Making a Millstone Out of Milestone.


If you have never read a piece of information that said your baby “should” be doing something that it isn’t yet then I’m pretty sure you’re in the minority. (But congrats to you, you have the mythical unicorn child).

For me it was sleep. When my son was tiny he woke pretty much every 2ish hours. This was for the first, maybe, ten weeks, so pretty normal but still exhausting. As you may imagine I spent rather too much time googling and looking up baby sleep solutions. We all do it – even though basically it’s up to our babies when they decide to sleep and wake- we cling to the hope that there must be some sure-fire technique to give us a stretch of sleep more than 3 hours long (or even one hour long for some of us, solidarity sisters!). So, any way, I’m reading this stuff and I find some helpful hints, but mostly unhelpful ones. For example, this helpful little factoid:

“By about six weeks your baby could be sleeping for at least one stretch of up to 6 hours.”

Well really? Could he? He bloody isn’t! The problem with telling us that ‘some babies’ do X at X weeks is that if our baby isn’t one we either feel cheated or, worse, that we’ve failed in some way (there goes that guilt again!)

Currently, I am sick of reading that by six months “your baby shouldn’t need to be fed in the night-time”. Shouldn’t he? What if he is hungry in the night time? Bubs is now 11 months old and each night is different. Some glorious, wondrous nights he sleeps through. Aaah, bliss. But on others wakes up when he is hungry and he doesn’t go back to sleep until you give him food. You can cuddle him, you can give him a dummy, you can leave him to cry, but nothing will soothe him because, guess what? He’s hungry! The books (gggrrr, the books!) say he shouldn’t be because he’s almost one. But he is, so there. Also, to be honest, sometimes it’s just bloody easier to feed him. Every now and then I muster up the energy to so half-an-hour’s soothing in the dead of night, but I usually have to feed him eventually any way. So why waste time? Whatever gets you through the night, that’s what I say!

I write that last paragraph as if I don’t worry that I’m doing something wrong in feeding my boy in the night. As I don’t get that “oh, are we doing it wrong?” pang on a regular basis. Of course I do. Because when you’re a first-time mum it’s hard not to doubt yourself, especially when the “experts” dole out their shoulds and shouldn’ts so liberally. But I don’t think the sleep stuff is half as harmful as the other developmental ‘milestones’ we’re told about.

We parents can drive ourselves mad with movement and speech milestones. That’s one of the reasons the Ages and Stages Questionnaire winds me up so bloody much. If you believe your child ‘should’ have been doing something months ago that they still aren’t then it is difficult not to let the anxiety fairy in. Mothers may feel themselves become self-conscious in groups of children of a similar age, as if their child’s stage of development reflects on them. We seem to have created a timetable for rolling and crawling and standing and using words. This timetable can become a tyranny. Because ‘milestone’ timings are just averages. That’s all. Instead these milestones become millstones around our necks (thanks, I’m pretty proud of that one), weighing us down with worry.

Now, before you scroll down and type furiously into the comments section, I am not saying that if an 18-month old can’t sit up or make noise we should just ‘you know, give the kid some space man!’ But we all know loads of kids who took longer than average to roll-over, start speaking, pick up a bloody Cheerio between their thumb and forefinger or what ever. In the end they got there and it just wasn’t a big deal!

Next time I see a ‘at X months your baby should…’ sentence anywhere I am going to give myself two challenges. The first will be not to panic, or at least not to respond to my panic, if Bubs isn’t doing whatever he ‘should’ be. But the second is not to feel any pride if he is. A healthy, happy baby is an achievement to be proud of but beyond that if we start congratulating ourselves on the milestones then we will inevitably berate ourselves when our babies don’t meet these approximated deadlines. Worse, we will promote a culture in which mothers with babies who walk at 15 months rather than 12 will feel ashamed.

So many of us were professionals before we were mums and this skews our vision sometimes. We see milestones as targets to be met, rather than just stuff that will happen for our babies at some point.

There are very few concrete shoulds or shouldn’ts when it comes these little humans; they just do what they do, and we can trust them.

How do you feel about milestones? Have you been unduly worried about your child? Or maybe they flagged up something you’re glad you know? Comment below or Tweet me @aafew

Getting Deja Vu? Back in the annals of time (well, actually, in July), when my blog about 3 followers, I wrote a post called ‘Ssshh to the Shoulds’. And seeing as a) it is apparently #archivesaturday b) a few more people might read it this time round and c) I just really really hate the word ‘should’ being applied to children, I thought I’d rejig, rename and reblog it. So, there you go.


5 thoughts on “Making a Millstone Out of Milestone.

  1. Have you secretly been stalking me and decided to write about my life??!! My son is 11 months old as well and has no consistency when it comes to sleeping whatsoever. I am also of the opinion that getting up and feeding him for 15 mins versus him screaming for a bottle for 2 hours is a no brainer. Also I can totally relate, I also can’t sleep on an empty stomach, so it would be pretty hypocrital to make him. And as far as milestones go, I spent 20 minutes his evening standing in front of the bathroom mirror flailing my arm around and trying to get him to wave. I think the only thing it achieved was cementing his belief that I am a total loon!

  2. My Boy barely spoke til he was almost 2. He did the mama dada noises, but no words. Then at 1yr and 11 months, he started speaking. His 1st words (I kid you not) were, ‘mummy, help, stucked’ because he was fastened into his high chair on holiday and he wanted to follow his auntie and not be left with boring mummy at the breakfast table. And it went on from there. Full sentences, broken, but full (and now we can’t shut him up) they learn at they’re own pace. Forcing things stresses them out. You know in yourself if there is a major problem. Even 1st time mums xx

  3. This is a brilliant post (and subject of course – spoookkky!) You put so well what I have been thinking since the early days of being a Mum. NOBODY will EVER ask on a uni application, in a job interview, on a first date, ‘Well when did you start walking? Sleeping through the night? How many words did you have by 18 months?’ So why is there such a bloody fixation on it now?! I do understand that benchmarks are set by Health Profs for a reason and it’s good to pick up on potential issues, of course. However I think that firstly, the books and secondly, some parents have taken these things to the extreme and they end up being used to either show off about their own child or put someone else’s down – albeit maybe indirectly. Drives me crackers.

    My son is pretty average(ish) – though I stopped reading the books etc. ages ago because of the above. Some things he was way ‘behind’ the average, the odd thing a little in front, lots somewhere in the middle. But it doesn’t matter, because at 4 or 5 they will all be running around the playground together, shouting and refusing to eat vegetables; it doesn’t matter how or when they do things – they will, and I for one am in no rush for my little bundle to grow up and tick every stupid box because it fits in with what the kid next door is doing.

    Rant over, but glad I’m not alone in thinking this way!

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