ControverSunday: The Burden of Baby ‘Milestones’

Welcome to ControverSunday! Yeah Sunday!

This week is free topic with a twist AKA ‘Into the Archives.’ So, I hope you have all had fun this week scouring through each others archives to find a great post to write your posts on. Once you have a post up, come back here and put a link in the comments and I will add your link under the badge asap. Haven’t played before? No problem! We are always happy to have someone new join in! Busy busy this weekend with holiday fun? No problem! Post anytime this week- we aren’t picky!

Thanks again to Perpetua for inviting me to guest host this week! And to Accidents for the stellar badge!


Mommy in Chief

Altered Sky

Tortoise on the Loose

Partial Disclosures

Ramble Ramble

Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs

Adelphebre (did I get that right?)

Disgruntled Acedemic

First off, here is a great post by Brooke over at Mommy in Chief re: the ‘g-word‘ AKA gifted. Take a read through and then come back here to read my post in reference to it.

Okay, so this post for me falls into both the categories of “made me think differently about this topic” and “been meaning to write about this for a while.” Perfect!

You see, I think baby/toddler/kid milestones are a bunch of bull. In that I think we are all WAY too obsessed with them. Sure, yeah, I get why the doctors pay attention to them; if they see that a child is way behind the curve in one way or another it may trigger them to do some specific testing/looking into things that may help them spot a bigger problem that may need attention. Of course, we want the best care for our kids and we want any problems to be spotted early so they get the proper treatment.

But, overall, I think the focus these milestones get in our society is just overkill. Don’t get me wrong- there is nothing, NOTHING, wrong with being proud of your kid developments. Truth be told, the milestones serve as a kinda of route marker that shows how far your kid has come and everything they have learned. I think it is lovely to fill up a baby book with ‘firsts.’ We love to talk about our children, and there is nothing wrong with the occasional bragging about how wonderful your kid is- because they are wonderful! And we should be proud of their accomplishments.

And, as Brooke spoke about, we shouldn’t have to feel bad or keep our mouths shut if our kid seems to be hitting the milestones just a little (or a lot) early, simply because we don’t want to upset anyone else. Truth be told, there are some kids out there, for whom we really need to look at the question of ‘gifted’ because sometimes those kids do struggle in a school system where there isn’t enough challenge. Just like we have to look at the question of kids that are a bit behind, who also get frustrated in a school system where teachers do not have the time to give them the extra instruction/ type of instruction they need.

Bottom line is, conversations topics shouldn’t be off the table, just because we might offend an other parents who’s path is different.

Brooke says: “In our society, the “G” word is taboo. We can’t talk about our kids being smart, meeting milestones early. Instead of recognizing that some kids are in fact smarter than others (and that this is, in fact, a good thing in society), we say that all kids are gifted in their own way. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that all kids have gifts. But there isn’t anything wrong with being average, just like there is nothing wrong with being gifted, and there is nothing wrong with having a disability. They are just different places on the spectrum.”

I totally agree with this. Totally. But, I think it is worth point out two things. 1) This need to say that all kids are ‘gifted’ drives me nuts. It is a part of that whole ‘protecting our kids from ever failing’ thing, which I really disagree with. It is a part of that whole mentality that we should protect our kids from every having their feeling hurt by making them feel #1 in everything. The problem I have is that if you have a kid that from birth to age 18 never, ever fails… (they ‘pass’ all their tests even if they didn’t study, they make the soccer team even if they can’t kick the ball, they get to play a flute solo even if they can’t ever play it through without a mistake) what happens to that kid when they reach ‘the real world’ and have to face failure? Which is, after all, a part of life. I will tell you what happens, their Mom calls the university professor when they fail their midterm. Seriously. I digress.

But the second thing is that I do believe that all kids have their gifts. Everyone is good at something. The problem is that our society and our school system value a very specific set of somethings. And children who may possess other talents, but happen to not have the ones that would make them ‘book smart’ can grow up feeling like their talents have no value. Because in most schools they have no value. (The response to this problem thus far has sometimes been doing what I have said I dislike above; telling every kid they are good at everything, even if they aren’t)  I believe we need to find a way to help every kid to have confidence in the things they do have talent for, so that they can have a positive view of themselves that is not defined just by the grade the get in school. At the same time, we need to guard against kids growing up being told they are perfect at everything, just to spare their feelings. This just sets them up for troubles when they hit adulthood.

