Labor Pains: I’m Frustrated By My Toddler’s Late Milestones

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toddler milestonesMy daughter is a toddler who doesn’t toddle. She is 17 months old and she doesn’t walk. And before you ask: yes, she stands, yes she cruises on furniture, and yes, we’ve forced her into taking a step here or there. But no, she’s not interested in walking.

“You don’t want her to walk,” is the common refrain. “That’s when the trouble begins.”

I usually smile in response. Of course you are right, my nod implies. But inside, I want to yell, “You are an idiot! Of course I want my daughter to reach a huge physical milestone! She’s 17 months old and weighs over 30 pounds. The time has come!”

We’ve been here before, my daughter and I. She was a late mover. A late roller. A late smiler. A late crawler and a late stander. At each of these milestones, I’ve done everything I can to help facilitate her growth. I’ve Googled, talked to her doctor, and sought help on message forums and from friends. But nothing has made my daughter move before she wanted to. She smiled at almost nine weeks. She really began rolling around five months. Sitting didn’t start until nine months. Crawling took off at 12 months. And walking? We’re still waiting for it.

Do I seem defensive? That’s because I am.

My doctor suggested we consider physical therapy if she’s not walking by 18 months. And every time I take my daughter to church, walk by our neighbor’s house, or pop into our local grocery store where the clerk knows me by name, I hear, “So, is she walking yet?”

“No,” I smile. “But she does say ‘provolone’!”

And then the advice comes. “Is her doctor worried?” “Have you tried bribing her?” “Why don’t you stop carrying her?” “Oh, just stop worrying about it!” “You don’t want her to walk anyway.”

In response, I cringe. I smile. I walk away with my chubby, happy baby nestled in my arms. And my daughter? She grins and waves, completely unphased by the condescension of strangers or my irritated sighs. The sight of other children running laps around her doesn’t frustrate or motivate. She simply smiles and claps for them, or points and yells, “Oh no, baby!” When she thinks they’re too far away.

My daughter’s refusal to walk has placed me directly at the intersection of public criticism, my own expectations and who she is as a little woman. And she is lovely, bold, confident, cheerful, and generous, so why do I care if she walks or when? Shouldn’t I just be happy that she is happy?

Maybe. But that’s not how it works. I hate the constant comments and I hate that I hate them. I am the adult, or that’s what the age on my driver’s license seems to imply. I should know by now that outside criticism is nothing to be cowed by. And I should know that if we have to go to physical therapy, my daughter will be fine. She’ll think it’s a lovely game, learn how to walk, and be on her merry way. (And it is a merry way.) In the end, being a late walker won’t keep her out of Harvard and, despite my fears, I won’t be carrying her to kindergarten. (I might have to roll her in a wagon.)

But that’s the truth about parenting. Physical milestones. Breastfeeding. Organic food. Baby wearing. Sleep training. Potty training. It’s more about me than it is about her. My frustrations and my pains come when I have to adjust my expectations and approach to meet the demands of the lovely, stubborn, happy little woman that she is.

But in the end, that’s all I want her to be—the person she is, not the person I think she should be, or the person other people think she should be. So, I continue to heft her to my hip. I try to stop Googling and do my best to enjoy these moments before she takes her first steps out of babyhood and into toddlerhood. That’s when the real trouble begins.

Or so they tell me.

(photo: MidoSemsem/ Shutterstock)