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Developmental Milestones: Opt Out


Developmental MilestonesParent: “When are they supposed to walk? He is not walking yet.”

Me: “He is supposed to walk whenever he walks.

Are you noticing that he is experiencing frustration around mobility that leads you to want to offer him some extra help in some way?

Or is he perfectly happy and walking his own journey (pun intended) and you are feeling insecure about comparisons and shoulds?

I can help with either.”

Parents often come to me seeking developmental charts. In this culture of competition and pathology, the pressure to race and label is immense. As someone trained in psychological diagnosis, I get it. The pervasiveness of the mainstream parenting framework is so difficult to see through. But you can step outside of it.

If often begins with something like joining an email list when you’re pregnant The weekly updates on the development of your fetus help you to feel connected with your baby but once you have your baby, it makes you feel disconnected. Isn’t that interesting? Because you have this little human being right in front of you telling you everything you need to know. You can get to know them instead of an idea of what they could be.

You can opt out and join me in refusing to play the game altogether.

“But how will I know if there is a problem?!”

“Is your child happy? Are they able to be their best selves?

If so, there is no problem. If not, you can give or get your child the support they need.”

You are the world’s foremost expert on your child. You do not need fancy letters after your name or numbers on a chart to tell you your child is okay. You know if your child is okay because you are there. You are there reveling in the joys and supporting through the struggles.

Here’s the thing, if your kid talks at 9 months or 4 years, the parenting response is the same: supporting your child where they’re at.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: the race isn’t real. There is no research showing that the child who speaks earliest is more likely to find the cure to cancer or be a millionaire. The sense of urgency to rush from milestone to milestone, elbowing your peers along the way – it’s made up. You can choose to allow your child to lead down their own path instead of dragging them along at breakneck pace and they will be better for it (so will you).

There is a chart somewhere that says that at X years of age a child “should” be able to sit silently in a chair for X number of hours. My argument is that if you notice your child is not thriving when expected to sit silently in a chair for hours, hear what they are telling you they need and shift around that. No milestone marker or diagnosis needed.

This doesn’t mean that averages, labels, and specialists are useless. As a specialist and parent myself, research that informs us on human developmental norms can be tremendously valuable. Labels, when personally adopted, can bring about comfort, community, and treatment. Receiving the guidance of a person who has spent years learning about and working with a particular challenge can bring about immeasurable growth and relief.

You can still use the same tools, but it is not from a place of being broken.

“But what if my kid has something serious like Autism that could be helped by early intervention?”

“You’re sensing a lack of connection with other people and you’re noticing sensory challenges. Whatever you’re experiencing, there are likely other people who have experienced something similar and labels may help you to connect with them. But your child is unique and our goal is to help support your child in being his best self, whatever that looks like for him. So let’s look at some tools for his specific challenges and see what he finds helpful.”

Delete the milestone tracking app. Stop comparing your child to their friends. Take a slow, deep breath. Have peace around where your family is today, right now in this moment. As challenges arise, shift your lifestyle and approach to better meet their needs and offer tools to help support them.

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I work from an island in the Pacific Northwest, where I live wild and free in connection with my hilarious husband and three growing sailors in our fixer upper on the beach. I authentically live this healing work out loud raising my own neurodivergent family (inner child included) and draw on my decades of education and experience (I've done all the nerdy work so you don't have to) to guide a revolution of overwhelmed parents just like you to feeling at peace within yourself, consciously connected with your children, embraced by a supportive community, and enjoying a values-aligned life you love.

Gentle parenting, natural homeschooling, & simple living mentor

I'm Rachel Rainbolt

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