My baby is 5 1/2 months old and has very nearly nailed rolling from back to front. He is not at all interested in going the other way! Other things he can do include: sleeping through the night; playing games like peek-a-boo; blowing raspberries; grabbing and holding objects and giggling, smiling and babbling. Despite all these wonderful new skills he has learned I can’t help but worry about the things he can’t do yet. Where do these pressures come from? Am I alone in feeling concerned? Is this concern even justified? Using my (fairly limited) background in Psychology, own life experience and conversations with other parents, I have come to some possible answers. So why do we unintentionally place these pressures on ourselves and our children?
Connotations of the term ‘milestone’
There’s something about the word ‘milestone’ that automatically suggests ‘pressure’. A milestone indicates something positive, something you should reach before moving on to something else. In adulthood many look to achieve milestones like ‘getting a job’, ‘getting married’ and ‘having children’. For many it seems to be a race against time to tick off this perfect list and yet it really doesn’t matter when these societal ‘norms’ are achieved, if at all. Fortunately the world seems to be moving away from this idea of ‘normal’, helping people to feel less pressure. People are more free to choose to live their lives however they wish.
When it comes to child development, the word ‘milestone’ is used a lot by medical experts. What’s more, skills are usually labelled along with the average age they are achieved (causing alarm to the parents of seemingly ‘below average’ children). According to WebMD, by 6 months of age most babies should roll over in both directions, begin to sit unaided and bring themselves onto their hands and knees. Naturally, parents of 6 month old’s may panic if their own baby has not yet mastered these skills.
I have a great book called The Wonder Weeks which is useful in many ways – particularly for explaining why my baby may be fussy at particular stages or when sleep regressions or tantrums might occur. However, I have had to peel myself away from the ‘ticklist’ that is written in each section. I found the unticked boxes shouted out at me. I found myself asking “why can’t my baby do that?! Forget the other stuff, why can’t he do that?! There must be something wrong?!”
When there is so much emphasis on age ‘milestones’, the danger can be to dwell on the things your baby can’t do instead of celebrating the things they can.
I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to over-sharing on social media! I can’t resist sharing cute photos of my baby, expecting of course that everyone will love him as much as me! Key moments and ‘milestones’ are shared without a second thought and I love using the gorgeous milestones cards we were gifted at our baby shower. However I am also conscious of not gloating about his successes when others might be struggling. As I explain in a previous blog post, I soon realised that my bragging about Isaac sleeping through the night might have really annoyed friends that haven’t slept for years! Likewise, I love learning about what other babies can do but I have to be careful not to compare. Babies are all unique and special and every baby (and parent) has certain things that they find tricky.
Lessons to learn
Moving forward I really think that Child Psychologists and Paediatricians should be careful when communicating with parents. I completely understand why averages exist (and as a Primary School Teacher ‘milestones’ are part of my bread and butter). However, is it really necessary to bombard parents with scary expectations unless their baby is significantly behind? From my experience, parents would do literally anything for their baby. Therefore, make your advice positive – encourage tummy time, encourage reading but please stop the constant comparisons! And mums (dads too but it’s mostly mums) be kind to each other! Share your child’s successes but be honest about their failures too. Reach out to each other and avoid unhealthy competition.
I’ll finish by paraphrasing some advice we were once given. “Remember to enjoy your baby. The skills will come and the baby will develop but relish those precious moments. Remember to enjoy the learning, enjoy the journey and any quirky mistakes they (and you) make along the way”.