Friday, January 6, 2012

That's Not Very Reassuring - January 6, 2012

In my travels around the Internet, I land a few times a day in various parenting forums. They are mostly general parenting forums, not special-needs parenting forums, and so of course there's a different angle to them and I don't always find the voices I need there. But, well, they're part of a habit from pregnancy, they're entertaining at times (and dramalicious at times), and they have their uses.

But there's one common thing I see that happens all the time.

A concerned mother (or father, but really, usually it's a mom and I'm going to use "mother" from here on in for this post) writes about her child not meeting a milestone. I think it goes with the territory of being a mother - worry. Worry that your kid isn't doing things right or at the right time or whatever. Books and email alerts tell you "This week, your child will be tap dancing!" and your kid is just starting to crawl. That sort of thing. I worry, you worry, we all worry. The Internet is such a blessing and a curse when you worry...

So the mother writes about her worry and looks for reassurance and advice. Sometimes it's obvious that she's worrying for nothing, more or less - she's worried that her six month old isn't walking yet, for example - and sometimes it's not quite so obvious or there may even be a genuine cause for concern.

And what are the most common replies? "My kid/my neighbor's kid/this kid I read about on the Internet was just like yours. And he did [that thing] all of a sudden one morning/the week after his mom posted/at some random date, and now he is TOTALLY NORMAL and PERFECTLY FINE."

Allow me to whisper something to you. Lean in. Lean in close.


I know it seems like it is. I probably have said similar things to people in my lifetime as well. But here's why it's not helpful.

Because sometimes the child in question does NOT wake up one morning and go from not walking at all to running across the room.
Because sometimes the child in question does NOT suddenly say "Mother, may I have a glass of your finest apple juice?" after being silent for years because she just had nothing to say.
Because sometimes things just don't magically happen. And because "normal" is arbitrary anyway.

This is a hot button for me because it happened to me. I posted when my daughter was being recommended for early intervention services/wasn't sitting unassisted at around nine months. I was scared and I was confused and I didn't understand at all what was going on, and I was looking for...something... And while I bet if I dig back and find that post, I will find that there WERE people who were positive or helpful, I remember that most of what I got was a variation on the above or people saying "Wait, why are you pursuing EI? It's too soon for that, she's within the range of NORMAL, she'll probably start doing it tomorrow and be PERFECTLY FINE. Just stick her on a Boppy/do these exercises!" (And one person who informed me I was just pushing my kid too hard because my mother pushed me. Cute.)

And so I waited (I mean, in my head - we still started therapy) for some magical day to come when she'd snap out of it, grow out of it, do whatever it was, and become NORMAL because all those people said she would! Instead, I was crushed because I didn't get that fairy tale ending that everyone around me was assuring me would come if I was just patient and stopped worrying. I don't remember if anyone said to me "She may need some assistance, and that is OK. She's still your beautiful, amazing kid, and who the hell wants NORMAL anyway?"

If a mother is worried about her child, I personally think that validating the worry (if nothing else, as a universal) and acknowledging that being a parent is hard is a better way to go. It is not helpful to make the mother feel that she simply is a worrywart and that everything is fine because that may also deter her from seeking help or make her feel that there is SOMETHING WRONG with seeking help or SOMETHING WRONG with her amazing, beautiful kid who is just not quite hitting the milestones that the books talk about in the right order. And sometimes with a little bit of help or therapy, the kid in question WILL start to progress and even maybe catch up - or maybe not, and then the family will learn how to deal with whatever they have to deal with, however they have to deal with it, whether that's by blogging or finding new forums or just standing in a field screaming into the wind or...whatever it may be.

I get that sometimes hearing positive stories is what someone wants, needs, or finds helpful. But presenting this idea that things just magically, eventually resolve themselves and that NORMAL IS THE END GOAL OR ELSE really has the potential to make someone feel LIKE TOTAL SHIT when the truth is that it's not quite that simple. There's giving someone hope and then there's...this, which to me is just too much of an extreme.

I'm still working this whole thing out in my own head, and I may revisit this topic again in the future. The disclaimers are all in place - my opinion, my blog, can't speak for everyone, etc. I just really needed to vent about this. I hope you understand and are gentle with me.


  1. thanks for being touchy touchy touchy. i've been meaning to sort out the exact words in my head and you've just done most of it for me. :)

    thank you.

  2. LOVED this post! You says it perfectly! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm following you back.