That gets us to the real problem(s). We take our kids development too personally and/or we are scared into thinking something is WRONG if our kid is a bit behind the statistical average in one thing or an other. Lets deal with the taking it personally thing first.

I will say this again, there is nothing wrong with taking some pride in your kids accomplishments. But I think we all, myself included, sometimes attach how we view our success as parents to how our kids develop. We have failed if our kid doesn’t ‘sleep through the night’ at 6 months. Or if the kid isn’t crawling by 7 months. Or if they don’t have their first word by a year. Ect. And sure, it is possible that something we did at one point or an other could have had an impact on these things. And sure, we should try to do the best we can by our kids by encouraging healthy development (be that physical, socially, emotionally, intellectually ect.).

But beat ourselves up because our kid didn’t hit a milestone on time? Why? They all develop differently. They are their own person. We can’t live vicariously through them. Sure, maybe you want your kid to be successful in sports because you weren’t. Fine. But being supportive of their goals is different then making them practice t-ball every day because you want them to succeed. You get what I am saying, right? Just because you were top of your class, doesn’t mean you have failed as a parent if your kid isn’t top of the class. Furthermore, just because your baby isn’t uttering little sentences at 18 months doesn’t mean they won’t be top of their class in grade 10. Just like a kid that walks at 8 months won’t necessarily win the goal medal in the 100 meter sprint in 18 years. We need to take it less personally.

Secondly, those milestones put at the statistical average. Which means, by definition, some will be ahead and some will be behind. What does it matter? Even if your kid is pretty far behind, so long as you are doing what you can to support their development, why get worked up about it? Often, there is nothing you can do more then what you are already doing. I have heard of many a parent be worried sick by a doctor or a health care worker, because the kid hadn’t yet hit a milestone. I get that they have to be honest and tell you what to watch out for, but if everything that can be done is being done, why focus on it? The kid will catch up, or not, and adapt, and life will go on. We all have our struggles. Some more then others, sure.

And not to say that I wouldn’t be devastated if I was told my daughter wasn’t developing at a healthy pace. (Missing a couple milestones by a month or two doesn’t at all mean your kid isn’t developing at a healthy pace, by the way.) I don’t mean to down play those struggles at all. And I am not saying that in that position I wouldn’t worry too. I just think that in most cases we need to take a deep breath and give the kid some time. And lots of love. And not expect them to follow the doctors ‘schedule.’ It’s just a piece of paper.


25 responses to “ControverSunday: The Burden of Baby ‘Milestones’

  1. Lorry April 4, 2010 at 7:43 am

    And now that I’ve actually read your and Brooke’s posts….
    My daughter hit every physical milestone really early, plus she’s small for her age. It kinda calls attention to you to have a little bitty baby walking around on her own, and I always felt like I had to say something to make other parents feel better. “Well, she’s not really talking that much yet….” And then I’d hope she wouldn’t pick that moment to wave and say “hi.”

    The thing that bothers me is this “g”-word phenomenon doesn’t really go away when our kids are old enough that milestones are no longer a topic of conversation. It never becomes OK to talk about how you are (or your kid is) really smart.

    • Brooke April 4, 2010 at 8:41 am

      I completely agree about it never becoming ok.

      A mom at one of our classes heard Kellen counting a couple of weeks ago. Her son is several months older. I told her that he wasn’t saying “mama” or “dad” yet, and she said, “Thanks for trying to make me feel better, but…” I can’t tell my kid that it’s only ok to show off his skills in front of the pediatrician.

  2. Pingback: Altered Sky :: ControverSunday: Pictures in my Head ::

  3. ironicmom April 4, 2010 at 8:21 am

    My favourite milestone was when my twins could open the minivan door, crawl in, and do up their own seat belts. My back loves this. Sometimes it’s the little things…

  4. Brooke April 4, 2010 at 8:27 am

    I *almost* wrote about this, especially given Kellen not saying “mom” or “dad”, which worried the heck out of me. I worked in Special Ed before my body failed me. And my sister has learning disabilities, so maybe for me I just know too much about milestones and about being behind and about how INCREDIBLY important early intervention is.

