Children set their own pace

By Anita Doberman: Columnist

Parents seem to obsess about what’s normal for their children, wanting to make sure little ones fall within the right parameters for their ages. This obsession is not placated by the pediatrician’s reassurance that our children are indeed more than normal. We hope that they are and will be better than average. Our true quest is not to figure out what’s normal, but to find a way to make our children extraordinary.

The mad rush to beat what’s normal begins in utero. Pregnant moms compare their bellies, the baby’s movements and ultrasound images. A mom may casually mention that her baby was kicking at 15 weeks, and we feel that our baby is not up to speed, never mind he or she is not even born yet, because at 22 weeks we can’t feel any kicking.

When we welcome our baby into the world, the race for first position in the roll-over category, sitting-up contest, and grabbing and speaking competition begins. We are inundated by expert advice and contradictory theories about the development of children, and try different strategies to make our little ones Einsteins, Mozarts and Beethovens.

We hear of parents whose children are prodigies — “Johnny is barely 2 and already knows how to read” — and get frustrated thinking about our daughter refusing to learn her colors at 2 and a half. When we are defeated by these child prodigies, we default back to rationalizing that we want to make sure our children are normal.

So, why are we not happy when the pediatrician tells us that not reading at age 2 is perfectly normal? Because we are obsessed with being number one, especially when it comes to our kids.

I have been a part of this parents’ race many times, especially with my first-born daughter. I encouraged her to walk before she was a year old, and enrolled her in numerous enrichment classes, hoping she would do better than “normal.”

While I was more laid back with my second and third children, our adoption straightened my priorities and taught me the true meaning of “extraordinary.” When our son Matteo arrived from Ethiopia he was behind “normal” in every area of development. The pediatrician told me to forget about time frames, throw out charts and expectations, and focus on loving him and providing him with a safe home – he would set his own pace.

In fact, this is exactly what happened. A year later, Matteo is almost completely caught up in his development and most certainly an extraordinary little boy.

This is not to say that we should ignore medical advice or be nonchalant about problems we notice. At times there may be real issues that require medical attention.

It’s to point out that if we focus on whether our children are “better” or ahead, we forget to take joy in their unique ways. And what’s the big rush? They will soon be gone on their own, and we may regret that we haven’t enjoyed our extraordinary times together.