I spent a whole lot of time worrying about my kids when they were little.
Don’t get me wrong, I was functional – working, getting them to school or daycare – but I did worry. I worried about their safety. I worried about their health and their development. In part, I blame those ‘What to Expect’ authors. Every chapter began with “At this month/week/day in your child’s development, they should be able to …” and then listed all the things they should be able to do. If I couldn’t put a check mark next to it, I’d worry. If I had the ability to know what I know now, and go back and talk to myself, and my husband, The Rational One, here are the top three things I’d tell us to stop fretting about as new parents.
I’d start with this one: Hey newbie parents, developmental milestones are a guideline, not a rule. (I never said I was going to be kind to ourselves in this conversation.)
When our firstborn was about seven months old, my husband had enough of his son’s lazy ways, just sitting around in bouncy chairs, car seats, play gyms and cribs 24/7. He decided it was time for some serious fitness training. Pulling out an exercise mat, he spent every evening for a week trying to teach our six-month-old how to crawl. Gently putting him up onto all fours, our Firstborn would look like he was getting the rhythm of the motion, rocking back and forth on his chubby little baby knees and hands. “That’s it buddy,” my husband would encourage, “you got this!”
Rocking and rocking night after night, The Rational One would place his little baby hands one in front of the other, demonstrating how the mechanics of crawling worked. Right hand, left knee. Left hand, right knee. Over and over again. I sat on the couch, reading Parenting magazine (for more milestones) encouraging them both. Then, on night number five, it happened. The Firstborn rocked once, rocked twice, and began in motion, crawling. Backwards. He crawled backwards, left knee, right hand, right knee, left hand … right across the living room floor, backing away from my husband, and smiling the whole time.
Our kids smile, burp, crawl, walk, run, swim, skate, dance at the time that is right in their development. I had a friend who was so upset that her son was the last to stand in our Mommy and Me class that she quit. She quit all that support because she saw her son’s gorgeous, chubby Buddha-like body, which was, at that moment, unable to be supported with his baby legs, as some sort of developmental failure. Ridiculous. Did he learn to walk, run, swim, skate and dance later? You betcha, and by the time they’re 15, they all look and act the same, so trust me, don’t worry about this one.
Next, I would remind my new parent self that every cold is not tuberculosis. Kids get sick. And get hurt. A lot.
I loved our pediatrician. He was awesome, but in truth he likely should have had a second professional designation as a psychologist under his name on the door, earned simply by putting up with all the silly things on which we, as young parents, required reassurance when parenting.
From week one, when we checked on our new offspring minute by minute to ensure they were still breathing, to how to give them medication when they kept vomiting, to risks of vaccinations, we went to him for all of it. What I should have done is looked at teenagers, and spoke to the parents of teenagers. I mean really, look at how many teenagers there are! They were all babies once, and they made it through, right?!?
We kept our babies clean – hands, faces, bottoms. We sterilized their bottles, the nipples, the spoons, forks, the chair tray, their toys, and yet, they still got colds, and flus, and whatever else was available. They became school aged and they came home with pink eye, foot, hand and mouth (do not ask me how he got that!), chicken pox, and heaven help me, the worst, head lice. We did everything to keep them safe – we put them in five-point safety harnesses in the car seat, and in helmets for every sport; elbow, knee and wrist guards for scooters, bikes and skateboards. We did everything right, and so should you. However, I can guarantee you will still end up in the emergency room a few times. This isn’t bad parenting; this is called children growing up and living life. Let them get dirty, let them fall down occasionally. Do your best to keep them safe, but don’t put their safety ahead of living. And if by some stroke of bad luck, they end up getting a cast, remember how cool it was when one of your school chums got a cast and you signed it. We made it through when we were all kids and so will your kids.
And finally, they’re not worried about what they’re going to be when they grow up. They’re dreaming about what they’re going to be when they grow up.
I have a very funny friend who often quotes a comedian whose performance included a skit about his worries about his daughter’s dream of being a dancer. “Do you know the average salary of a ballet dancer? She’s never going to make a living dancing. Her only skill is her dancing and she’s going to have to fall back on that … my god, she’s going to end up a stripper!”
Every night she and her daughter head off to dance class, and every night her daughter gets in the car after dance class gushing about dancing and how she’s going to dance the rest of her life. My friend worries, but she lets her dream. Soon enough, real life, and money issues, and choosing a profession will be upon our children. If they want to believe that being an astronaut is their destiny, or being a Ninja Turtle, let them. Similarly, if they don’t dream of being an NHL hockey player, let it go. Our children are going to grow up to be interesting, engaging, fun young adults, and we can be part of that great journey, but only if we get out of the way and let them grow up their way. As parents, we will be there to support, to guide, to lay down the law when necessary and to pick them up after they fail.
And to worry, but just a little bit.