    It’s a hard topic. I have seen moms stress A LOT about milestones that aren’t being hit on time when they seem to be developing. I’ve seen other moms whose kids REALLY need to be evaluated who want to believe that their child is just on the other side of average and will catch up. The problem with the latter attitude is that if you don’t intervene early enough, it can cause life-long learning challenges. So while I don’t want moms whose kids are typically developing to stress out, I would rather have a hyper vigilant society where the struggling kids are identified early and helped.

    I also believe that all kids have gifts, but I also believe that nearly all kids are capable of succeeding in an academic environment. Did you see the article about the kids in a Chicago charter school who live in a ROUGH neighborhood but are ALL going to college? It’s an amazing story (I think in NYTimes) and shows how kids we write off are capable of being “book smart.” My husband’s mom told him that he had lots of other gifts and let him slide in school. He now struggles to be gainfully employed. So he’s back in school. And you know what? He’s figuring out how to do the school thing and be successful academically. And in our society, book smarts and college are REALLY important. Maybe a fixation on it isn’t healthy. But I think that remembering that is important.

    • amoment2think April 4, 2010 at 8:50 am


      I think you make some really really good points. Yes, it is of course important to identify things early so kid can be helped, I just don’t think crawling 2-3 months late or not talking at 18 months is cause for concern right away. (Not that I am saying that you said that). I think it is about balance and recognizing that kids develop in their own ways.

      I also totally agree with you that we shouldn’t assume a kid can’t do well in an academic environment. I don’t think we should ever send the message that a kid can’t do x. We should never write a kid off. But I do think we need to look at our academic environments to make sure they support all types of learning. There are some great schools out there that do, but a lot that don’t. I also think there is a lot of types of smart beyond ‘book’ smart.

      • Tumblon April 8, 2010 at 7:38 pm

        So, if I’m not mistaken, there are still three important (unanswered) questions:

        1. How do I know what matters enough to be concerned about? (Unless, of course, you conclude that nothing merits worry or action.)

        2. How do I know when to worry about the things that matter? (Assuming that there are things that merit attention.)

        3. Does it really make any difference whether, or when, I know what matters?

        If I’ve understood your post, you’re saying to overanxious parents, “Don’t worry.” That’s good advice if and only if (1) the milestone doesn’t matter, or (2) the child is not far outside the normal range, and (3) early intervention wouldn’t help.

        If, on the other hand, the milestone is what the American Academy of Pediatrics or Early Intervention would call a “critical milestone” then the milestones are not just a vague “average.” They’re clinically researched ranges which, if a child expires the normal range, merit evaluation.

        Why? To increase the stress of the parent? No. Because developmental delays caught early CAN be addressed tremendously effectively by professionals. In fact, because of the rate and nature of early brain development, it truly is “the sooner the better.” The later parents wait, the harder it is for the child. Knowing what matters and when so that you can get help if you need it AND not stressing about the rest is critical.

        My wife is a developmental pediatrician. She frequently asks, “Why couldn’t the parents have recognized this sooner?” My business Tumblon is working to do make it transparent to parents: what matters most, when parents need to know so that they can enjoy their kids. If you’d like a “peek under the hood” of what we have in the works, just let me know.

        Graham at

      • amoment2think April 8, 2010 at 8:33 pm


        You bring up some really important questions and things to think about. I would agree with you that my advice to not worry, but I would clarify that my advice is more to not worry as much as we do. Which is a heck of a lot. And I think your comment that if we should worry should be contingent on “(1) the milestone doesn’t matter, or (2) the child is not far outside the normal range, and (3) early intervention wouldn’t help” is a fair one. I think every situation is different and every parent should be aware of their child and seek help from professionals if they feel something is wrong. But seeking help and getting early intervention is different then excessive focus on the missing of a milestone, followed by a large amount of guilt, frustration and jealousy of other people’s kids. And then that guilt translating to other parents feeling like they can’t share their exciting about their kid that is hitting that same milestone early.

        I would agree that parents have trouble wading through which milestones matter and which ones don’t. Especially when we have some pretty over-reactive health care workers that like to point out, for example, as one reader put it, that their child was behind in their “kissing” abilities.

