Their Own Pace
As a young parent, you study What to Expect with reverence and respect. The message driven home at the end of every chapter goes something like this: “every child develops at their own pace, and the milestones described here are simply intended as broad guidelines.”
Even in the midst of your reverent prostration in front of that altar of parenting books, you have to stop and laugh at that. “Ha!” you secretly whisper in your small dark heart. “They mean except MY baby, who will of course meet all the milestones early, or at least Right. On. Schedule.”
Then, you might have an early playdate where precocious Polly is rolling over sooner than your darling boy. Or she might display a powerful pincer grip on some Cheerios whilst your little Michaelmas is placing his face in a bowl of oatmeal, blowing enthusiastic, gloppy bubbles. “Well,” I hear you airily comment “my pediatrician always says those milestones are really just guidelines. I’d hate to push my child beyond his comfort zone so young.” (Don’t worry, I caught that slight chill in your voice. I get it. I was that way too, back in the day.)
Ten years into parenting, I’ve lived through more than a few awkward playdates like that. (I still laugh about the playdate I mom-failed in our first year of preschool.) With some perspective, and three kids who all eventually pincer-gripped, potty trained, and slept through the night, I realize that so much of that milestone mania was about reassuring ourselves our kid is “normal”.
Let me correct myself: so much of the milestone mania IS about reassuring ourselves our kids are “normal”. With big kids, you attend more parent teacher conferences than pediatrician’s appointments, but you still look to hear that all is developing “normally.” There are far fewer playdates, and far more sports fields or band concerts, but you still watch like a hawk: are they much shorter than the others up there? Are they hitting puberty too early? Do they have friends? Are they kind? Do they have impeccable manners like that sweet Cadmus across the street? Are they going to fall into a sink hole in great spasm of long goofy arms and legs? [Um, that last one may just be a fear in my house.]
I’d love to give a gift to myself, and one to you, if you’re willing to accept it. What if we allowed our kid to hit milestones of growing up in the same way that we patiently encouraged their first steps and first words? Perhaps we can allow the space in our parent-hearts that allows for difference. For delay. For a unique path that wends its way through friends and loneliness, through chapter books and iffy math tests, through soccer tryouts and wave jumping, through heartache and happy, all in its own time.
It’d be a gift to all of us: space for their own pace.