Friday, 8 August 2014

The Great Milestone Race

Being a mum is a competitive business. With the first child at the very least. It's not an intentional phenomenon, we just can't help but want our child to be just that little bit further ahead in terms of development than their gummy little friends. Often, it's not even a conscious thing: I remember being so keen to tell my mummy friends when I first spied a little tooth under the surface of Blake's gum. I put it down to excitement, but the truth is that I was thrilled that he was teething before any of the others. Similarly, I had barely had time to wipe the sleep from my eyes on the morning of Blake's first uninterrupted night's sleep before I had announced it on social media. I was proud of him sure, but also I think that part of me just wanted to claim that little triumph before anyone else had a chance to. 

You see, I can be retrospective about this 'oneupmumship' now, because I've dropped out of the race. Sleeping through has thus far been the only thing that Blake has done before his gorgeous little counterparts. Remember that super keen tooth? Yep, that has only just broken through the gums, months after I spotted it and bragged, for want of a better word, to my friends; she's a weird one that karma. So now I'm on the outside looking in, and watching my friends compete with each other without even realising what they're doing. I mean, it's not cut throat or anything; there's no bitterness, resentment or, like I've said before, any actual intention behind any of this. Us mothers just seem to be hardwired to want to prove to the world what we already know: that our child is the best bloody child to ever grace the face of this planet. 

I don't think of it in terms of Blake 'catching up'. See, I've cottoned onto an advantage that my boy's reluctance to move gives me: I can put him down in the lounge and go and make a cup of tea, and when I walk back into the room he is exactly where I left him. While I'm all for him learning to get around, why would I be pushing for him to be climbing the DVD rack before he's ready? And that's the thing: I'm a really big believer in allowing children to do things when they're ready. It's why I eschewed the consistently preferred baby led weaning in favour of the purees to lumps route; Blake struggled with finger foods, he wasn't ready. We're now slowly moving onto him feeding himself and it's going beautifully, far from the disaster I was led to believe it would be.

Against every instinct in my body, I have been going to baby and toddler groups recently. It's nothing personal to anyone that loves them, they're just really not my thing. However, I think it's important for the boy to see other babies clambering about and, if nothing else, it's a good excuse for us mums to complain lovingly about our other halves a little. So I've been going. To be fair, the mums that I know at these groups know not to question me about whether or not Blake is crawling yet or whether he has managed to memorise the periodic table and complete works of Shakespeare. They know that I will laugh about the fact that he knows he can sit in the middle of the floor and complain until I eventually bring him whatever he wants. There is the odd mum that will insist on quizzing me about his development, but I honestly believe that's their own competitive edge; they're not really interested in whether my son has done something, they just want to be able to tell me that theirs has. 

What I do object to is the insinuation by the people that run these groups that I'm somehow not trying hard enough to force Blake to do the things that an advanced few others might be at his age. I'm sorry, but not crawling at seven months is not exactly unusual. According to my mum, I was ten months before I began to crawl and sixteen before I walked, and Blake is a lot like me as a baby (lazy - he's lazy). At one of the groups I was in last week, the lady running it told me that I needed to push Tummy Time. I explained that my baby hates Tummy Time and will tolerate it for short bursts before collapsing into a sobbing, angry heap. As such, he prefers to sit (which he does very well), and for that reason I suspect that we may actually end up with a bum shuffler on our hands. She frowned and said that I should put him on his tummy anyway, even if it makes him unhappy.


Why on Earth would I force my child to do something that he quite clearly detests and that ends with him visibly distressed? Blake will crawl, bum shuffle, dance the Charleston, whatever, when he is ready and not a second before. Sure, if he gets to a year old and has shown absolutely no ability to get from point A to point B somehow, then maybe then I will begin to worry that something might be amiss. But right now, we're talking about one baby being a matter of weeks behind another. By time they all go to school, they will more or less all be caught up; I don't expect a single one of them to bum shuffle through the gates on their first day. 

We need to relax and enjoy our babies for what they are, not where they are in comparison to each other. We need to stop listening to the 'experts', or reading milestone predictions online (they should be waving good bye by eight months, apparently, and not a day later), and just let them work their way through these challenges at their own pace. They're their own little people, with varying levels of energy, ability and intention and it's time we started treating them as such, rather than a statistic on some bullshit chart that means exactly zilch in the grand scheme of things.

Babies of the World: don't worry, you're all doing just fine.

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