        Thank you for your comment. I will check out your website.

  5. janet@janetlansbury April 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I completely agree with this. I realized the true ridiculousness of milestones when a pediatric nurse was checking off her list and asked if my 18 month old kissed with her mouth closed. I was forced to face the realization that my baby had fallen behind in her puckering skills. “No, but I do enjoy her open-mouthed kisses, and feel thankful to get them.”

  6. Ginger April 4, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I have a friend who had a kid who, at age 3, had never spoken. Not a single word. There were hearing tests, and brainscans, and discussions of autism and mental retardation, speech therapy, etc. None of it did anything. My friend and his wife were confident the kid was just developing at his own pace, while the doctors were in an uproar.
    Then one day, the kid opened his mouth and spoke in complete sentences, with perfect grammar to boot. Turns out he was gifted, and just didn’t want to communicate until he could do it “right”.
    Not to say that this is a common occurance, BUT, milestones are just guidelines, gifted doesn’t always mean early, and kids develop as they develop. Of course we should keep our eyes open and pay attention to how the kids are progressing, but early or late doesn’t necessarily have to be the big deal we make it.

    Anyway, here’s my post:

  7. Partial April 5, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Good post. It’s funny because this topic has played out in interesting sibling rivalry type of ways with my family. My three sisters and I tested into a special “gifted” program in elementary school, but my brother, the youngest didn’t. I think it made him feel very bad growing up, having to compare himself in that way. Then later, he tested far better than the rest of us on the SAT’s, and last year my sister admitted that she cheated on the test that admitted her into the gifted program because she was so afraid of not being labeled “gifted”, even in elementary school. So it just goes to show that labels and designations do little to indicate the true nature of things, but do a lot to shape often false insecurities and identities.

  8. Bre April 5, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Hi all, ControverSunday newb here. Thanks to Accidents for pointing me here. So here’s my contribution. I chose something else to write about, but my daughter is a super chunktastic 5mo who refuses to roll over. She gets half way over and then just chills. We’ll see what the pediatrician has to say in a month!

  9. Mama Tortoise April 5, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Great post!

    I completely agree that people get bent out of shape about the milestone thing. But resisting it is difficult – don’t we all want to know that our child is somehow ‘ahead’ (even kissing abilities!). It makes us feel like we’ve done something right.

    My criticism of the g-word is… what does it REALLY mean? And later in life, will pushing your ‘gifted’ child really benefit them? Years ago when I was a student, I worked with someone at a bagel shop who was part of MENSA. Great, but he worked a bagel shop. Full-time. At age 40.

    I guess what I’m saying is that we all measure our success differently. And we all measure our child’s success differently. The G-word to me only means that they have been defined as someone who has excelled according to one success criteria.

    Oh, and I was the g-word too. Hated hated hated the label growing up.

    • amoment2think April 6, 2010 at 7:41 am

      I totally agree! I always feel pride even if my daughter is ‘ahead’ in something little and not very important. So it is hard to avoid getting caught up in milestones. I think the problem is more when parents feel bad when their kid is behind, so much so that seeing an other kid ahead of theirs is upsetting to them. I understand that upset and I am not saying those feelings are not valid, but I also think we need to take a step back and realize it is not the end of the world.

      And totally!!! What does gifted really mean?? Gifted doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to be successful and I agree that pushing kids can sometimes not help the situation at all. That is why I think it is such a challenge for the school system, to try and figure out a way for all kids to get the most out of school without being bored, frustrated, labeled, ect.

      The labeling I think is a big issue too. It comes with expectations, pressure and isolation. Not good things for a kid, in my opinion.

  10. disgruntledacademic April 6, 2010 at 9:19 am

    I’m on my way out the door, but I wanted to say:
    1) I’m with you on the gifted thing. Nicely said.
    2) Here’s my post about the issue:

  11. Pingback: ControverSunday: Gifted Children « Accidents will happen.

  12. Accidents April 8, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Finally got my post up! I think I set a record for lateness. Top marks for me.

  13. Perpetua April 9, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Hello, Adelphebre, are you out there? I can’t comment on your post because the little verification box is broken or missing or something. 😦

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