I was a closet Milestone Mommy. I used to obsess about the timeliness of my child reaching predetermined milestones—even while still in the womb. I’ve always been a little extra; extra dramatic, extra paranoid, extra competitive— extra special, so pregnancy gave me a wonderful excuse to exploit my extraness. Everything was an opportunity to be noted, compared, studied, explained, and examined. I spent a lot of time researching when the baby would develop certain abilities, and what if anything I could do to ensure that each milestone was reached as early as possible.
When my first son was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, I wasn’t ready to give up on developmental milestones, especially since at first, he reached them all on time or in some cases even early. Rolling over, check. Sitting unassisted, check. Babbling, stacking toys, pincer grasp, check, check, check. Then suddenly, his peers were all pulling to a stand, or even walking, and he was still sitting on the floor. And I started to realize how silly it is to measure his development to that of anyone else’s. I was taking some “expert’s” definition of wellness and applying it to my child. My son was (and still is) happy, well-adjusted, bright and healthy. Even if I wasn’t able to check the “walks backwards” or “uses 5-10 words” boxes on the 18 month well baby checklist.
I always knew my obsessive milestone checking was like a disease, it was something I didn’t really admit and I constantly tried to “get better,” promised myself I’d be better. I think the real “aha moment” was this one day I was having a conversation with a proud, blatant, unashamed Milestone Mommy. She was following her walking daughter around my home and assuring me that it was okay my house wasn’t properly baby-proofed to her liking. “When your son walks, you will realize how many things need to be baby-proofed,” she explained. Patronizing smile. “My daughter was walking at 10 months so I had to get things in order very early.” Condescending glance. When I mentioned our mutual acquaintance’s daughter was walking early too, at 9 months old to be exact, her face just went pale. “That’s really when my daughter was walking too,” back-peddle, back-peddle. I just felt sorry for her. I didn’t know she would react so strongly to that information (well, maybe I knew just a little), and I didn’t even hear her explanation because I was too busy thinking, could that have been me? Is that me now? Admittedly, I wasn’t as bad as she was, she brought a travel highchair that she clipped on to my brand new dining room table with little vice-clamps—I mean, really? But still, I couldn’t throw a stone at her without smashing my own glass house to the ground.
That moment offered me a bit of perspective. In the grand scheme of things, these milestones are just a blip on the meter. Worrying about them was stressing me out, and would eventually stress out my kid. And for what? Unless there is a significant delay, the age at which a child is able to stack three blocks will have very little impact on his career path.
I’m not fully reformed. I still find myself making mental comparisons at times, silently making sure my kids aren’t left behind. It’s not all bad. It’s how I knew to get my 3-year old’s speech evaluated, and how I realized I needed to demand more challenging goals on my 6-year old’s IEP (individual education plan). But I’ve loosened. I don’t fall apart when another mother has a 2-year old who speaks like a first grader, or has a 4-year old reader while mine was still making mud pies. I’ve come to a place where I can celebrate the wellness and development of those children and of my own, because each one is unique.
My children are all individuals and are on different paths so they will each reach their developmental milestones at different times. I’m totally okay with that. As long as those paths all lead to them one day forming a boy band, I’m all good.