Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pushing the Babies

Z2 will be 13 months in two days. Just two days ago, he took his first couple of steps. I was delighted and so was he. But I can't tell you how many folks would query, "Is he walking yet?" and "What's taking so long?" People had all kinds of opinions on why he wasn't walking and advice on what I could do to make him walk more quickly
  • "Oh, it's because you carry him too much--you need to put him down!" But most babies in the world are carried. A lot. They still learn to walk.
  • "Oh, it's because of those bulky cloth diapers--you need to put him in disposables!" My parent's generation all wore cloth diapers because disposable were not invented yet. Are they still crawling?
  • "Oh, it's because you put those soft-soled shoes on him--he needs some of those hard white shoes!" Actually, soft-soled shoes or bare feet are better for the development of a child's feet. Hard, inflexible shoes could perhaps cause a real problem later on down the line.
I wasn't surprised, fazed or moved, though. I'm not a new mother so I'm not easily manipulated. I've been down this road before and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that babies and children will all learn and develop at their own pace, in their own time. But I'm surrounded by parents, and we are all part of a society that always feels the need to interfere. To push our babies to the next developmental milestone. It's almost an obsession. I watch as mothers desperately coach their 15-month-olds to speak. Or obsessively try to get their babies to roll over just because some website said that's what they should be doing. Now. Right now. As children get older, parents start to push for other things. Start to worry about other things their kids are not doing right now.

There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting our children to be the best. But I simply don't think it's best to keep pushing and pushing and pushing against our children's natural inclinations and preferences. We do it so often sometimes that we don't even know our children's natural inclinations and preferences.

I think that there are two main issues. Firstly, most of us have stopped being able to follow our gut--about a lot of things actually. We constantly look outside of ourselves. As parents, we look to growth charts, milestone charts, and compare notes with other parents. When our children don't seem to be on target, we get scared and worry that they will be behind for the rest of their lives. Of course, there are times when we realize that our children actually need intervention and help. But that knowledge should be more intuitive than cerebral. I mean, does you child seem frustrated that he/she can't speak? Is he/she trying to communicate with you and just can't? Or is the child happy to not speak because you understand her anyway and she's just not ready to yet? Is everything else okay otherwise? Then just relax and let her get there at her own time. Pushing often just backfires and stresses you, the parent, out. Trust me. I know. I did my fair share of pushing with Z1 who decided to walk at the elderly age of 15 months. And the next day, started to out-run walkers who'd been walking since 9 months. Did you think I was going to push Z2 then? No way. How can we learn to trust ourselves and our instincts again? Practice.

And then the second major issue is, of course, the human tendency to always compare ourselves with others. I grew up being compared to children around me. "Why can't you be more outgoing like so-and-so?" and "Why don't you do it this way like so-and-so did?" I know these comparisons were all good-intentioned attempts to get me to push myself harder, to do better And it worked but it also made me insecure, competitive and aggressive (academically at least), drained the joy out of things I would have otherwise enjoyed, or made me avoid doing things that I might have loved to do. So comparing is something I'm determined not to do with my children. When I'm at playgroups and other activities for children, I will simply not engage in those parental games. I don't care if your child could read the entire dictionary at 3 months. My child may never read the dictionary. He'll read though. At his own pace. And I will help him or get him help if he needs help. And there will be no shame at all about any of it. You see, underlying all this worry and obsessiveness about meeting milestones is that somehow our kids won't measure up. That they won't be as good as. That they are defective. Of course naturally we look at our children's peers to gauge what should normally be going on at any given age but after we do that, we should take a step back and give our children the space to be uniquely themselves--quirks and slowness (or quickness) and all. All humans, even little humans, are uniquely original, made the way they are supposed to be. There simply is no comparison. For me, that has been an empowering and freeing lesson in parenting but also in regards to my own personal growth.

Anyway, as I watch Z2 master walking, I'm a bit emotional. This may be the last baby of mine that I will watch achieve this milestone. I believe I'm here to teach my children but my children have taught me so much about life and about myself already. And there's so much more to learn.


Loren Gaffin said...

Both of my children were raised on cloth diapers because that was my choice and it did not stop my oldest from walking at eight months. I did everything natural and did not try to fit into the norm at that time. Children will develop at their own pace.

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...


Loren, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. Much appreciated.

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