When I was in physical therapy to fix my diastasis recti, my therapist asked me to get on hands and knees and extend one arm forward while moving the opposite leg back. I tipped over. She asked me to repeat the exercise with a smaller range of motion, and once again, like a cow, I tipped right over.
Her initial reaction was that I had a neurological problem, but something didn't mesh. I wasn't uncoordinated, suffered no dizzy spells or other problems. I was an avid hiker and biker, it just seemed that somehow, the two sides of my body didn't quite know how to work together.
As we puzzled, she asked how my son was doing and whether or not he was crawling. "He just started, but if he's anything like me," I proudly stated, "he'll skip crawling and get up and march away."
A light went off above her head. "You never crawled! That's why you can't do this!" The more we explored the theory, the more obvious it became. There were a handful of things in life that I inexplicably sucked at: riding motorcycles (despite being a mountain biker), certain types of dancing, and basketball, even though I rocked at hockey and baseball. All of these things required a strong cognitive connection controlling the two sides of the body, and since I skipped crawling, that never formed.
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The more I looked into the matter, the more I read about similar situations where–whether by natural ability or the parents' desire to speed things up–children were suffering because the basic building blocks of a skill was not put into place. Children who skipped crawling were clumsy later in life and those who were not exposed to a variety of words for the sake of mastering a few words fell behind at school.
But it doesn't just stop at skills. Phases like tantrums, stubbornness, and fear all play a vital role in the child's neurological development. A recent study found that children who had pronounced stubbornness were more likely to be successful later in life, and a number of reports have found that teenage rebellion serves a number of functions, like preventing inbreeding and fostering independence.
I was relaxed and happy, finally free from the intense pressure to keep up with the kid-ashians.
Shutting these functions down through punishment or appeasement, rather than working through them, renders the potential to stump the child's emotional development. Rather than turning to YouTube or ice cream to get you through these phases, parents can use them as opportunities to ingrain good behaviors and confidence, which may be lacking if the child does not work through them.
Once I had learned all of these things, I suddenly felt a strong sense of relief. A compulsive list maker and deadline-meeter my whole life, I had not only worried about my son not meeting his milestones, but was panicked that I was secretly missing one. It seemed impossible to keep track of everything, and now, I no longer had to.
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I deleted all my tracker apps and committed myself to helping my son learn what he needed to learn, when he wanted to learn it. When he finally stood up and started walking, it was an amazing surprise, rather than an event that had run late. When he finally said his first words, I laughed to myself at the mom who had insulted my parenting at the pool months earlier, and remembered all the witty comments I wanted to shout at her, but couldn't think of at the time. The pediatrician confirmed that everything was on track, and that as a trilingual, Hugo was more than welcome to work on his language skills slowly.
I was relaxed and happy, finally free from the intense pressure to keep up with the kid-ashians. One day, my son followed me to the bathroom and went potty without me ever asking him to and I knew that this natural approach to parenting was working and I had created a little human being who was learning to do the things he needed to do. I couldn't have been prouder. The next day, he pooped on the kitchen floor, but it didn't bother me.
I know he'll figure it out sooner or later.