Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Milestones or Millstones

"Oh is she doing that already?"
"Really?  Still not talking?"
"His head looks quite large compared to Johnny's"

... and other such comparisons and observations that are made about children.  The motivation for statements and questions like these is varied but they happen all the time.

When you have a sprog, you are constantly watching them.  I mean this in every positive and negative sense of the word.  You are watching to see all the cool new things they are doing, looking for that first roll onto the back, the first step, the first word.  You are also watching to see if they've done another explosive shit all over your carpet.  Or if they've drawn all over the walls of the house.  Or ripped the pages out of a new book.  That is still in the book store.  That you are now forced to buy.
And as much as I'd like to think of myself as a relaxed parent, you do watch to make sure these things are happening.  By which I mean you are interpreting every movement, word, and gurgle, and deciding if that's an acceptable level of movement, speaking, and gurgling.  On the sliding scale of parental behaviours, I find people's standpoint on this issue fascinating.
I read the blog of a lady who writes about her personal battle with anxiety and how that reflects on her parenting.  She is constantly fighting with herself to allow her children to explore and take risks while still ensuring their safety.  Clearly if she allowed her to neurosis to run free, the children wouldn't leave their house, but she understands that this is her issue and her children need to discover the world on their terms, and so she tries to put aside her conversations and let them go.  I think every parent can identify with this on some level.  You are always trying to juggle caring for your child's well-being and allowing them to play and build their own resilience and independence, right from a young age.
Personalities of parents play some part in where their boundaries for their children lie - the anxious mother I mentioned above is probably far more "in control" than say, someone who believes in child-directed learning.  I place myself on the more relaxed end of the scale and I think I allow Edie to rock and roll around, independent of me.  I certainly don't think of myself as a Helicopter mother (you know, the hovering kind).  However it's pretty safe to say that lots of helicopter parents don't think they are!

The term "helicopter mum" is not mine.  It's quite a well-known descriptor these days.  I think this in itself is an indicator that there are a lot of overly-concerned parents out there.  Perhaps more than there was, say, 30 years ago.  I'm sure there are a lot of studies about why this is and that they will give you much more accurate information then my hypothesising, but here's what I think.

There are too many studies.  Too many studies about everything to do with children, parenting, and development.  And they are all too abundantly available.  Ok, that's more "troglodyte" than what I actually believe (poetic licence).  I'm not against the search for knowledge, far from it.  I only mean that there is so much information available to people these days and it's frequently given and read out of context.  So much so that people begin to worry about things that they have little or no control over, or have such an infintesimally small probability of occurring that it shouldn't even be a consideration.

Ever been sick and done a Google search with your symptoms?  Every sniffle you have may be an indicator of Hideous Disfigurement Disorder where you will grow pustular sores on all parts of your body which will eventually sprout hair then leak all your bodily fluids until you die.
What I mean is if you want to find something nasty, you can.  You find that you only need have two other symptoms and you will be a text book definition of some frightening illness.  You find yourself thinking back, trying to decide if that hang over last weekend was the result of too many Lindauers, or a cancer rotting away at your insides.  Most people are rational enough to think about it, then reason that Lindauer and a fill of McDonalds at 2am is the most likely cause of the churning guts and headache, and move on.  But when it comes to your children, even the most level-headed of people begin to second guess themselves.

Parents want reassurance.  Being a parent is such a confusing, amorphous, unpredictable thing, that you just look for little bits of certainty where you can get them.  Your friends, your parents, your doctor, your Plunket nurse, the internet, your Woman's Weekly horoscope... anywhere.  But here is where you can come unstuck (what, you mean the Woman's Weekly is not a completely reliable source of life advice??).
The parent who is educated and informed looks for information.  They seek this information from a variety of sources so as to be able to form their own opinions.  This has worked for them before.  The problem is, everyone has something to say about how to parent (Hello, I'm a pot, you're a kettle, I'm letting you know that you are darkish in colour).  So what they come away with is a variety of conflicting advice and recommendations, leaving them feeling even more confused than when they started.  This confusion, the over-flow of information (especially of the scary type) can start the descent (ascent?) to Helicopter parenting.
The parent who is less into the research and wants the answers immediately does a quick survey of their friends or the internet and gets an answer that suits them.  This does not mean it's a good answer.  It could be an answer that confirms their worst fears.  They then take this information (often unchecked, word of mouth information) and pass it on to others.  They do this to help out and share their 'knowledge' and experiences.  And so the misinformation, or negative information, is continued.  The also run the risk of being a helicopter parent.

