Making a Millstone Out of Milestone.

millstone

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.

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Baby development checks: Pincer grips, Cheerios and a thousand more things to worry about.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Be afraid, be very afraid. 

Through our letterbox this morning arrived a very important document. It was the letter notifying us of our son’s 8-9 month health and development check. I had been eagerly awaiting this as he is already 9 months old and, you know, I think he’s pretty well developed. However, I was not quite prepared for the Spanish Inquisition that lay inside the envelope.

Now, before I go any further lets just get one thing straight. I am eternally and overwhelmingly grateful to live in a country where my son receives a health and development check, free at the point of delivery, as standard. The NHS is quite a wonderful thing. I have been to hospital 3 times since my son was born (including the birth) and I have never had to worry about anyone handing me the bill. This is a brilliant part of our society and one that I’m scared will be eroded over the next decade if bloody ‘Dave’ and his school friends have anything to do with it (grr, arg). So I will proceed to have a good long moan with the proviso that you know I really really really love the NHS. Good.

So, the 9 month ‘Health and Development Review’ letter arrives. The title is enough to instill fear into the heart of any previously employed mother. Review? That’s what they do at work to see if you’re doing your job right or not. You know, they get you to fill in that crappy self-assessment form, which you always lie on because your boss is going to read it, and then there’s the meeting. *shudder* It’s hard not to immediately jump to the conclusion that my parenting thus far is about to undergo a performance review. And guess what? There’s even a self-assessment questionnaire attached.

If you are a parent who has not yet received a questionnaire like this then I just have one piece of advice: DON’T LOOK AT IT. Leave it neatly folded in it’s envelope and put some time aside the day before your appointment to go through it with your baby. Granted, that will still give you 24 hours to obsess over the weird and wonderful list of accomplishments your baby doesn’t have but but you will marginally more sane than if you had been thinking about it a fortnight in advance. So, just ignore it as long as you can. It’s either that or be an uncommonly balanced individual who has no care for what health professionals think of their child and feels completely secure in their parenting abilities. Though, if you are that person I’m really not sure why you’re reading this blog. Can I read your blog please?

The reason I give out this sage advice is that a) the questionnaire is about what your baby can do at the point of the ‘review’ and b) because the amount of things that it asks if your baby can do is insane. I shall give you a few choice examples (if you are easily prone to my-baby-is-underdeveloped-paranoia look away now):

Does your baby pick up a small toy with tips of his thumb and fingers? (You should see a space between the toy and his palm.)

Well, that’s oddly specific for a start. I don’t if the person who compiled this questionnaire is aware of this but babies have quite small hands. How exactly am I supposed to observe said space? Should I crouch on the floor and crane my neck? Won’t that just freak him out? Also, have you ever tried to get a 9 month old to pick up the specific toy that you want them to have? Unless you complete this task in an entirely white room with no objects or furniture, I guarantee that they will charge off to play with a table leg as soon as you place the item in front of them. And believe me, I tried it today. Oh no, I am not above getting irrationally anxious about whether or not I can see a gap between a building block and my son’s palm.

Next question:

Does your baby say three words, such as “Mama”, “Dada” and “Baba”? (A “word” is a sound or sounds your baby says consistently to mean someone or something.)

Well, thanks for clarifying what a word is. Those brackets are really starting to irk me. And the answer is no, my son doesn’t have THREE WORDS at the age of 9 months. And even if he did, how would I know? He says “dadadadadadadada” a lot and, less frequently he says “mamamamamama” (encouraged enthusiastically by yours truly). Who’s to say when that random babbling suddenly turns into words? Not me. I know babies who haven’t had any language til they’re closer to 18 months. So, back off survey, alright? (Actually, I had words at 9 months and am still perversely proud of the fact, bleurgh).

And last but not least, the pinnacle of randomly specific infantile feats:

Does your baby poke at or try to get a crumb or Cheerio that is inside a clear bottle (such as a plastic soda pop bottle or baby bottle)?

Again, thanks for clarifying what a clear bottle is, would have struggled with that one. And, more importantly, what the fudge? In what scenario would I know the answer to this question? Why am I taking food from my baby’s hand and putting inside a vessel that he has no hope of retrieving it from? I’ve got it! They’re trying to trick us into doing this and then, when they see we’ve ticked yes, they will point their fingers in ours faces and say “Aha! So you torture your child with food they can see but have to hope of eating??” Enter social services.

Okay, maybe not, but what’s all this Cheerio business? There are actually three questions that refer to a “crumb or Cheerio”. What’s that about? You better not try this out with a Cornflake, mate, or the whole exercise will be null and void. You’ll have to start all over again. Crumb or Cheerio. These are your only options. I feel like Nestle paid someone somewhere serious money to get their branding on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. I really wouldn’t put it past them. I have visions of mothers rushing out to buy the ‘multigrain Os’ just so that they can make double sure their child has that prefect pincer formation that the Health Visitors will be looking for. And if you think the supermarket own brand will suffice for this activity think again, cheapskate. 

Oh and by the way, you’re not supposed just fill in this form based on your existing knowledge of your own child; you’re supposed to observe your child doing all of it and “make completing this questionnaire a game that is fun for you and your baby”. Fun? Fun?? In what universe is attempting to get a 9 month old to complete a series of specific tasks fun? “Reach for the Cheerio darling, no, no, not the remote control, come back here!”

What makes this whole process even less fun is the dawning realisation that you will have to tick ‘no’ several times. It’s like someone is coming into your home and pointing out what your baby can’t do yet. “Oh, he can’t hold onto the sofa, bend down to pick up a toy and then return to standing?” Awkward.

The thing is that my rational mind knows that no one is expecting my Bubs to be able to do everything listed on the survey. I’m pretty sure that no baby can ever do all of it. They must put extra-advanced stuff on, you know, just in case. But if that’s true then I think there should be a little note stapled to the front of the questionnaire that reads:

Dear parent, we would like to reassure you that you’re baby is in no way supposed to tick all of the following boxes. In fact, if they did then it is likely that they would be one of those weird genius children* who take their Maths GCSE at the age of 8 and never truly fit in with their own peer group. Rejoice, therefore, in your own child’s uneven and average development; it bodes well for their future social interactions. Yours sincerely, the NHS.

Or something like that. Just a suggestion.

 

 

 

 

 

*Apologies if you have a weird genius child. I actually think that’s pretty awesome. But you know, comedy value and all that.