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Why Do Some Parents Obsess Over Milestones?

Mother helping daughter learn to walk
Photograph by ThinkStock

I remember several years ago when I was touring preschools for my firstborn here in West Los Angeles. I didn't even know you were supposed to "tour" preschools until word on the street got me all worried about whether or not I would even find a spot for my kid, since I didn't know I was supposed to have had her on a waiting list for area schools since she was like a week old.

I remember standing in one particular preschool, jammed into a tiny classroom with other panicked parents and feeling out of place because I wasn't holding a notebook or clipboard. I mean, was I really supposed to be taking notes? I hadn't heard that word on the street. Damn.

I watched as most of the parents scribbled in their notebooks. What were they writing exactly? I was dying to know.

The director of the school pointed out the various activities that would engage our kids throughout the school day—puzzles in this corner, books over here, story time over there on that rug. I watched as most of the parents scribbled in their notebooks. What were they writing, exactly? I was dying to know.

Puzzles in northeast corner of classroom, crayons are disorganized, story rug seems small and needs to be cleaned …?

As everyone took notes, I looked around and wondered what I was supposed to be looking for. My little girl was 3 years old. I figured I was just looking for a safe, happy and colorful place for my kid to hang out for a few hours.

When the director asked if there were any questions, one mom asked, "How often do you rotate the puzzles on the puzzle table?" Whaaat? I thought. Is she joking? The director must have heard this question before, because she handled it without even cracking a smile.

And the next question: "Will there be any classroom time spent on learning to read?"

Read? I thought. Sure, my daughter was a genius and all, but reading was not on my radar. I mean, I was just happy if she had a successful potty trip.

And so it began for me. With that first preschool tour, I jumped into a world of parent peers who were concerned about all kinds of issues and milestones about which, for some reason, I didn't feel the same urgency. For better or worse, I have realized that I possess a pretty laid-back approach toward my kids' progress.

For example, my firstborn daughter absolutely worshipped her pacifier. As in, she couldn't live without it. Neither could I. And she didn't only have one. She had three. One she sucked, one she held in one hand and squeezed the sucky part, and one she held up to her nose and sniffed the plastic. Am I sharing too much here?

Every night I would give her those three pacifiers so she could get herself to sleep with her complicated—or, as I prefer to think of it, sophisticated—pacifier routine. She didn't suck pacifiers throughout the day, it was only as part of her bedtime routine. As she got older, the pacifier discussion with moms I knew grew more intense.

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"When is she going to give up her pacifier?"; "You know, kids are not supposed to suck pacifiers past 2 years old"; "It's bad for their teeth"; "It's bad for their self-soothing development"; "Pacifiers are wrought with bacteria"; "I told my kid it's time to pack up your pacifier and send it to a baby who needs it"; "I cut the tip off my kid's pacifier so he can't suck it anymore …"

And the whole time I kept thinking, she'll give up her pacifier when she's ready.

Everyone thought I was crazy. And maybe I am. But, one night, when my daughter was 5 years old, I got her trio of pacifiers ready and walked them into her bedroom to get her settled in for the night, and she said so matter-of-factly, "It's OK, mommy … I don't need them anymore."

I left her room, stood in the hallway and cried.

My pacifier lover is now 10 years old, likes to braid her own hair and does well in school. Her teeth are just fine, and it looks as if she won't need braces of any kind. She barely remembers her pacifier dependence. But I'll never forget not only how much she loved them, but also how suddenly she didn't need them anymore.

And that is pretty much how this parenting gig continues to shake down for me. The peer chatter continues all around me about all kinds of milestones and kid issues and grades and progress. And, for me, each day slides into the next, and my kids are changing and learning and growing ... and I can barely keep up.

My third child, my son, just started kindergarten this year, and reading is all the rage in his classroom. He struggles more with words than my girls did, but I have no doubt that he will read when he's ready. He is, after all, a genius, too.

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