In A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor gives the news each week from the township of Lake Wobegon, where ‘all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.’
It’s not just Lake Wobegon. Some friends of ours observed the amusing number of parents around them who considered their offspring to be very advanced. So in a spirit of friendly satire they taught their daughter the following party trick at about 15 months.
‘Where’s your nose?’
[She cutely points to her nose.]
‘Where are your ears?’
[Hands go to her ears.]
‘Where’s your cricothyroid membrane?’
[Hands shoot to her throat and all adults in vicinity crack up.]
She was very advanced, as we often chortled.
We’re poised to teach SBJ something similarly hilarious, but he’s only just mastering waving, so it’ll be a while before we get to anatomy lessons.
I’m not terribly surprised, but I have found it a huge struggle not to focus too much on how quickly/on time/late our boy reaches developmental milestones, and where he is on the various graphs in our Plunket book.
I am of course squealingly excited whenever he does anything new (and a lot of the rest of the time too). There’s no way around that and nor should there be. But I’m also inclined to give in to unseemly pride or worry depending on whether he’s doing it before or after the average, and I don’t like that.
At this point, some of you lovely folks will probably want to tell me to lighten up and just carry on adoring my little boy. Well, quite. But here are the two problems I’m concerned about, as a matter of general observation.
Comparing our kids to graphs leads swiftly to comparing them to other kids. And this competitive milestoning brings bragging and resentment that we could all do without in our friendships.
And every minute we spend studying the graphs or the other kids is a minute our adoring gaze is off our children. I guess I want to let SBJ himself be the centre of my celebrating. I can adore him without telling the world why. I can delight in him without reference to curves, graphs and timelines.
I’m convinced of two things:
a) It means very little at what age a baby walks or waves or wees on a potty. No university application will ask.
b) We parents need to form a community for each other, not a competitive league table.
I’ve been very lucky in my community. My friends with young children have been unfailingly encouraging and supportive and delighted with my boy. And I have been delighted to get to know their children and take them on their own terms. It’s a real joy to get to love and celebrate other kids as well as mine, and I’m lucky to get to do so.
When I was first pregnant, my husband and I thought a lot about what we wanted to emphasise in our parenting. What were our priorities for any child we might welcome into the family?
We decided that, ahead of anything else, we really wanted to help God help our boy become wise and kind. If we could make an impact in only two areas, those are our picks. (Magic came a close third.)
Which helps me get the walking and talking stuff in perspective. So what if SBJ is late or early at sitting or clapping or lying still for nappy changes (although nailing that last one would be much appreciated).
He might be sporty or smart or popular. He might struggle at literacy or juggling or public speaking. But what we need to reserve serious excitement and pride for, or what we may need to spend extra time fostering, are signs of growing wisdom and kindness.
Paul Windsor, the Principal when I was at theological college, makes it practice never to ask ministers ‘how big’ their church is. The number of bottoms on pews is only one measure of the health of a church, but it tends to be a source of angst or pride way out of proportion with its significance.
So I am trying also to make it a practice never to ask a parent about milestones. ‘What are you enjoying most about this stage?’ and ‘What are her favourite things?’ are my standbys instead.
Inspired by Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery, I’m also trying to adopt her practice of not announcing any achievement or milestone to anyone other than SBJ’s grandparents, godparents and uncles and aunts without children. (To them, we never shut up.)
Please click through and read Glennon’s post if you’re interested in this whole area – it’s a very thoughtful and inspiring position.I need a lot of practice at these practices. So here I am saying them out loud. I’m aiming to make them a lot more instinctive, so I can keep my adoration focused on my gorgeous baby boy and keep my friendships crammed full of mutual support and shared celebration.
When adults get together, perhaps we’d find it easier to avoid the bragging-resenting traps if we could just fill our conversations with a few honest admissions of the hard stuff (parenting or the rest of life) and a few more supportive compliments to each other. We’re all brilliant and amazing, after all, right?
What are some of the most helpful, encouraging, supportive things other parents have said to you?
How do you help foster confidence in parents you know?