Why Are We So Obsessed with Fine Motor Skills?

“When did parents become obsessed with fine motor skills?” I asked my husband. “Seriously, do you think either one of our mothers used the term ‘fine motor skills’ let alone scoured for crafting activities on Pinterest to help us develop them?”

He shook his head no. Later I asked my mother. I had to explain to her what Pinterest was and when I did she said, “What mother has time for that?”

Sometime between 1980-something and now parents decided they had to start getting involved in their child’s development in a big way. Contributing factors to this cultural shift include an increase in parenting literature and the prevalence of parent chat on the Internet. But, I’m going to pose a radical theory of my own: Acculturating a generation to value career over family growth hindered their ability to effectively parent. If all you’ve ever been told in your life is to study, work hard, and do your best, why wouldn’t you do that when it comes to raising your child? It worked for school and the job world, so why wouldn’t it work for your kid?

Perhaps because your son or daughter is his or her own person. Academic or career achievements are something you can claim as your own. Your child, however, is a blank slate of achievements waiting to happen on his or her own terms. Yet parents today, especially mothers with college educations, have a very hard time letting their kids be kids. Women didn’t identify so closely with their children 50 years ago. According to historian Peter Stearns, our grandparents

…considered themselves responsible for their children’s physical and emotional health, but parents today have added something else to the list: “They think it’s their job to make sure that their kids feel stimulated and happy at all times.”

Why the surge in concern when it comes to stimulation and happiness? According to psychologist Dr. David Anderegg, there are a number of factors increasing our culture’s fear level by leaps and bounds. Constant access to bad news via cable television and the Internet feeds our belief that doom is on our doorstep. But, more importantly, the shrinking size of the American family (also a result of the college-career push) has given parents a lot more to worry about – literally:

By definition, parents of first children are novices. They’re more likely to take notes, ask questions, and worry about their kids. Since most parents have small families today, most of the population stays in that first-child-anxiety state. In past generations, people were in that condition only temporarily because they tended to have more kids. If you have just one or two, you’ll be much more anxious and preoccupied.

Interestingly, and perhaps unintentionally, Anderegg also attributed small family size to a child’s boredom and anxiety. Without any siblings, children lack competitors to make home life interesting and keep them on their toes. Additionally, being the sole recipient of all that parental attention can be emotionally and psychologically overwhelming.

Which brings me back to the parental obsession with milestones like the development of fine motor skills. As it turns out, a delay or difficulty developing fine motor skills has been tied to a number of learning disabilities as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Information on these issues is accessible enough that a college-educated mother surfing the Internet could easily misdiagnose her toddler with a learning disability at the click of a button. It isn’t totally her fault, either. After all, she’s been acculturated to read and synthesize information, reach logical conclusions, and implement action plans. So, if 18-month-old Tommy doesn’t want to stick pipe cleaners in spice containers he must be developmentally delayed, right?

At least the last generation of pediatricians only had Dr. Spock to contend with. Doctors today have to compete with Pinterest.