Raising Richmond: Milestone madness

As parents, it’s our job to play an active role in our child’s development. But are checklists, guides, and charts taking over? We’re talking about milestones today, and we hope you’ll share your thoughts.

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

“When will he talk?”
“Should she be walking by this point?”
“But the book says he should be doing that by now…”

As parents, it’s our job to play an active role in our child’s development. But are checklists, guides, and charts taking over?

Today’s question: Do you worry about milestones?

The Salgados

She had a brown jumper on with pink polka dots and a bright bow that covered half of her tiny short stacked haircut. Her mom carefully placed a pretty black and cream padded toile covering over the wooden restaurant high chair while her dad placed her in and grandparents slid into the booth. All eyes glued to this tiny being looking to be a little over one year old. She was eating peas, green beans, or some other mashed up green mixture brought from home and her grandma clapped as she took each bite. Baby girl was the sun, the moon, and the stars.

I looked over at my own brood of four, with messy hair and wild eyes, and quietly laughed. I remember the early days myself and observed how the intensity of loving plays out differently for each parent and family. Some parents pore over clothing and read product safety reviews, some spend hours reading about baby brain development, some spend months creating beautiful nurseries, some visit 324 preschools, some grow organic gardens, some forge new paths in parenting — all of it with such careful and deep heartfelt intention to do right by our kids and live out our own lives as individuals.

We watch them sleep, breathe, smile, sit, stand, walk, run, speak, talk, laugh; we watch them grow into all the amazing parts of themselves. We are watching so closely, waiting for the next big thing because it will be wonderful. It will, and we can barely stand it, even to those who act cool about the whole thing. We’ll cheer and tell our friends of the latest, we’ll take a bagillion pictures and videos — it will even become the best new party trick. With so much energy and joy it’s hard to know what to do or how to feel when the milestones don’t come exactly on “schedule,” or close enough to what the baby book says, or what his friends are doing at the playgroup. All of that energy gets scrambled, shifted and directed in a new way which can be awful or helpful depending on how it plays out.

Sometimes I over-think and worry endlessly over something particular in my kid’s development, or start dialing into the crazy amount of information on the Internet and the opinions of those around me. Other times I don’t move quick enough, letting things go too long before I ask questions or inquire about help. With each step or misstep, I learn more about my children and myself. I have found my intuition is becoming a little sharper, learning how and when to listen to myself and others.

Even in the middle of all of our good intentions and our “fix it” culture, have we forgotten how different we all are? Kids included. Is there room for the variation? I wonder if these developmental tables, charts, and guides are used in a way that they were never meant to be used. It seems like a mix of having good care providers, building a tribe or community, listening to my kids, believing in myself as a parent and adopting a wider view of the world has been the recipe to navigate the milestone madness. All that and knowing the next best party trick ever is coming in due time.

The Catrows

“Bigger babies sometimes roll over a little later.”

This brief comment, made by our wonderful pediatrician while looking over my then two-month-old chunk of a baby boy, was meant as a simple heads up should he not reach this milestone by the expected time (although that really depends on who you ask).

Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect.

(Don’t blame our doctor. My need for control is totally responsible for this one.)

After that visit to the doctor, I spent the next few weeks fixated on my son JR’s rolling skills. But no matter what I tried (and I tried everything), that child just would not do it; he had no interest whatsoever. He also weighed over 12 pounds at that point and sported a head in the 90th percentile — that’s a lot of body to move around. But fret I did.

Finally, in a fit of frustration (and exhaustion) I started crying and declared to my husband, “He’s never going to roll over! Something is wrong with our bay-beeeee!!!”

JR rolled over the next day.

That scenario set the tone for pretty much every milestone early on in JR’s life: sitting up on his own, responding to his name, knowing who “mama” and “dada” were, etc. The latest email from Baby Center or the current chapter in What to Expect would tell me what behavior was probably coming up, I worried when it didn’t happen right away, wondered (sometimes dramatically) if it ever would, only for it to take place pretty much the next day (and usually well within the “typical time-frame”). Lather, rinse, repeat.

Let me be upfront in saying that I don’t particularly like this about myself — in fact, I would say it’s my biggest flaw as a parent. However, it comes from a place of love… and fear. I’m not say that having a child who faces challenges is something to be scared of. But I am afraid of missing something. I’m afraid of not acting quickly enough if his behavior or development seems “off,” for lack of a better word. I’m afraid of not doing everything in my power to give my child the support he needs.

On the other hand, I don’t want JR to feel as if my only concern is getting him on to the next milestone, rather than enjoying who and where he is right now. I want him to know that he’s wonderful no matter what.

Not a day goes by that I’m not (at some point) floored by the responsibility that comes with being a parent. I don’t want to screw it up by not paying attention. But, as JR gets older, I’m starting to realize that by focusing on checklists and charts, I’m setting myself up to miss something after all: the special person that he is and the joy he brings to my life.

Unlike the exact date my child starts to walk or speak in sentences, my approach to JR’s development is something I can actually control. So for now, I’m trying to choose the joy over the fear, the “now” over the “what’s next?” And I hope I’ll be a better parent for it.

Ok, your turn

What’s your attitude towards milestones? Are you a worrier, more laid back, or is it a more “case-by-case” type of thing?

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Patience Salgado

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Kathy on said:

    One of my daughters was a late talker (would only grunt) and a late reader. Now at the age of 12 she is in a school program that had her skip a grade. She won an award last year for the highest verbal score in the State of VA from Johns Hopkins. She reads history books by Stephen Ambrose and participates in an internship with a group of engineering students at MIT and Cornell. She needs all of this to keep her herself happy. We are now waiting for that day when we can no longer understand what she is talking about because it is too far over our heads.
    Needless to say, I encourage parents not to be too concerned when their child doesn’t reach a milestone. They may just waiting for perfection before they even try.

  2. Kathy, that’s so reassuring! You bring up some good points. I once babysat a little boy who took FOREVER to talk — they took him to specialists, had his hearing checked, everything. There were no issues, he just wouldn’t talk. When he *did* start talking, he basically went right into using sentences.

  3. Kathy on said:

    I was obsessed w/ milestones with my 1st child. I read Your Baby Week by Week, What to Expect the First Year..all of those books. I checked off each milestone in the book when my daughter did it. And I admit, there was a bit of smug (but silent!) satisfaction when my daughter walked at 9 months…way before my other friends’ babies. But I feel like because I was so obsessed over when she was doing things (and because it flew by so quickly) that I really missed just enjoying watching her grow.

    Now with my 2nd child, I’ve only cracked open the baby books a couple times. My son is almost one and is not remotely close to walking. And you know what? I’m enjoying every second of it so much more than w/ my first child. Just sitting back watching him be a baby instead of obsessing over his next milestone. I wish I could stop time!

    Every child is different…you can’t compare them to other kids, so don’t stress. (Disclaimer: my oldest is only 4 so I realize this attitude might fly out the window when she goes to school.)

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