoming more reckless the family was at their wit's end.

So they let Jack keep baking. They didn't force him to stay at school, nor did they belittle the idea that he could make a living from his enterprise. They let him be.

Now Pocket Bakery is a popular spot in south London, its bread on the shelves of the Fortnum & Mason Food Hall. Both the business and Jack are thriving. The extraordinary took care of itself.

My daughter loves to swim, loves the water. We talk about how she'll become a marine biologist or work as a mermaid at Sea World. That she'll grow up and swim or play water polo at the Olympics (recognising that at 13 we're way off-track in that plan). Or she'll swim from Australia to New Zealand covered in duck fat. Or swim with sharks. Or be the next Ethel Merman.

But you know, maybe she'll just swim. Maybe she'll live an ordinary life, be a wife, be a mother, someone who gets about each day, gets things done. Things like the shopping, like projects at work, like braiding her own daughter's hair, and baking cakes. And then, when she gets the chance, she'll sneak off and swim. Lose herself in the water, in the rhythm, in the peace she's found away from it all.

For if we can't change the world, perhaps we should change ourselves. Learn to find strength and peace and calm and happiness in all the ordinary things around us. The things we often take for granted. The things that matter most.