I’m at a kid’s party. Lot of mums are there. Mums with babies. In slings. In their arms. Sitting at their feet on the floor. I make my way over and say hi to one of them. Gush over their baby a little bit and tell them how cute they are. I ask how old their baby is. And the flood gates open up. “They’re 9 months old, but they look older because they’re on the 90th percentile for weight. They should be crawling by now but they just can’t seem to get it. What age did yours crawl by?” I look at her like a deer in the headlights. I can’t remember.
My sons are 6 and 8 years old. I can’t remember when they crawled. I know they both walked at 12 months. They talked at different times. Rolled at different times. Sat up at different times. One slept through the night and the other one NEVER has. Both natural births at 38 weeks. Both breastfed. One came out of me talking and the other one took aaaaages. One had a dummy and the other one refused, no matter how much I begged him.
I was totally consumed with every milestone of my sons’ infancy and toddlerhood. I knew where they sat on the spectrum of development at any time and furtively watched other kids their age at parks and parties and kindergym. Comparing. Sometimes quietly smug that my kid was doing so much better than the others. Sometimes aghast that everyone else’s kid was doing so much better than mine. It’s a terrible stressful time during which I judged my own performance as a parent by the weekly and sometimes daily [‘cause it happens that quickly when they’re babies] achievements of my kids. I remember the time but I don’t remember the details and I don’t remember the details because, here’s the thing… THEY. DON’T. MATTER.
Don’t get me wrong. Milestones are important for broad monitoring of whether or not there is an underlying learning disability or developmental delay for your baby. And if your child is repeatedly not reaching any of them and you have a feeling in your gut that something’s not right, take them to your GP or paediatrician or Child & Youth Health. But guess what? If your kid is just not keeping up here and there with the mothers’ group kids, it’s ok. And I say ‘it’s ok’ because I know that to be true.
Dear new mum, all that stuff that’s consuming you is not going to matter once your little one is in school. I don’t expect you to listen to me, I certainly didn’t when other mums told me, but it’s my duty to tell you nonetheless.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Trust your instincts and if they’re a bit fuzzy, DON’T turn to the kids you see in the playground to measure your child[ren] by. Every kid truly is different and let me tell you why. It’s because every mum is different.
So little Johnny didn’t roll at the same time as little Sammy. How important do you really think that’s going to be when they’re in the class room together? Little Kylie could count months earlier than little Sophie but that doesn’t mean she’s going to be a maths whiz in grade 5.
I know this all to be true but I still have to give myself this same advice even today. Drawing on what I know from my time as a mum to babies and toddlers I have to stop myself when I become obsessed with whether or not my child is at the same level as everyone else right now. I tell myself to take a step back and not get caught up in the school mum hype. It’s not easy but luckily I have friends with kids who are older than mine and they keep it real for me too. It’s a vicious cycle of self-doubt, comparison and judging but take it from me it’s not the stuff that matters.
The stuff that I DO remember involves a warm baby’s head nuzzling in my neck. I remember the feeling of joy I had when my boys took their first steps. I remember the sweetness in my heart when I heard them first say ‘Mum’. I remember the laugh in my belly when I first saw them clap their hands. I remember love.
But milestones? Sorry. No idea.