There is nothing like the first time you see your baby smile. Or the first time you catch them taking off crawling and getting into everything. These milestones are exciting – they’re the moments we wait for. But what happens when your baby doesn’t seem to reach these milestones when you expect them to? How do you keep yourself from spiraling with milestone anxiety, shame, or even guilt when your baby seems to be on a different developmental timeline than you thought they would be?
I remember all the feelings of worry and inadequacy like they were yesterday. One of my daughters started walking later than her cousin, who was born around the same time. And let me tell you, the non-stop comparison left me feeling like a failure. Like I did (or didn’t do) something to cause this significant milestone to be slightly delayed. Spoiler alert: She learned to walk just fine.
Looking back, it’s obvious that there wasn’t anything wrong with my babies or parenting. Every kiddo has their own timeline. But at the moment, you feel like you’re swimming in a sea of milestone anxiety, worried about when everything will fall into place. For those mommas who find themselves in that sea, there are a few things I want you to know.
Know That You Are Not Alone in Your Milestone Anxiety
I promise you aren’t the only mom harboring this same anxiety. Yes, we all read those same parenting books. And yes, we all panic a little when our baby isn’t hitting every milestone when we expect them to. We all worry when our little one hasn’t been moving and grooving or taking that first step.
Almost any parent you talk to can empathize. We’ve walked that path. So, when you’re feeling that milestone anxiety, talk to someone. Feeling like you’re the only parent nervous about your child’s development can be isolating. But ask any mom, and they’ll tell you they’ve been there. Even when your kids get older, the worries don’t magically disappear. It’s an occupational hazard.
Know That Every Baby is Different
While there are guidelines for developmental milestones, no two babies are the same. There is no better example than two kids in the same family. Remember how one of my daughters didn’t walk right away? Well, she was a crawler. Seriously, she was here, there, and everywhere I wasn’t, constantly moving. But her sister? Well, she skipped crawling altogether.1
She pulled herself up on almost everything she could get her hands on. But I’ll never forget the disapproving looks I got from nearly everyone when she rocked back and forth (to get momentum) but didn’t crawl. I spent several months — truthfully years — worrying, ashamed, guilty, and feeling that milestone anxiety that I’d failed momming 101.
Know That Comparison is the Thief of Joy
We’ve all heard the saying, but it’s never been more accurate when comparing your child to someone else’s. As I said, every baby is different. So truthfully, you’re only setting yourself up for frustration and milestone anxiety when you expect them to keep pace with everyone else. It doesn’t matter if their first steps are after their first birthday, even though everyone in your mom group celebrated this milestone three weeks before. Enjoy these moments. Get excited about all these firsts because they’ll be here and gone before you know it.
Know That There are Ways to Ease Your Milestone Anxiety
Besides avoiding the comparison game and appreciating your baby’s timeline, leaning on your support network is essential. Focusing on everything that is going right instead of fixating on everything that could go wrong will help ease your anxiety.
Talk to someone if you find yourself going from just a little worry now and again (or plain old impatience) to overwhelmingly anxious (in a way that’s disrupting life as you know it). You can always check with your medical provider if you’re concerned. And chances are they’ll tell you to relax and let go of that milestone anxiety and shame.
Of course, there are times when missing these milestones can result from underlying issues. And if that’s the case, it’s also okay. Your medical provider can perform interventions and testing to address these concerns and to give your child and your family the support you need.1
So, to the mom feeling nervous, guilty, or ashamed, here’s your permission to set all the milestone anxiety down and let it go. Ultimately, it’s not the end of the day if your baby isn’t on the same track as other kids. They’ll get there when they get there. Just keep encouraging them, loving them, finding them support if necessary, and being the best parent you can be.