What’s the Rush?

What's the Rush?By Sheryl Paul

 The race to achieve and succeed begins in utero. From the first prenatal appointment, the health provider measures the size of baby and compares him to other babies of similar age. We’re then set on a course of measuring and comparing, secretly hoping that our child is within the realm of “normal” or, hopefully, in the lead. The comparisons continue at the starting gates of life with more charts and percentages defining a baby’s growth. And the race only intensifies from there.

From learning to sit up, crawl, walk, and talk, the first two years are defined by developmental milestones. We may not consciously subscribe to the cultural race to be the biggest, fastest, smartest, and best, but when you baby doesn’t walk until sixteen months or talk until two (or later), it’s difficult not to fall prey to the insidious belief that “something’s wrong.” Conversely, when you baby crawls at seven months and is saying their first words before their first birthday, it’s difficult not to secretly ascribe significance to these developments and assume that it means that you baby is more intelligent than the others in their age group.

The truth is that none of those milestones have any correlation to intelligence. From talking to learning how to swim and read, weaning to sleeping through the night, we rush and sometimes push our babies and children to learn and “compete”, often before they’re ready. A true child-led parenting style means watching and listening to your child’s cues while sensitively, in conjunction with your own needs as a parent, allowing the child to determine the timing of as many events as possible.

I was at the local recreation center last week taking my boys for their weekly swim. My oldest just learned to swim last summer and my little one adores his Floaties. I tried swim lessons for him every summer from the time he was four through six, but he usually lasted one lesson and then would look at me and say, “Mommy, I told you I’m going to teach myself to swim.” Still, I persisted, and still he resisted and insisted that he would teach himself. Sure enough, his first time in the pool last summer he dove underwater and emerged with an ecstatic grin on his face, then proceeded to swim beautifully across the pool. “I told you, Mommy!” It was a celebratory day for everyone.

While at the pool I observed a father with his young daughter, no older than three. They seemed to be enjoying each other and we exchanged several smiles. Then he put her under her back and, despite her screams and tears, kept her there for several minutes, urging her to roll over onto her belly. She screamed and he held her there until she finally rolled over. Yes, she could technically swim, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the emotional cost.

Along these lines, I’ll never forget when my well-meaning neighbor observed my seven-year old boy riding his bike with training wheels and said, “He’s still not riding on two wheels?” His kids, several years younger, had been riding a bike for many years. To be honest, I can’t even recall when my oldest learned to ride a bike (was it last summer or the one before?), but what I do know is that it was a joyous moment determined by his own readiness. What does it really matter if a child learns to ride a two-wheeler at age four, seven, or nine?

I will acknowledge that the fact that we homeschool eliminates the social pressure that often inspires early learning. If my son were the only one in his class who couldn’t ride on two wheels, I imagine he would have forced himself to ride earlier than he was ready. For us, this is one of the great benefits of homeschooling: we can allow our kids to learn and grow at their own pace without peer pressure effecting their choices.

Both of my kids self-weaned well into toddlerhood. I didn’t see any reason to deprive them of their most consistent source of comfort, so I allowed them to decide when they were done. My older son, now nine, who was such an avid nurser that I often joked that he would breastfeed until he left for college, self-weaned one sudden day just after he turned three. I grieved that night, wept for the end of our beautiful breastfeeding relationship that had began with such challenges, and then celebrated both of our independence. My little one, now four, recently self-weaned after announcing to me, “Mommy, I’m going to be done drinking mee-mee in a few days.” And, sure enough, a few days later he took his last sip. I felt immensely proud of him that he knew his body well enough to communicate his needs. I hope that that acute level of self-trust continues throughout his life.

Weaning, swimming, riding a bike, learning to read: what’s the rush? Why do we culturally transmit a belief that earlier is better? And the race seems to be running at increasing higher levels of pressure and intensity. When I was child, it wasn’t uncommon for kids to learn to swim or ride a bike at the later end of single-digits without receiving any social stigma or pressure. Now, if your child isn’t reading, swimming, and riding a bike by the time they leave kindergarten you all run the risk of being judged. And don’t even mention breastfeeding a four year old.

Following your child’s lead encourages your child to trust his or her rhythm and needs, and is one of the most important actions you can take to help him preserve and develop healthy self-trust.

