Saturday, August 6, 2011

The dirty M word

There's that word again, starting with M. The dirty M word; milestones.

Most of us mothers read parenting books, browse developmental sites and attend child health clinic checks. Purely because we are conscientious parents who are interested in how our children are developing. All these things are wonderful as a guide for when certain physical, mental and emotional changes in our baby are due to happen. However, the word milestones can become unhealthy. When you start to check books obsessively, start to feel guilty and pressured at health clinic appointments...that's when the dirty M word is starting to haunt you unnecessarily.


I consider myself to be quite honest about my parenting experiences. If, at times I am tired or not enjoying it, I say so. I don't hide my fluctuating feelings about parenthood. Whether they be negative or positive. I am the same when it comes to Stella, I don't sugar coat her. She is a darling, beautiful, smart baby. But I'm not afraid to admit that she can be incredibly cheeky and slightly testing of my patience. I see some parents sugar coating their children and their experiences beyond belief, sometimes fabricating the childs sleep patterns, trying to hide the childs slightly annoying little idiosyncrasies. The things that make them unique, that set them apart from all the other babies. If it weren't for these behaviours, be it cheek or selective hearing, nose picking or tantrum throwing...our children wouldn't be the beautiful little individuals we love them for.

So, in my brutal honesty, I found myself expressing concerns to my mother friends that Stella was behind in her milestones. Especially so, when she was around 9 months old. A friend had a baby just 3 weeks older than Stella who was cruising furniture and very close to walking, this threw me into a state of worry as my 9 month old still wasn't crawling with enthusiasm. She was trying, but more of a relaxed snail then the bouncing bunny that her little friend was. I also had a mother acquaintance whose little girl was no more than 2 weeks older than Stella and eating chunky family meals, not the serves of pureed mash that Stella was eating.

These babies were only weeks older than Stella, why wasn't she doing the things that they were doing? Each time I mentioned my worries, my friends would assure me that a matter of weeks changes everything and not to worry, she wasn't behind. Which didn't ease the nerves...

...until I was put in the same situation myself. Stella had a little friend who was 3 weeks younger than her, and her mother was stressed that she wasn't as physically active or verbally advanced as Stella. When I started telling her that her worries were normal and that her baby, also, was normal I really started to listen to what I was telling her for myself.

If the dirty M word starts playing on your mind unhealthily and your worries go beyond normal, try and remember these few pointers. I am by no means an expert (incredibly far from it), but this is what I would have told myself if I could go back to avoid those dreams of large angry looking M haunting me...

* As a first time parent, you are entitled to worry and worry is healthy. You are allowed to read books and research development milestones. But when your baby is not at the exact same level as another baby, its not time to panic.

* Don't compare your baby to another baby. Our children are different people, just like us. We sometimes forget that they already have a fully developed personality and attitudes. This has an impact on how their developmental timeline is shaped. A relaxed and casual minded baby may not crawl as quickly as an energetic and hyperactive baby. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are behind or developmentally challenged.

* Weeks are precious. So, so valuable. Your baby may not be doing something one week, only to be boss at it the next. Don't underestimate the power of a week or two.

* Do be honest with yourself and with other mothers you trust, they will ease your concerns or point you in the right direction if your concerns are valid. Remember; more often than not it will resolve itself within a matter of weeks. Weeks are precious, I cant say it enough.

* Only use the books as a guide, don't expect your baby to be doing exactly everything that it describes. However, do be wise and if your baby hasn't reached (cringe, I hate the word) a significant milestone after 4-5 weeks of the general age advised in the books, get some professional advice from either a GP or a health clinic nurse.

* Don't be afraid of your health clinic nurse. Go often if it gives you peace of mind and don't feel as though you have to see a nurse that you don't like. Go to another clinic until you find one you like and one you trust. Also, If you want to go more often than the ages advised, do so! There is no rule against being over enthusiastic as a parent. If you want an extra weight, height and developmental checkup between 8 and 12 months, then book yourself in and go. That's the beauty of this service that we are lucky enough to have provided for us, make the most of it.

I hope that when the dirty M word starts to haunt you unnecessarily and when the excessive google searches begin this provides you with some relief and comfort. I hope it gives you peace of mind that prematurely panicking your baby is not reaching milestones is normal. For the record, the best developmental guide I have come across is this one. It comes free of guilt inducers, milestone deadlines and with plenty of valuable advice. It was my mama bible for that first year.

Milestones will be reached at some point, relax and enjoy the journey it takes to get there. We are all guilty of the cliched saying, "They grow too fast". Don't wish it along to quickly!

Plenty of love...

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