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The Hardest Parenting Lesson I’ve Had to Learn

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Photograph by Twenty20

As a card-carrying perfectionist/overachiever, I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I came into motherhood with high expectations for my kid. Or, rather, I had high expectations for myself as a mom. I assumed that by being a supermom, I would somehow have control over when my daughter would meet all her milestones.

I was sure she would be ahead of the curve with everything. Because she’d have me working intently to help get her there. Spoiler alert: My daughter is 5 years old now and has been delayed on almost every milestone we’ve come up against.

She didn’t start walking until just shy of 18 months. It took two years of serious effort for her to learn her colors. She flunked out of skating lessons—twice. She’s still riding a push bike because the pedals absolutely terrify her. And after two years of my trying to teach her to swim and over a year of lessons, she’s only now starting to do something that actually looks like swimming.

With the milestones her pediatrician tracks—rolling, crawling, fine motor, gross motor—she has had this way of waiting until we start to worry before she masters a new skill. In fact, we were about two weeks away from being referred to a specialist before she started walking.

And yet, she always gets it. Whatever it is I’m left waiting not-so-patiently for her to do, she always figures out. Usually well behind her peers, but at a much faster trajectory.

That is one thing I can say for my kid: There generally aren’t a ton of in-between steps for her. She either has something, or she doesn’t. All this time will go by where I'll think she’s not going to get something at all, and then all of a sudden, it just clicks. She has it.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that there is nothing I can do to push her along. When I try, I only seem to make matters worse. My kid does best when she’s allowed to progress at her own pace, which means I’ve had to learn how to be patient—something that does not come naturally to me at all.

I’ve had to temper my own desire to compete because we can’t compete. My daughter likes to do things in her own time.

I have a group of close friends who all have kids around the same age and as much as I hate this about myself, I sometimes can’t help but compare where all the kids are with certain things. I’m often disappointed when I realize my girl is at the back of the pack.

I’ve had to work on that and to temper my own desire to compete because we can’t compete. My daughter likes to do things in her own time.

One of the things I’ve really had to realize is that none of this is a reflection on me. I’m a good mom. I'm an involved mom. I’ve taken her to those specialists when the falling behind has reached a worrisome point, and we are regulars at speech and occupational therapy appointments every week.

I’ve done everything a mom should do and, at the end of the day, I’ve had to realize that there are some things I simply can’t control. My daughter always gets where she needs to be, she sometimes just needs a little extra help in overcoming the hurdles. And that’s OK.

Sure, my Type A personality makes it hard to come to terms with her being at the back of the curve, but sometimes I think we get the child we need. My child has helped teach me some valuable lessons: It’s OK for people to do things in their own time, and sometimes there are more important things than being at the front of the pack.

My daughter is sweet, charming, unbelievably empathetic and ridiculously smart. She has this way of solving problems that routinely helps her get through situations without anyone realizing she might be struggling with something everyone else has figured out.

I see her mind working all the time, finding ways to overcome the challenges she’s up against, and I’m so constantly in awe of how she navigates her world.

She’s not the kid I thought I’d have, but in so many ways I think she’s better: She’s taught me to calm the fuck down a little, and I’d like to think maybe I’ve taught her to keep striving.

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