I used to be a person who measured. I felt accomplished checking tasks off a list or beating the estimated arrival time on the GPS. Some people label me as Type A, and it was no surprise to them that this competitive drive to surpass goals filtered into my parenting.
While I cannot refute my intrinsic need to succeed, even Type B moms seem to measure when it comes to their children. My sister worried when her son wasn’t talking at two, my best friend panicked when her baby wasn’t walking by 11 months. With the influx of milestone charts on the internet and the well-visit must-do lists, it’s only natural to want the person who you invest in, perhaps even more than yourself, to flourish.
Through my conversations with moms of all kinds, I’ve found I’m far from alone in my pursuit. We all want our children to reach beyond the standard set. Yet, God baked me a humble pie when he gifted me my son, my strong-willed, smart-witted boy who measures his steps only by his own two feet.
So what did I do to get my resolute son potty trained? Nothing. Absolutely nothing that worked. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty that I tried: sticker charts, rewards, and even a naked weekend to name a few. We did little potties and potty chairs. I prayed. I threw away the diapers, and he took them out of the trash. With every urging, he resisted, demanding a diaper until, well, the day he didn’t.
It was on a Saturday when he yelled to me from the bathroom, “Mom, I need you!” I took my time getting there unaware of the insurmountable worth of the moment. “I went poop,” he smiled as I screamed with shock and joy. From that second on, at three years and three months old, my son began telling everyone we knew that he was wearing underwear because he loved them.
After a year of pressuring him to get out of the saggy nappy, it felt surreal, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. My kid does things at his own pace, always has. I’m not sure why I thought it would be different this time. More though, I’m not sure why I am having trouble recognizing just who this little human is. He’s the kind of independent, path-forger who doesn’t abide by milestones written in a blog or documented on a page. He is unapologetically himself through and through.
My son nursed to sleep until he was 15 months old. I can still hear myself lying at the doctor’s office as I created the tale that my child slept alone instead of on my chest, that I pretended “crying it out” was working hours into the ninth night, that I googled if I might die from sleep deprivation . . . when suddenly, he slept. I recall the moment with vividly when the baby who had to be nestled into my nook for at least 50 minutes each evening, rolled away and told me he was fine.
I know it’s a blessing to have a child who beats to his own drum. Yet my daughter, who mostly stays the course, often feels easier to parent. Maybe it’s because she is, or maybe, I’ve been set up to feel obligated to press my children into a mold, whether they fit or not. Doesn’t it seem that a nemesis mom appears just when we enter into a state of measuring. When my son was refusing to remove his diaper, we attended a party where a boy, who was two whole months younger, announced his need to poop on the potty. Not walking, you’ll meet a kid cascading mountains; not talking, a masterful toddler Ted Talk will occur right before your eyes. Is she saying 20 words, does he know 11 colors, can she balance on one foot, is he still drinking out of a bottle, can he solve world hunger, cure cancer, drive a stick?
Okay, okay, I exaggerate. But it can sure feel like an exaggerated list when boxes can’t be checked, when you feel like you’ve done everything you can, read all the books, talked to all the moms who made it work, and it simply doesn’t work for your kid. It’s then that you have one thing to do: stop measuring.
One of my all-time favorite two-word phrases originated from a co-worker and seasoned parent of three grown children. “Do less.” Every time I uttered my child won’t, this Yoda of parenting advised me just the same, “do less.” It’s difficult for parents—the guiding force in their children’s lives—to latch onto, but it does work.
When it came to sleeping alone, I needed to teach my son to feel safe, and then do less. I didn’t need to buy blacker black-out curtains or complete 52 check-ins while he loudly cried it out. When he potty trained, I needed to show him how to sit and where to aim, but sticker charts were abandoned and rewards were short-lived. When he refused to try a food or say hello to a new adult or ride his bike down a hill, I needed to facilitate but not force. I needed to do less.
I’m jealous and amazed when strategies and tips work for others. On the other hand, I am more than willing to commiserate with those who can’t seem to seal the deal no matter what tricks are up their sleeves. I’ve come to realize that it has little to do with parenting and much to do with the human beings who are being asked to fulfill these developmental leaps.
When we stop thinking it’s our responsibility to make our children achieve and start realizing it’s simply our job to show them the path to success, our lives begin to change. We get to praise them when they accomplish tasks without measuring them against others. We teach them to take action in their own timing and in their own way.
I look to the future knowing school is right around the corner, a breeding ground for comparison, and I know I must accept who my son is right now. He’s going to read when his brain comprehends sound combinations, he’s going to multiply when memorization pairs with skill, he’s going to grow and learn and thrive and fail, and it is not my job to make him the best in the class or the first to excel but rather to help him become the best version of himself.
So I’m putting my yardstick away, and instead of feeling stressed when my child doesn’t meet every standard on someone else’s timetable, I’m going to enjoy watching him grow at his own pace instead.