Does your baby sleep through the night? Oh, he does? Wow, that’s . . . great! We’re still working on that. One more thing: Is he walking yet? A few steps? That’s awesome! Mine’s walking too. He really doesn’t crawl at all anymore. Just one last thing: Is he talking? No? That’s okay, I’m sure he’ll start soon. Mine? Oh, he says about twenty words.
Does this sound familiar…this seemingly innocent check-in about our babies’ milestones? My friends and I do this all the time. But it isn’t really innocent, is it? At least, not for me. Because I’m just going to keep asking you these questions until I get what I’m looking for: a place where my baby outshines yours. How else will I know if I’m doing a good job as a mother?
Before I became a mom, the markers of success were clear. I got a grade on a test. I got the part in the school play or I didn’t. I landed the job or I didn’t. I received evaluations from my boss. And I valued those things. I knew where I stood and how I was doing. I want to do well, yes, but I also want to do better than you. So I strove to be successful and it mattered to me that I was.
But now my job is taking care of my son. It’s a great job. The pay’s not so good but I get lots of free snuggles. I’m not sure how qualified I was when I started but I think I’m learning the ropes. There’s only one problem: I’ve been working here a year and I haven’t received a single evaluation.
How am I doing? I’ve got to know. But where does the measure of a mother’s success lie? Why, in her child of course. This little pot-bellied boy toddling by with no idea how much rests on his ability to put one tiny foot in front of another is my walking, talking (oh, did I mention he’s talking?) professional evaluation.
The rubric? Milestones. Something no competitive mother should be without. You can find them online, in books or, if you want to be really official, from your pediatrician. Here’s a good example of one of these milestone charts. For a mind like mine that needs to know how I measure up, something like this chart is the motherlode (pun very definitely intended).
But it isn’t enough to compare my child to some milestones on a written chart. There must also be a practical component. And, for that, we turn to other babies.
I’m sorry, dear friends and acquaintances, but you and your babies are unwitting participants in my year-end review. Because it’s all well and good to say that my one-year-old should be able to stand on his own, but what if all babies his age can do that?
Let’s just pause for a moment here to acknowledge that all of this is irrational. Whether or not my baby can walk or talk, sleeps through the night or eats a range of foods has much more to do with him than it does with me. And I am not, thank goodness, so far gone as to try to force my son to do any of these things before he’s ready or to impose my competitive spirit onto him just to prove I’m a parenting ace.
But what, if not my son and his accomplishments, is the measure of my success? It’s so easy to look at this tiny human being, who loves dogs and birds, who brings me books to read on the couch and gives me kisses at night and think that I had no hand in this. That he is completely and utterly himself. And he is. But it’s all I’ve got. I’ve never done this before. I need those milestones and your babies’ progress so I can know how I measure up. Because what if, oh my God what if, I’m doing everything wrong?
So, tell me, does your baby sleep through the night? Just asking.