If there’s one word I’ve grown to hate since becoming a parent, it is ‘milestone’. We all like to say that everyone is different and it doesn’t matter when your baby starts sitting up/crawling/walking/talking. But that’s a lie, and anyone who says otherwise is lying too.
The truth is we all want our children to be ahead of the curve. Even average isn’t really good enough nowadays – we want As not Cs. But what if your baby isn’t acing those milestones? What if your baby is the mini equivalent of the hapless contestant who comes fourth on Come Dine With Me, the one other mums look to for reassurance; “Well, at least my little one is more advanced than her little one…”?
As you might have guessed, my 10-month-old is taking his time with meeting some of these pesky milestones. I know he’ll get there in the end, and it certainly doesn’t matter to him whether he’s on the move or not yet – he is happy to sit fatly on the ground and squawk if he wants anything for the time being. But it’s a well-known fact that to become a parent is to gain a fierce streak – fiercely protective, fiercely loving, and (admit it), fiercely competitive.
This pressure can create a lot of anxiety. It’s the done thing to act like it doesn’t bother you at all, and as much as I might proclaim that a static baby is a happy baby, those books and weekly emails that blithely ‘inform’ me that my child is now crawling and standing on his own have become my nemesis.
Plus, as if the emails weren’t enough, I recently came across DataParenting Baby Milestones – a supposedly ‘fun’ app that crowdsources baby milestones, so that you can compare your little one’s data with all other babies in the system and work out how he or she is performing. Now the concept of milestones obviously exists for a reason – the range of what is normal is actually very broad, and it’s important to keep abreast of it to be able to pick up on any cause for concern as early as possible. However it’s only ‘fun’ to compare milestones when you know you’re doing more than fine already.
So where does all this pressure to not only meet but exceed milestones come from? I actually think it’s external. The fact that the word ‘parent’ has now become a verb – an activity rather than a relationship – reflects the extent to which it now amounts to a set of skills and achievements – parental milestones – against which your proficiency in the role can be judged. When I told a very well-meaning child-health expert that my son still wasn’t crawling, I got the rather double-edged words of sympathy: “Oh poor thing, you obviously weren’t informed about the importance of tummy time.”
Er, actually I was, and I tried my hardest. But...
I thought all kids develop at different rates... Does this mean it’s my fault? Even by those with the best of intentions, our children’s progress is seen as evidence of our success as a parent.
But if there is an external pressure for children to reach certain yardsticks, I don’t want my baby to have any notion of it any time soon.
He has enough on his little plate worrying about where he put Sophie the Giraffe without having to be concerned about how ‘successful’ Mummy wants to look as a parent.
January is a time to make new milestones for the year ahead, but I would rather take it as an opportunity to sweep them aside completely. I’m unsubscribing from the emails and closing the books. Parenting shouldn’t be a race of experiences – to be tracked, tallied and ticked off – but a never-ending journey.