In my work with adult clients, the root cause of much of their anxiety is a lack of self-trust. Ruptured self-trust affects every area of life, from speaking up in relationships to deciding whether or not to vaccinate. Self-trust is a cornerstone of developing a strong identity as a mother, and the evolution of healthy self-trust appears early in the mothering process when it comes time to make decisions about important topics like prenatal tests and caregivers. Sadly, many women give away their authority to doctors, spouses, or mothers, following in their familiar vein of believing that others know their own body better than they do. If we want our children to grow up with a strong sense of self, we need to pull back the reins of “keeping up with the Joneses” and instead follow the brilliant and innate.

About Sheryl Paul

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide via her private practice, her e-courses and programs, her books, and her website, http://conscious-transitions.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Her home study course for pregnant women and new mothers, Birthing a New Mother: A Roadmap from Preconception Through the First Year to Calm Your Anxiety, Prepare Your Marriage, and Become the Mother you Want to Be, can be found at http://birthinganewmother.com. She lives in Boulder, Colorado where she and her husband homeschool their two sons.

7 thoughts on “What’s the Rush?”

  1. It’s really not pretty, and I find that it even gets into sibling rivalry. And to some ludicrous places. A couple of days back, after I cleaned one of my sons after going to the toilet, his older brother asked me proudly when was the last time I had to clean HIM after going to the toilet. An argument had to be cut short about when they learned to wipe for themselves. Great article, thank you.

  2. My son didn’t talk till he was over 2y3m, and I left him alone about it. Now at nearly 13 I can’t get him to shut UP.
    I rode a bike at 8, forced. My son rode his bike at….hmm, 7 or 8? Forced persistence at first (he has really low frustration levels) but not forced bike riding. He got it by himself, after deciding that the persistence might pay off.
    Nursed till he was nine. Yes, nine. Ending it was my idea or he might indeed have nursed till college!
    Swam mostly willingly.
    I’m all about people learning things at their own pace, pretty much. What’s the rush indeed? I can’t stand “early learning”.

  3. My older brother had fewer than a dozen words at his third birthday. He’s now a doctor. My little sister wasn’t standing & cruising until 19 months old. She’s a perfectly healthy, active, young woman.

    My daughter never crawled. She didn’t sit up on her own until she was nearly 2. She’s now 3 and beginning to read, though she’s still “behind” on gross motor skills (riding a tricycle, dressing herself, etc). I don’t ever tell people outside my family and very close friends that she can read. Why? When people see her reading, and then they feel like *they* have somehow failed as a parent- “Oh no, my toddler doesn’t even know her ABCs yet! What am I doing wrong? You’re such a better mom than me.” (yes, I’ve had people say that to me, almost verbatim, on more than one occasion). Really, we just read to her a lot! Both DH & I were reading by age 3, so she’s only following in her parents’ footsteps. She’s not some super-child, and I’m no super-mom. By the time she’s a teenager, her friends will be just as capable of readers as she will be, and no one will know she was reading so early unless she tells them.

    Granted, some “failure to meet milestones” or whatever the technical term is, may be cause for concern. But generally, all this focus on milestones is just one more gimmick to make good parents worry more than they already do, IMO.

    I encountered many downright *nasty* moms who would act as if my daughter’s gross motor delay was contagious. I can’t stand when moms sit around in some place where moms of newborns congregate, and they’re all, “My son sat up at six months.” Another mom chimes in, “My kids all sat up by five months.” I’m there thinking, “Good for you. Your kid is doing what a baby is supposed to do. Do you want a cookie?”

    Milestones should be celebrated amongst family and close friends. If there are concerns, discuss with your pediatrician. Otherwise, it’s not polite to discuss milestones openly. In fact, it’s downright *rude.* Moms of kids with developmental delays see these discussions as more than a competition- it can make them feel like their little one is somehow lesser, or flawed. When I was still worrying if my little preemie daughter would ever be “okay”, it would bring me to tears to hear all these giddy moms gossiping about how their little one reached some totally ordinary X, Y or Z milestone the other day, and I’m in the corner thinking, “Will my little girl *ever* do that?”

  4. Beautiful, preemieprincess. Thank you for sharing. Instead of moms standing around discussing their babies’ milestones, can you imagine if they talked about how they were feeling as new mothers – the overwhelm, the anxiety, the joy, the confusion, the questions about topics other than food and sleep? What a difference experience it would be for everyone.

  5. Why cant a mother share her happy feelings of her child doing well, or doing things out of the norm, whether they be ahead, or behind the time schedule?

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