At a recent check up with my local MCHC, my 12 month old son and I were given the ever popular ‘should’ test. “Is he talking yet? He SHOULD be saying 2-5 words by now” “Is he eating the family meals with you? He SHOULD be able to eat the same foods as you by now” “He SHOULD be responding to his name” “He SHOULD be cruising furniture” “He SHOULD understand when you’re angry or happy with him” “He SHOULD be able to” “He SHOULD know how to” “He SHOULD” “SHOULD” “SHOULD” “SHOULD”.
Had I taken a tally, which I of course regret not doing now, I estimate she would have said that darned word 50 times in the space of a 10 minute appointment. My son passed most of his ‘shoulds’, which were greeted with an approving smile and quick note in his green book, but there were certainly some areas where he didn’t quite get there, which of course got us a head shake and a stern word.
Overall, we passed, and I was permitted to take my child home, confident that I had another 6 months without having to fear that Child Protective Services were going to remove him from my care because of my failure to successful guide him to meeting his ‘shoulds’ in line with the current Australian standards.
For all intents and purposes, the meeting went well. My son’s green book was marked in all the right places, I had received more approving smiles than disapproving head shakes, I should have been happy. But that’s the trouble with ‘should’, when you’re not where you should be, you automatically turn inwards and assume that you are the problem.
I wonder, before the MCHCs and the internet and the standards and all of the ‘shoulds’ came into the equation, how babies ever became walking-talking-eating-successful adults. Before mothers were told that their children ‘should’ be able to eat proper, non-fork-mashed food by the time they are 12 months, how did they know to panic and shift into ‘I will only offer my child non-fork-mashed food from now on and if they choke and vomit every time then so be it because they are 12 months old and SHOULD be able to’ mode? And if they didn’t immediately shift into that mode, did their child only eat fork-mashed food for the rest of their lives? Or is it possible, crazy as it sounds, that children were permitted to do things in their own time, all shoulds aside? That mothers weren’t made to feel that it was their job to ‘guide’ (push) their babies to do things before they were necessarily ready to do them? And that SOMEHOW, even without the pressure of shoulds, babies become children and children became adults and everyone got there in the end?
I am lucky. I am surrounded by a family who are a constant reassurance to me, and who look at my son and see perfection and tell me over and over again how wonderful he is and what a good job I am doing. Without that, how would I have felt after that appointment? Would I have started to question myself and the job I am doing, and start being too focused on shoulds and milestones and not focused enough on spending every moment enjoying my extraordinary little human?I know a lot of people crave the structure that ‘should’ provides, that knowing what should happen and when it should happen gives them a sense of control that they need to cling on to. But the truth of the matter is, ‘should’ simply doesn’t exist when it comes to child rearing.
Babies are not quantifiable, you can’t measure their worth or success based on their ability or failure to meet milestones before or at the exact moment when they ‘should’. Whether you’re child walks at 8 months or 2 years has no bearing on how their physical development will fare, history has proven that. They will not become an Olympic walker because they walked before the other kids in their playgroup, they will not become a household name because of their superior ability to say ‘mama and dada’ intentionally or chew grown-up food before they turn 1. Meeting or not meeting their ‘shoulds’ isn’t a reflection on them, or their parenting.
I understand the need for some guidelines. I understand that if a child is seriously behind, that parents may need to intervene and provide their child with extra guidance. In today’s word, ‘should’ certainly has its place, but I argue that it needs to be used far less. You and your child do not need to be burdened with ‘should’ anywhere near as much as you are. You don’t need to hear that your child ‘should’ be sleeping through the night at x months, rolling over at x months, smiling-laughing-sitting-eating solids-crawling-walking-talking at x months. But you will, because that is the world we live in.
So I ask that as much as possible, you tune it out. Look at your angel, remind yourself that before you blink, they will be doing it all, and enjoy the journey.