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Whose milestones are they, anyway?

Written by Kristen Chase

My oldest daughter was a late walker.

I mean, she walks now. Quite well, actually. She even walks while doing a bunch of things she’s not really supposed to do. Like texting. And listening to her music on full blast.

But at the time, almost 12 years ago now, it was worrisome. At least to me.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised considering she was “late” on every other first-year milestone. I waited what seemed like forever for her to sit up. And crawl.

Of course, by forever I mean like a month, maybe two, beyond the average I’d read about in all the baby books.

I figured that she’d catch up, though, at least when it came to walking. So when her first birthday came and went, and she was still crawling around the cement pool area at the Jersey Shore where we had her party, making holes in her fancy birthday tights, I started to freak out a little.

It didn’t help that every single kid in our Mommy & Me music class was blasting by her as she tried to keep up with them on her hands and knees. There were fellow one-year olds racing around like a bunch of gazelles. Sure, the 10-month olds wobbled, but at least they were on their feet. And I’m not even going to talk about that 8-month old. I still remember when her mom came in, and plopped her down on her feet in her adorable new shoes that the baby actually needed BECAUSE SHE WAS WALKING.

And even though I don’t think the moms were actually trying to make me feel bad, the constant discussion about walking like it was a top-trending news story, was starting to make me feel like I wasn’t a good mother.

It’s not logical. I know it now and I sort of knew it then. But you’re a nervous new parent, still not sleeping through the night, and you somehow believe that your child’s developmental milestones which are only influenced by your ability to keep them alive (no special training or expert skills required) are a reflection on you.

I’d bring my daughter to her well visits and the pediatrician would assure me that she was fine and right on track and, “Oh, be thankful you’re not chasing her around yet because you’ll wish she was just a little blob on the floor!”

I shrugged and half-smiled, grabbing my near 14-month old off the gross doctor’s office floor and walked out, driving straight home and jumping on my computer to Google, which by the way, all new parents should be banned from doing.

“The longer they crawl the more coordinated they’ll be,” said one article.

“Late walkers are less likely to injure themselves,” said another.

It didn’t help that everywhere I went I was asked if she was walking yet – as if that was the new national greeting. I would barely get a “How are you?” out of my mouth and someone would ask me if she was walking. Then I’d say, “No, not yet” or “Almost, it’ll be any day now,” at which point they’d ask her age and then just look at me, perplexed.

She finally walked at 15 months, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Maybe it’s because it felt like an eternity for her to actually do it, but I can recall everything about it. The time, the place, even the shoes she was wearing.

As it turns out, my pediatrician was right. I had nothing to beat myself up about. And better, the people who gave me the side-eye when I told them she wasn’t walking yet, or the moms at the music class who couldn’t stop talking about how smart their 9-month old walker was – all of them had nothing to beat me up about either.

Late walkers are generally much more coordinated because their brains are more developed. She rarely fell down, if at all. That also means parents of late walkers don’t have to worry as much about wobbly, giraffe-on-ice-skates babies hitting their heads or scraping their knees.

And the memory of that big day (or night really, a post-dinner ice cream stop was where it all went down, or in this case, up), well, I love that I can recall it so vividly. Even more than my three other children’s first steps, all of whom, by the way, walked before their first birthday.

My youngest was walking before she was nine months old. Talk about nerve-wracking.

It’s easy for new parents to latch onto anything they can give themselves a pat on the back because that first year is probably one of the hardest, especially if it’s your first child. And I get it. I really do. The milestones they hit feel like an accomplishment for you. And when you’ve been struggling to just make it through the day without falling asleep upright at the dinner table or crying your eyes out to a random stranger, it’s a big deal when your kids get a little jump.

As I’ve learned, three kids later, the milestones aren’t a reflection on you as a parent. Whether your child walks at 8 months or 16 months doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong or right.

If you saw my four kids now, you wouldn’t know (or probably care about) who walked early and who was the late one.

So instead, just give yourself a high-five for keeping them alive and healthy. For loving them even when you’re exhausted, frustrated, or straight-up on the edge. We’ve all been there. It’s no small feat.

Because that – the being there in the weeds – well, that’s definitely worth celebrating.


About the author

Kristen Chase