Friday, July 15, 2011

Rewriting the baby milestones

This is one in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Charise from I Thought I Knew Mama. Charise wants people to concentrate on who her baby is instead of what he can do.

Guest post by Charise from I Thought I Knew Mama

When Baby was born, I experienced every cliche a new mama expects to encounter. I was in love; Baby was the apple of my eye; he completed me. Baby was completely perfect to me in every possible way.

When family members and friends met Baby, they seemed to validate his perfection. He was such a good baby, so nice and calm, so beautiful.

We appreciated these compliments, and of course, we agreed with them, but then I started wondering what these comments actually meant. If Baby screamed for seemingly no reason when someone was visiting, would that make him a bad baby? If he fussed, would he be considered not nice?

I began to realize that when it came to discussion about babies, people were most comfortable inserting them into boxes or categories.

This concept was further highlighted for me when I started receiving emails from various sources that explained all of the milestones Baby should be meeting. While these emails were under the guise of providing necessary and important information for a new parent, they began to feel more like warnings.

    If your baby is not doing _________________, contact your health care provider.

Fill in the blank with any of the so-called milestones we've all heard so much about.

Introducing Baby to people sometimes felt like an interview. Everyone seemed to be interested in asking the same questions:

    Does he sleep through the night?
    How wonderful that you're breastfeeding, but does he take a bottle too?
    Does he roll over?
    Is he on a feeding and sleeping schedule?

The list goes on and on.

Now that Baby is ten months old, I have some prepared answers for the milestone questions, but it still bothers me that people want to go through a checklist in order to supposedly get to know Baby.

I wish I could rewrite the baby milestones. I would like people to be interested in what I consider to be Baby's accomplishments:

    Baby is loving and affectionate. (Especially when he wakes to nurse in the middle of the night.)
    Baby is funny and expressive. (If he wants something, he makes it known, and I don't consider him to be fussy, colicky, etc.)
    Baby is curious and interested in the world around him. (Whether he rolls, crawls, or pulls himself up, what I value is his curiosity.)
    Baby eats and sleeps when he needs to. (I trust my baby and my instincts more than a schedule.)

I know that the common compliments and baby milestones all come from a good place. People want to show interest in your child, and milestones can put many parents at ease. Without a parenting manual, a checklist can be comforting for some.

This doesn't stop me from doing my small part to shift the focus onto getting to know the actual child rather than how a child fits into certain boxes with measurable accomplishments. I know Baby will be judged throughout his entire life based upon accomplishments, but for now, if I can make it happen, I want people to see Baby for who he really is rather than how many milestones he has hit.

Charise is the proud wife and mother to a husband and baby who inspire her on a daily basis. A former professional, first in the magazine industry and then as a special education English teacher, Charise is now a stay-at-home mama to her son. She feels so fortunate to currently be living her dream of being both a mama and a writer. Charise does her very best to be a natural, attached parent, and enjoys chronicling her experiences in doing so on her blog. Check out I Thought I Knew Mama for a window into the adventures of stay-at-home mamahood, natural parenting, and green and healthy living.

Photo Credit: Charise / I Thought I Knew Mama


Brittany@Mama's Felt Cafe said...

What a great reminder to cherish who our children are rather than just what they do. I also find those health care milestone reminders alarming and wonder how much a doctor can really know about your child from a 10 minute office visit.

Laura said...

Thank you, and yes. I only wish I'd heard this when my first child was not-yet-born, so I could blow off some of the expectations. The worst one was "he's such a good, quiet baby!" - because it made me feel like I had a horrid secret that I knew he turned into a screaming, fussy mess in the evening. Even though I also knew that can be perfectly normal (especially if Mama is tense worrying about him turning into a screaming, fussy mess--).

When he was born, he experienced shoulder dystocia bad enough to weaken one arm (temporarily!) and also had another condition that needed minor outpatient surgery, though. It made me a little proof against the milestones because, for me, the most wonderful thing was when he was totally healed from the surgery, and the next-most-wonderful was when no one but the experts could detect the difference between his arms. (When even the expert couldn't and sent him away from physical therapy, I was gleeful - but it wasn't the same thing, because I'd seen it coming on the day when no one but I, among family and friends, could still tell that one arm was weaker.)

It did make milestones seem a little less relevant, as long as he was within shouting distance of them. (He's loud when he wants to be, like his Mama. Shouting distance is a pretty long way in our case.)

Inder-ific said...

I definitely think you can be too uptight about the milestones, and most new moms are - they can't help themselves!

But to a mother of a developmentally delayed child - my baby boy has a pretty pronounced speech delay - those milestones become a source of great anxiety, far beyond the usual obsession. I can't just say, "they're not important, don't worry about them," because my 27 month old speaks at the level of a one year old.

So while I actually agree 100% that children are not their milestones - my baby boy Joe is wonderful, full of life and energy, and absolutely perfect in my eyes - I can't just flippantly write them off either. The checklists exist to find, and get help for, children like mine.