So what does this have to do with milestones?  Milestones (child rolling over, child following objects with eyes, child's first tooth/step/word...) are solid markers that help parents and caregivers to know that the child is healthy and "on track" for normal development.  They are used to provide some of that reassurance for parents that I was just talking about.  And they are, in my opinion, just as dangerous as all other information and misinformation.

Normal.  One of the most insidious words in the English language.  By having normal, you infer that there is also abnormal.  Of course there is.  But what's normal and therefore, what's abnormal?  I get that you do, as a responsible developed people, have to have some checks in place to make sure that children don't fall through the cracks but I feel like all this 'normality' is taken way too far.  Milestones say that by this age, a child should weigh no more or less than 'x', and should be doing 'y' action etc.  Most health providers will tell you that if your child is not doing x and y at the determined age, it's probably ok.  Your child is probably still normal but it's just something to be aware of.  If a parent is told that there child falls outside of x and y, what most parents hear is "abnormal, abnormal, abnormal".  They begin to worry about why little Johnny is not yet walking when his little friend who's younger is.

My personal approach to milestones is to ignore them.  I take Edie to the Plunket nurse for her check ups and enjoying seeing how much she weighs and how much taller she is.  I love seeing her take steps, and sprouting new teeth.  But I have no idea if she is doing any of those things "at the right time" developmentally.  So how do I know she is ok?  How can I be sure she is tracking 'normally' if I am not marking off her milestones along the way??  Well sit back people and get ready for the shocking answer: I watch my child.  I know my child.  I know what she does and doesn't do and when that changes.  No one knows Edie like Phil and I do.  No chart can tell me what I don't already know.  If some chart happened to tell me that she wasn't as tall as she should be, I would consider what I know about her before I jumped to any conclusion: does she seem healthy?  Does she seem happy?  Has anything changed for her that I was not expecting it to?  No?  Then she's fine.  And I do notice.  Edie is getting glasses because we watched her.  We noticed that something changed for her.  Something wasn't quite right.  And we were right.
From time to time, I succumb to the information monster and read too much on the internet, or read one too many books, and begin to angst over things but the moment I go back to my own instincts, anxiety drops.  I realise that I am actually doing an ok job and that's because my motives are good - I'm trying to do the best I can for Edie.

I'm not anti-advice, or anti-research, or anti-medicine.  I will take all of those things as tools to help us make any decision for Edie, but my most valuable tool is my instinct and knowledge as Edie's Mum.  I think we are all too ready to stop trusting ourselves and our own abilities to understand.  With so much information available, we allow our own opinions to be washed away and diluted by research and advice.  We are short-changing ourselves - we are better than this.  If you are a parent, remember to feel empowered by your role - it's a strength, and a mine of information much deeper than anything you can find on the internet.

*Disclaimer: I'm assuming that if you are reading this blog, you're operating at a certain level of intelligence.  You've passed a basic IQ test by getting this far.  If by some freak set of coincidences you are an idiot and you find yourself here, disregard what I've said and listen to the advice given to you by external sources.  Thank you.

I'm off to make sensible and safe decisions Mummy!

1 comment:

  1. You are absolutley on the right track, Charlotte.
    One of the biggest things we must face in the futre is change-everything changes-us the child and all around us-not referring to only nappies!
    Your senses of love and care and humour are the biggies to try and hold to no matter what.
    The child comes through you, not for you-ENJOY.