There are reams of research and educational materials available about your baby’s developmental milestones; and I bet you’ve read at least some of them. As an educated parent, you are keeping close tabs on your baby and checking for those milestones as s/he develops. But did you know that you, as a parent, are reaching your own Mommy Milestones as well?
You may not be aware of it happening, but as a parent, you are developing right along with your baby. As your infant grows into toddlerhood, childhood, and adolescence, your own Mommy Milestones are being reached…or missed. Mommy milestones are for both Moms and Dads, or whoever the child’s caregiver may be. These markers include the budding skills, attitudes, and understandings that are the underpinnings of a successful parent/child relationship.
Why Time Demands Change
Being a parent is a dynamic job, and the job description changes from one day to another. Like an actor starring in a different film every day, the role you play for your child is a script that keeps changing. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the rapid tide; but keep up you must. Here’s why:
Imagine a 9-month old, crawling around the room, mouthing toys, and shaking objects in his environment. Now imagine a five year old doing the same thing. The second picture is a lot less satisfactory, right? Now imagine a mother feeding, holding, and rocking her nine-month old baby. Sweet. Then picture a mother doing the same to her five-year old. Something wrong with that picture? You bet!
Navigating Your Milestones
Through my work in early intervention, I’ve had the opportunity to hold the hand of many parents as they transitioned from one stage to another with their children. Often, the first transition parents make is that from the infant parent to the toddler parent. Making the leap between milestones is not always easy, so here’s the breakdown to make it all a little bit easier:
During this stage, your primary role is to nurture and protect. This means responding to your child’s cries quickly and effectively. You have sole responsibility for your child’s feeding, hygiene, and protection. You are touching and holding your child frequently during this stage and supporting development by talking, singing, and interacting with your child whenever possible, throughout your daily routines.
During this stage, your role is to nurture and encourage autonomy. Note that your protective role will need to be rolled back just a bit in order to allow your child to explore the environment with greater autonomy. During the toddler stage, you and your child share responsibility for feeding and hygiene matters. That means you are providing nutritious meals and snacks, but your child is self-feeding. You are teaching your toddler hygiene skills like toileting, hand-washing, and beginning to dress. Protection of your child’s safety continues to be a sole responsibility of the parent during the toddler stage. Your child still needs lots of touch, affection and attention. In this stage, you are supporting development by engaging your child in reciprocal interactions (child and adult responding to one another in play, conversation, or non-verbal exchanges). You are providing age-appropriate toys and books, and allowing your child to explore her environment within predictable daily routines.
Taking the leap from Infant Mommy to Toddler Mommy is challenging for many parents. After all, you are hard-wired to respond instantly to our children’s cries, to provide love and comfort at every turn, and to prevent your child’s discomfort at all costs. But the Toddler Mommy needs to let her child experience frustration at times, in order to learn to persist, complete tasks, and problem-solve. She needs to let Child interact with peers even if it means Child may occasionally get a little scratch on his face while fighting over a block with a friend.
Early Childhood Mommy:
The role of parent in this stage is to nurture, encourage autonomy, and to set and enforce limits. The child is taking more and more responsibility for feeding, hygiene, and self-care tasks. The parent is still providing loving touch on a daily basis, but at significantly fewer intervals. At this stage the parent also begins to teach the child to follow rules. The early childhood Mommy must establish norms and expectations, as well as consequences for the child’s actions, both positive and negative. The parent is responsible to introduce the child to foundational skills and concepts which include pre-literacy and math skills. Each family and parent is unique, and may chose to educate the child directly, or through a qualified early childhood education program.
Remember that progress almost always involves some form of discomfort. Validate your struggles with a good friend, share your challenges, hopes, and ambitions, and nurture yourself as well. As you can see, the role of the parent grows and changes with the child. And just as no child develops in exactly the same way or at the same pace, no parent’s development will be exactly identical. You will individualize your parenting milestones to your baby’s milestones. As the wise men of my faith said long ago, “Educate each child according to his own way.”
And now, a toast: Here’s to many milestones for you and baby, together!
Chaya Glatt, Special Instructor