Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Business of Parenting: Are Child Milestones Driving You Crazy?

By Jeanette Smerina

(MS) - I am the proud parent of a healthy, vibrant little boy. He has just reached his second birthday. My son is, if I may borrow from one of the time-honored clich├ęs, the apple of my eye. He makes me laugh, cry with joy ... and want to rip my hair out on a daily basis. He is, after all, an active toddler. And while I'd like to think he's perfect, there are plenty of experts out there who keep telling me he's not quite on par with other kids his age.

Any new parent quickly realizes that milestones, growth charts and development quizzes factor into the equation of raising a child today as much as other key topics like breast feeding vs. bottle and choices in diaper brands. In fact, I look forward to my son's periodic pediatrician visits even less than he does - and he's the one getting the shots. You see, at each visit I'm given informational sheets (handy but overwhelming) and quizzed on my son's development. For some questions, the answers are easy: he's been weaned off the bottle since age 1; he's not hooked on a pacifier or a "lovie" stuffed animal (although I'll admit that he still sucks his fingers to fall asleep). Other questions I have dreaded: Is he walking? Talking? Enrolled in a 4-year degree program at Harvard yet? And the answers: 1) Didn't take a step until 17 months. 2) Only recently has begun speaking words the average non-parent would be able to decipher. 3) Actually, he's not even in a playgroup.

This makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong. There have been several visits where the pediatrician has told me she'd like to have seen my son accomplishing a milestone by now, followed by a firm deadline and mention of a referral to a specialist if he doesn't comply. Funny, these aren't tests for which you can cram. And also, my son isn't buying in. I've quickly learned that he does things on his own time ... period.

As if the warnings from the doctor aren't enough to get me frazzled, I'm also vexed by the e-mails that get delivered to my inbox if not on a daily basis, surely a weekly one. For every child-related Web site to which I've registered, there is a "helpful" newsletter or tips sheet they send out to keep me abreast of my child's progress - from eating solids to reciting all 50 states and their capitals. Let's just say my son has rarely if ever met any of the standard milestones. Today, I patiently decode his first words when he should be on phrases. It seems every other toddler is scaling steps, while my little guy still wants me to carry him down. I often spend more time worrying about what I can do to foster his learning ability in time for the next well visit and comparing him to others his own age than making the most of just playing and having a good time.

I do understand these guidelines are out there to serve as an early diagnosis for children who may have real developmental delay. I just want a little break; he always catches up. And so what if he can't utter "milk" or his own name? He says "batteries" when his toys run out of power and has learned the word, "mine" much to my chagrin, showing he's right on schedule for the "terrible two's."

I resolve to stop reading the tortuous e-mails, comparing my son to his peers, and taking to heart the well-intentioned words uttered at the pediatrician's office. And if you are a parent in the same situation, know you are not alone. My little boy will get around to everything in due time. He has a lifetime of making the grade and passing the test. For now, I'm content to just let him be an inquisitive and lovable kid.

CAPTION: If I believed everything about child milestones, my son should be studying for the SATs right now.

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