The ones at the doctor's office are simplistic - a blunt instrument, to say the least - and cause a lot of silly worry, for sure. But they're not pointless.

Lauren Wayne said...

Thank you for this article, Charise!

@Inder-ific: I definitely don't advocate writing them off. Do you find, though, that there's a difference between your doctor going through a checklist to find out if something should be explored further and non-professionals (family, friends, strangers at the grocery store) asking the same questions? As the mother of a developmentally delayed child, is it more or less challenging to hear people ask those simplistic questions? I know as the mother of a child who was developmentally within normal ranges but who didn't do anything early, I found a lot of external pressure to "hurry him up" — walking, talking, etc. And a lot of the questions that are asked are just sigh-inducing — like, "how's your newborn sleeping?" Well, duh, like a baby — not so well. ;)

Inder-ific said...

That's an interesting question. I guess I assume most people are just curious about milestones like crawling and walking - I know I am, and I will ask a friend if their baby is moving around yet. Babies are interesting! I want to know! I don't think of that as a "check-box" thing; I want to know about the baby's personalities and quirks as well! Joe commando-crawled for a long time, other babies butt-scoot, and I find this all FASCINATING. Really! Hee hee.

Most of my friends are well aware of Joe's speech issues, having known us for a while. It was hard at first coming to terms with his delay enough to tell our friends, "He has a speech delay." Now people tend to just ask how it's going with speech therapy or whatever.

Thank goodness no one stops me and says, "Does he have a vocabulary of 200 words, count to ten, and know his colors?" (the checklist for a child his age) because I would probably just break down and cry from all the anxiety and worry!

(Then they'd be sorry, huh?!!)

One thing I have learned: As someone who is very verbal, it's sure a life-lesson to have a child who is not verbal. A reminder that my style of intelligence is certainly not the only kind of intelligence, and that my child is not a "mini-me." It's not an easy lesson, but it's been a good one.

Momma Jorje said...

I love the post! But I think I'm of two minds here. I think that people ask these questions because they remember the milestones from situations in their own lives. It is a way they can relate to you.

And how often do people ask truly open ended questions about any part of your life? I wouldn't expect someone to ask me what I loved most about my baby or what attributes stood out the most to me. So they ask about topics around which they can wrap their heads: physical and speech milestones.

I honestly just appreciate the opportunity to rattly incessantly about my baby! :-) I definitely discuss her personality! They might not have meant to ask me an open ended question, but I tend to give answers to most questions as if they had been open ended. Ha! :-)

British American said...

Yes! I am so fed up of everyone asking "Is he a good baby?" about our third child, who is 4 months old. We've been asked it so much that my 3 year old has started repeating the question to the baby. I hate the good vs bad baby thing. I figure by "good" they mean "Does he sleep all night long?" Which he doesn't. So I end up saying "Yes, he's a good baby - but he could sleep a little longer at night."

Our first was a much more challenging baby, but I much prefer the "high need" label, as you don't really want to label the baby "bad baby".

Inder-ific said...

Wow, that "good baby" thing is awful. I don't think I ever got that question. Thank goodness. I might have been tempted to answer sarcastically, to the great discomfort of all parties involved. :-)

Audra Michelle said...

Amen! I feel like the baby "interview" is more of a report card on mama. The scornful and disapproving looks that come if/when I say that baby doesn't sleep through the night or that he is still nursing at 14 months while I'm pregnant.... well, those looks certainly make me feel like I failed as a mama even though I know I am raising my children in a way that is right for my family.

Mamma M said...

After I had my daughter the "good baby" question really started driving me crazy. I started answering it with a question, "Have you ever met a bad baby?"

I can get that the milestone things are a jumping off point for getting to know your baby- especially maybe for people who don't know babies well. My daughter was walking proudly well before her 1st birthday, and now at 15 months I still have some people surprised she's "already" walking- people forget about babies and what they can or can't do, so I can get the "are they (insert skill) yet?" questions. And my baby is a "bad" sleeper (although as far as I'm concerned she gets as much sleep as she needs, but, maybe not on the schedule I'd prefer), so I have to deal with that.
I'd say it's not a black and white matter at all!

smunkybee said...

Fabulous redefinition of those so-familiar questions. Depending on my mood, I either answered the "is she a good baby?" with "she's amazing!" (good mood) or a sarcastic "well she's pretty good at being a baby but she got fired from her job as an accountant because she was rubbish at that!" She wasn't in the terms people who ask that question mean it a "good" baby at all. She fed little and often, she woke *often* in the night and she needed to be with me, preferably in physical contact *all* the time. And she was fussy about who could hold her and as she got older, she's sensitive and a bit prickly. But she was and is a wonderful, fascinating, complex, loveable, amazing person!

Dr. Laura Markham said...

Charise- Love this reminder, Thank you! I used to answer "Aren't they ALL good babies?" Will share on Twitter and FB. Hugs! - Laura

Gianna said...

Great reminder for a single and working mom. I'm so happy after visiting your site.

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