The Mommy Vortex: An Open Letter to My Preschooler
Now that you are almost “big girl five,” and getting ready to enter Kindergarten, I am writing this letter to you, hopeful that one day you will look at it when raising your own children, and avoid some of the nonsensical stress that inevitably overtakes us moms as we try desperately to figure out whether all those “official” developmental milestones matter. I want you to remember this: as a mother, you will unconditionally love your child, regardless of what that child can or will accomplish. The milestones, the accomplishments, they are for other people. Just love your child, and everything else will fall into place.
When you look at your own child, you will be filled with both love and worry. The doctor will hand you a developmental milestone chart, and you will read it obsessively, constantly wondering whether your child will timely meet those benchmarks. Throw the chart away.
Yes, I know it’s important to diagnose whether there are serious health issues; your pediatrician will help you with that. So throw away the chart, and enjoy your baby. Maybe she won’t roll over or pull herself up or drink from a sippy cup at exactly the week/month of development on the official chart. But she’ll do it eventually. And if she doesn’t, you’ll get necessary intervention, just like we did with you. But don’t obsess over it. You’re wasting precious play and exploration time. And baby-time is so fleeting.
While we’re on the subject of playtime, please don’t buy every new “educational” toy designated with some award or touted as being your child’s ticket into an Ivy League college. You loved to play with empty boxes and small, round Tupperware containers. I let you, even when other moms raised their eyebrows and whispered about how I was stunting your development. You’re doing just fine.
And about the other moms: they don’t know any more than you do. Yes, some mothers have great mom-experience, and your non-judgmental, helpful mom friends will be your lifeline in so many situations. Cherish them.
But that mother (or grandmother) at the grocery store who tells you your baby is going to die of hypothermia on a 70 degree day because she is not wearing a baby hat? Ignore her. Don’t even make eye contact. Just keep walking, because there is a lot more scare-tactic advice where that came from.
By the way, some of those moms and grandmas brag. A lot. Remember that other children’s accomplishments don’t diminish or undermine those of your own kids. When the mom of a two year old tells you her little genius is reading already, smile and nod. Don’t engage. And when she asks, “what do you mean your 18 month old can’t navigate your iPad? Haven’t you put her in a toddler computer class yet so she won’t be behind the other kids?” just keep smiling. I have never, ever witnessed anything good come from mom-competition (otherwise known as “mompetition”). Do your best to ignore it.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and forgive yourself when you do. Every new mom, every fourth-time mom, has made countless mistakes in raising their babies and toddlers. I once took a two-hour road trip with your brother, not realizing he wasn’t fully buckled in properly. Yes, that could have ended in tragedy, and I beat myself up over it for weeks. Moms are overwhelmed, and sometimes fear and exhaustion cloud their judgment. Forgive yourself, say a prayer of thanks that your child is not seriously hurt, and do better the next time. You’ll be a better person – a better mom – for it. (And don’t judge other moms too harshly, either. We’ve all been that mom.)
Try to remember that your child loves you unconditionally, and her self-esteem will directly reflect how you treat her. So please don’t force her into hobbies or sports she doesn’t like just because it will look good on a Kindergarten application (yes, I said Kindergarten application). There is so much pressure out there for young children to participate in multiple activities and test into fancy schools or specialized programs. They have to fill out applications, take test prep classes, and go on interviews before they can even tie their shoes.
Know your child before you put her through those paces, at any age. Maybe she’s not cut out for that type of environment. She can be just as special, just as talented, even if she’s not accepted (or didn’t even apply) to some specialized school program.
Don’t crush her self esteem with unnecessary pressure to achieve unattainable goals. Don’t force her to be someone you know she’s not just to meet someone else’s unrealistic expectations.
And while we’re discussing extracurricular activities, just find something fun for the two of you to do, even if it’s melting crayons in the oven. All those baby/toddler music and gym classes? They can be great fun, but maybe your child doesn’t like them or doesn’t do well in that type of setting. When I took your brother to toddler music classes, he couldn’t understand the concept of giving the instruments back after a song was done. After he clocked a few kids in the head with a maraca, we weren’t invited back. At the time I thought I was a bad parent.
In retrospect, I realize I was just forcing him to do something he wasn’t ready for, even if his milestone chart (the one I didn’t throw away, as I should have) dictated otherwise. And you know what? Now he plays a musical instrument voluntarily. So don’t push your kids too hard; sometimes understanding is just as effective. Encourage their passions; confidence will follow.
Above all, love your kids for who they are. They will develop into little people before you even see an eight-hour night of sleep. I look at you and I see all the possibility that your little life holds.
I don’t care whether you go to Kindergarten at our local school down the street or to a specialized school for the gifted. I only care that you are happy and that you know you are loved. I am quite confident that is enough.
PS – Because you have not yet met the “official” developmental milestones for recognizing letter sounds (never mind actually reading), I’ll hang on to this letter for another year (or two)…
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.