As I have said frequently, there is nothing like parenting to change your most carefully laid plans. It is astonishing how easily these tiny little humans change everything, and challenge literally everything that you thought you knew. Being a parent requires flexibility, humility and patience, and trust me that your beautiful little beings will work their completely unconscious hardest to make certain they teach you these lessons every day. Being a parent can be so overwhelming, here you are with this fragile new life doing everything you think is the best for them and questioning EVERYTHING you do. And then things seem to not be working, doubt enters your head and you are assaulted with a million different opinions as to what you’re doing wrong. Why won’t my baby sleep like that/eat this way/play like that?! Why aren’t they crawling/walking/talking yet? Well, there are no babies who are exactly alike. They each will develop in their own way on their own schedule. I CANNOT STRESS THAT ENOUGH. Just because one baby crawls at 7 months doesn’t mean there is necessarily anything wrong with the other baby who crawled at 11 months.
Two things that frustrate me intensely about our culture are the curve expectations placed on children and the competition that exists (even subconsciously!) among us mothers. When my twins were about 5 months old a friend nonchalantly asked me how far behind the curve twins normally are. While I’m certain she meant no harm, it sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Were they too behind?! Should they be doing more?! And please understand, I absolutely advocate intervention in serious cases of developmental delay, but the facts are that acute delays are not the norm and most of the time your baby is just fine.
So what if your baby started sitting up two months after your friends baby did?! Maybe your kid will talk first. Maybe they won’t. Chances are though that your baby is doing great, and that sweet little human is going to do things when they’re dang good and ready. A friend posted that her son was FINALLY accomplishing a milestone and my heart broke for her. Clearly something or someone had caused her to feel he was behind. Which he isn’t, at all. He’s simply doing things as he is ready. This should be celebrated, not judged.
Why do we push our babies and children so much?! You know, I am without doubt all for educational enrichment. I read to my babies, they listen to a wide variety of music and languages and I choose many toys based on their educational value. But I also let them chew on the books, listen to happy silly songs, and play with brightly colored rolling ducks. We dance and wave our arms and make silly noises. I believe teaching JOY is equally as important as learning the alphabet. They are learning every moment whether you are teaching them or not. But what are they learning? That they are competent and smart? That they are capable of learning anything they want and can actually enjoy doing so and become confident in the process? Or are they having it pounded into their wee heads that they aren’t learning enough, or as quickly as they should? That their friend is better/faster/smarter?
I don’t like the competition I see so often (especially on social media!) among mothers on whose child did what first. Of course I think every mother should see her child as amazing, (I talk more about that in this post, click here). But as possibly new and insecure mamas, we do not need to see our friends bragging (even if they don’t mean to cause harm!) about how their child is so superior and advanced and thus question if our own babies are doing ok. A friend posted a while back that after her baby had his pediatric checkup their doctor said her five month old was “basically functioning at the level of a year old baby” and that the doctor called him “Baby Thor”. This made me have to work with my head that my also five month old babies were doing alright since their doctor did not call them baby thors and they were definitely not functioning at a year old level. I call this type of thing “brag shaming”. And I’m sure this mama didn’t mean to, she was genuinely proud of her son as she should be. But I’d like to offer this for consideration. Be proud of your wee ones. But be sensitive to the fact that your seemingly innocent post about how advanced your kiddo is might make another mama question if her also absolutely perfect baby is doing ok.
And you know what? Your baby is only little once. While I FIRMLY support and believe in practicing involved parenting and actively teaching them, our culture has placed such a rush on growing them up fast and forcing them to become competent little humans as quickly as possible. (And I’m well aware this isn’t just our culture). I absolutely will teach my children respect, how to focus, self discipline, social decorum and how to behave politely as the situation may demand, but I will also let them shriek and run, play with abandon, and cry on my lap. They don’t need to practice algebra at two and play Mozart by three. If they end up doing so, great. But I’m not going to ruin their childhood by pushing them until they’re miserable. I was chatting with one of my piano student parents the other night and she shared that her daughters school wants to place her in the gifted program, and while they want to give her more, they’re not going to push her past what she wants to do. I have SO much respect for them. This child, she is balanced, she is wicked smart, she is motivated and driven, she is HAPPY. She has focus, confidence, and empathy well beyond her years. And her mother is wise in giving her as much as she wants without ruining her thirst for knowledge by shoving too much down her throat. This child is one of my best students. Never once has she said “that’s too hard” or “I can’t”. She’s happy and focused and a delight every lesson.
If a child is taught to love learning, without fear, and views new concepts as exciting and not scary, they’re far more likely to be motivated to push themselves to do more, to do better, in confidence and on their own, without having us ride them and make them miserable. A child is born looking at the world in wonder. We have a tremendous responsibility to teach them about this world without destroying that starry eyed fascination. It took a little while for my babies to crawl. Could I have done more tummy time, or pushed them harder so they would crawl faster? Absolutely. Did they crawl when they were ready? Of course they did! I now have speed demons blasting all over everything, my son just the other day went fearlessly four wheeling over rocks by the river. In my opinion the extra tears and stress of lots of tummy time wasn’t worth it. We did tummy time of course, but only as long as I could read to them and keep it a mostly happy experience while we did. I did not deem the frustration and intense tears to be worth them crawling a few weeks earlier.
Of course we cannot prevent all frustration. Not every learning experience will leave them filled with happiness and wanting more. But I believe that if they have this foundation of confident joy filled learning, they can handle the not so glorious moments.
I was homeschooled growing up. A tremendous sacrifice my mother made for her children, and a gift I will be forever grateful for. While ensuring I had a balanced education, she allowed me to pursue subjects I was passionate about and patiently allowed me to conquer those I was less than interested in as I grew. For example, for a while I was obsessed with phonics. I completed more phonics workbooks and projects than most people do in a lifetime. Math, on the other hand, was not my favorite. But she experimented until she found what I connected with, a way to learn that didn’t scare the pants off of me or make me feel stupid. And we did do tests, she prepared us for this real world of college testing and scary expectations. But because I had that foundation of joy, that love of learning, I was able to face the scarier real world and conquer it.
I firmly believe this concept also applies to emotional growth and understanding, but I’ll save that for another post.
In closing, my dear fellow mamas, please don’t allow our social media and culture to make you question your baby or yourself. We are all doing the best we can, trust in your child and allow them to bloom on their own schedule. They’re only little once, celebrate these moments and don’t allow fear to rob you (and your child!) of the joy of watching them grow and thrive according to their own personal schedule.