You're Not Responsible for Your Baby's Milestones

The first time another mother asked, “So, how did you get him to do it?” I literally had no idea what she was talking about. “To walk,” she clarified. “How’d you get him to walk so early?” I was dumbfounded. I looked at my little boy, making his bowlegged way over to the sandbox, and shrugged. “Oh, I just hit the ‘walk’ button. See? It’s right there under his left armpit.” That didn’t seem to be what she was looking for.

The truth is, I didn’t know what she was looking for. How had I gotten him to walk? I was fairly certain I’d had next to nothing to do with it. In fact, this milestone (like so many others) just felt to me like something that just kind of happened. Like a little switch being flicked in his brain. A preprogramed switch, even. One he was born with that had been set to go off at ten months (for whatever reason), as opposed to someone else’s switch which was set for sixteen.

But the question kept coming. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we moms were being set up. Everywhere we went, it seemed, people were trying to tell us that it was we, and not simply nature, who were responsible for somehow flicking the walk switch (or the crawl switch, or the sitting up switch, or whatever).

At Mommy and Me classes, overly energetic instructors cheerfully talked to us about “dynamic stability” and “core strength” and “balance.” They showed us how to hold our babies’ hands and lift them into an upright position, and “walk” them through a series of obstacle courses. And they told us, over and over, that all these things would help our babies learn to walk.

Before all the “how’d you get him to do it?” questions, I’d been enjoying the classes for the way they broke up our day; for the fun climbers, and balls, and toys; for the other moms to chat with. But now I began to hear their message (YOU are responsible for your babies’ milestones) and felt, at first, mystified and then annoyed.

Out of curiosity, I Googled “how to teach your baby to walk” and was startled to find entries on this subject from sites I trusted like Babble, Baby Center, and Parents. The titles of all these articles promoted this idea that we, the parents, had an important role to play in our babies’ mastery of these milestones. Titles like “Ways to Help Your Baby Learn to Walk,” and “How to Teach Your Baby to Walk” implied that there were specific things we could (and should) do to turn our crawlers into walkers.

Had I been wrong all along? Had I done something, without knowing it? Thank goodness I’d stumbled on the magic formula! Otherwise, in my ignorance, I’d be sending my son off to college on all fours.

But when I really thought about it, I realized that all typically developing babies learn to walk. Whether someone is actively playing with them all day, or whether they spend lots of time in the playpen, it doesn’t matter. They figure it out. Not to mention the fact that the babies who are left to their own devices more frequently sometimes turn out to be the ones who walk earlier. And vice-versa. It really has nothing to do with you at all.

Parenting is hard. And there’s so much we really are responsible for. But the kinds of milestones that all healthy babies achieve (like sitting up, crawling, walking, etc.) are just part of normal development. They’re going to happen. Even if you do nothing to actively teach them. This focus on placing the responsibility on us, instead of on nature, just adds one more thing to worry about to an already anxiety-producing job. Who needs that??

So, if you’ve got a little one at home, and he’s not quite there yet with some milestone, let me let you in on a little secret. There’s nothing you can do about it. Frustrating, sure, but also kind of freeing, right? It’s the first of many instances in which you’re going to learn that no two kids are alike. And you got the one you got and, presumably, you don’t want to trade. So just love him, play with him, and let him be. He’ll get there.