Friday, January 17, 2014

Not Always What You Expect

Ahh, the What to Expect books. Virtual "bibles" of pregnancy, babyhood, and toddlerhood. Most moms have them or have read through them. I used to have them all, then ditched them, then got one back. While at the library the other day, on a whim I decided to check out What to Expect the First Year. After six years, I figured I needed a little refresher.

I flipped open to the first chapter and promptly started to panic.

Maybe panic isn't the right word. Let's call it, and I apologize if it seems I'm using the word flippantly, a mom's version of post-traumatic stress. My heart started pounding. I got a bitter taste in my mouth. My mind started flashing back to six years ago.

Here's the thing about these What to Expect books, if you haven't read them. They generally divide up development by months, and they have this handy-dandy section at the beginning of each chapter that covers milestones. There are four sections:
  • What your child should be doing (milestones 90 percent of kids that age have reached)
  • What your child is probably doing (milestones 75 percent of kids that age have reached)
  • What your child is possibly doing (milestones 50 percent of kids that age have reached)
  • What your child may even be doing (milestones 25 percent of kids that age have reached)
When Anna was a baby, reading these monthly markers was a source of great fun. She was often ahead. She rolled over at 10 weeks. Said her first word at 6 months. Like most new parents, we felt we could pat ourselves on the backs. The kid was a genius, clearly!

Then Ethan came along. Then the What to Expect books became decidedly less fun. The problems started from the beginning. I know now that some of the (minor) physical delays he had probably stemmed from having low muscle tone. At three months, he would struggle furiously to get up on his hands and pick his head all the way off the floor. He finally rolled over both ways when he was 5 months. You could see it wasn't that he was fat and lazy like some babies slow to reach milestones. He was clearly frustrated. My heart went out to him.

Then there were the social milestones. Eeek. He would reach them, for the most part, but quite slowly or not completely, and nowhere near when his sister did.

After awhile, like the Birth Club board on Babycenter that I'd abandoned because Ethan kept falling behind, I started to hate the What to Expect books. Those bullets brought me nothing but worry and a sense of impending doom.

I hadn't thought about any of this for awhile, so of course it was natural for all of that to come rushing back as I flipped through the book's pages. And then I thought about where to go from here, with baby #3, and how to use all I've learned.

I know now to approach these books not like gospel, but as one of many resources. I don't need to rush to them breathlessly every month to check and see if my child's on track. But it can't hurt to keep an eye on progress just to catch red flags early. If I'm honest, I know that as annoying as the milestones charts were, they did help me know when to bring up concerns with the pediatrician, or begin the process of getting him evaluated.

I know now that in most cases, meeting these milestones early is not all it's cracked up to be. There's no need to call MENSA. Yes, Anna is a smart girl with many talents. But over time her progress slowed. Just because she was talking in full-sentences at 18 months didn't mean I needed to start reading the "gifted child" chapter quite so early.

And I know that how you start isn't nearly as important as how you progress...and just like a child's height and weight on those growth charts, it's most vital to look at the child's individual progress first before comparing to everyone else.

Back when Anna was about three, she really started getting into the Berenstain Bear books. This quickly became an obsession. We built up quite a collection, and every time we'd go to Barnes & Noble or the library, she'd scout out ones we hadn't read yet.

When Ethan was three, I'd glance at the Berenstain books on the shelves and wondered if he'd ever look at them. He was so far from comprehending never mind the themes, but even the plots to the stories. So the books sat...and sat...and sat.

And then sometime last year, he discovered them. He wanted us to read them to him. The finer points of the story still went over his head. But over the past six months, slowly he's begun to pick up more and more about the "object" to the story, the lessons learned. And now, just like his sister, he wants to devour every Berenstain bear book he can find.

His sister was way early. I read her Charlotte's Web when she was four, and she got it. Ethan, we have learned, seems to reach most of his social-emotional milestones about two-three years later than his sister did. But he is reaching them. Maybe there are gaps. But this boy, who by milestone charts alone in the beginning would have appeared to be someone far less than a genius, actually has a high IQ that he uses to make up for the areas where some of the "pieces" are missing. The What to Expect book didn't show us that. Only time did.

So I will take the milestone charts, in small doses, thank you very much. I'll take the information gleaned and put it in my back pocket to pull out for future reference, if needed...but not as my guiding light. Not as the final say in how my child will develop, grow, and thrive.


Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with you. I was early t o reach most language and cognitive milestones, and I do fall withint he gifted rang eintellectually, but I'm also autistic and have a midl motor disability. My parents cheered at my intelligence and language skills and, evenw hen psychologists were rassign concerns aobut my social/emotional development and adaptive skills, my parents felt y intelligence was mor eimportant and they till today say there's no way intervention fo rhtese areas of weakness could've worked. May be true, but all the while they treated my like a non-disiabled child (othter than my visible disability of blindness) and told me that I needed to use my smarts to solve my social problems.

My point is, early development says little, and all areas of development are important. Progress too (sometimes in areas you can't measure) is more important than whether the chld is like age peers. More important even is quality of life. (Here via Love That Max.)

Kerith Stull said...

ACK!!! I've come to hate those books! With our first, I loved them. Of course I did. She was usually ahead of schedule. Then our second was all. It only took a few months, but I threw those right out the window. I know they serve a purpose for some, but YIKES. It's just salt in the wound for us special needs moms. (Visiting from Love That Max LinkUp!)