Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Meaning of Milestones And How They Can Drive You Nuts

When you're a new mom you have a lot of anxiety and uncertainly over whether you are doing things correctly.  One thing we do to assuage that anxiety is rely on certain given milestones that are "supposed" to occur at certain stages in our child's development.  But what happens when your child doesn't meet that milestone?  We usually feel like a bit of a failure in some way (rational or not).  And worse to boot, there is usually another mom out there to tell you how their child excelled and met that milestone ages before they were supposed to.  And so the competition begins... my child walked at 10 months, oh, ya, mine started reading at age 3... and so on and so on.  We all know moms like that out there.

Even though I tell myself milestones are just supposed to be a gage on when something should happen, I do feel relief when one of my kids meets that milestone.  Although I also tell myself that they all get there in their own time, contending with the pressures of other parents and their comparisons is another story.  There is also all of the unsolicited advice you get from family and friends when your child fails to meet the milestone in question.  For example, my son was potty trained at 3 1/2... perhaps a bit late but nothing too unusual, especially for a boy.  I got all kinds of "suggestions", mainly about trying to force him to do it by going hardcore.  I stood strong and kept saying he'll do it when he's ready.  And when he was ready, it happened overnight. No big deal.  It was super easy.  I think if I had forced him, it would have complicated the matter and perhaps created unnecessary issues for him.  Instead of relying on the milestone in question, I relied on my intuition and listened to my child, despite what others were saying.

But how do you not feel bad when you hear that another 6 year old is reading books to himself while you're still working on spelling out 3 letter words with yours?  There's no question that he'll learn to read so logically, I should no waste any time worrying over it, but I can't help but question myself on whether it's something I'm doing (or not doing).  And on the flip side, when I see one of my kids doing something before the given milestone, I can't help but feel good (or relieved). It's like we wear an invisible badge of "good mom" when our kids excel at something (or "failure" when they don't), when in actual fact, it may have very little to do with our parenting and more on the individual in question.  Just because your child achieves a certain milestone early does not mean that they are going to be a genius, nor does it mean that just because they don't meet the milestone, that there is something wrong with him or her.  In reality, our kids will eventually all be good at some things and not as good at others.  Just like us as adults.

Where did all of this pressure come from and why do we get sucked in?  Why do we need to measure ourselves and our kids' progress based on others?  Why is it not enough to celebrate our individual milestones?  I guess the easy answer is that without the milestones, we are unable to say whether we are above or below average based on society's standards.  And we are all part of society.  And somehow it matters for our success in life to measure ourselves based on those standards.

The more difficult challenge is trying to take milestones for what they are - just an approximation for when  your child will be doing certain things... sitting by themselves, talking, walking, reading, etc.  Even harder, we need to learn to tune out all of the other parents who are only too happy to gloat about their child's achievements.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we can't be truly happy to hear about other children's accomplishments, only that we should not to fall into that competitive arena of "one upping" that some parents do, and feeling bad if our child is not quite there... yet.

Luckily, I have several mom friends with whom I don't compete and with whom I feel "safe" in discussing my parenting concerns.  In other words, none of us play the "one up" game with each other.  It's so important to find validation, but more important to find encouragement and other moms who don't judge us or our children.  I also think it's important to note that perhaps those other competitive moms are feeling insecure in some way and need to gloat in order to feel good about themselves as a parent.  If you look at it that way, perhaps you can find some empathy and not take it too seriously.


  1. I strongly agree! Every child is different and will do things at different paces. I think those that are so focused on the "big" milestones miss out on other accomplishments. Ones that may be smaller but just as important!

  2. Great point! I think we worry about some of the these things unnecessarily and as a result, end up missing out on some of the smaller joys and accomplishments.