When I was little, I loved looking through my baby book. As the firstborn child, my book was obviously meticulously filled out with each and every detail about my first year or so. (#SorryNotSorry, dearest younger siblings!) I couldn’t believe I was ever that tiny, or my parents were so young, or hairstyles and eyeglasses were so big – long live the 1980s!
When I was pregnant with JB, my husband and I purchased a baby book called When We Became Three. It had all sorts of cute prompts about how we met, what our first date was like, who attended our wedding, what my pregnancy cravings were, etc., all the way up to the baby’s second or third year.
I stopped filling the book out when JB was about four months old. It was clear that the categories and questions no longer applied to the “Three” that “We” had become.
From the moment they are born, our kids are literally measured against other children, as we are given not just their height and weight in inches and pounds, respectfully, but also as percentages compared to other children their age.
Then the developmental milestone questions start. Each pediatrician appointment those first few months (and years) is filled with questions like “Is s/he grasping toys?” or “Is s/he making consonant and vowel sounds?”.
If a child doesn’t meet certain milestones, additional assessments may be made, including a variety of formal tests that literally break down the child’s emotional, intellectual, social, physical and developmental progress in terms of age. Imagine getting an official medical document saying your several-year-old child has the social skills of a several-month-old infant, for example. Guess what? It feels like a slap in the face, and a giant F written in red pen across your forehead. “YOU HAVE FAILED AS A PARENT,” that document screams, no matter how many times doctors, therapists, and loved ones tell you “it’s just how they have to write it” or “it needs to be an objective assessment”.
Yes, I get that they need to use consistent measurements in these reports. That’s how science works; I am aware of this. It is not some big conspiracy to make us millennial parents feel triggered. But I also get that it’s pretty likely the medical professional who came up with these reports, just like the professional who coined the term “failure to thrive”, wasn’t an insecure new parent already trying to keep their head above water during this terrifying new chapter of their life.
Every time I need to fill out new patient forms for JB, I’m faced with pages of these same milestone questions: “Can your child speak in complete sentences? When did your child first smile? At what age did your child begin eating solid foods? When did your child quote The Office for the first time?” (Okay, that last one was obviously made up, but I definitely WILL be returning to JB’s baby book to mark that momentous occasion when it happens!)
Some parents of disabled kids like using the term “inchstones” – as opposed to “milestones” – to describe the small but significant steps of progress their children make. I don’t personally use this word, because I feel like it unintentionally does the opposite and minimizes disabled kids’ efforts under the guise of being “cutesy”.
I do, however love the idea of celebrating a child’s individual achievements and timelines. For our family, that meant texting family, friends and former therapists when JB showed us he could identify animals and colors. It meant taking photos and cheering when he started bearing weight on his legs without trunk support. It means telling him every day how proud we are of his hard work and determination.
We have made it a priority to fill JB’s bookcase with stories of characters accomplishing things at their own pace through perseverance. Here are a few of our family’s favorite picture books on this topic:
- I Can Do It! A Sesame Street Treasury of Stories
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae
- It’s Not Easy Being a T-Rex by Beatriz Rare
- Captain Marvel: What Makes a Hero by Pamela Bobowicz
Well, that’s my rant about milestones. I completely understand that none of the above scenarios are intended to shame parents. However, realizing something is not meant to be taken personally, and not actually taking it personally, are two very different things. So I guess one of my 2021 resolutions is going to be not seeing “FAILURE AS A PARENT” whenever I fill out forms or answer physicians’ questions. Because “learning to give myself some credit” is one milestone I’ve been meaning to check off in my own baby book for almost 35 years now!