So we’re all aware that the competition is flourishing in modern parenting, starting pretty much at conception and carrying on endlessly. The best pregnancy diets, drug free births, breast verses bottle, working mums verses stay at home, which baby reaches the milestone first, whose child is the highest achieving. The list goes on and on. We as parents can either choose to join in the battle or turn our back on it. Are we going to give in to today’s pressure to be a perfect parent and have the perfect child, and head on into a war with other mums? Just in order to massage our fragile parenting egos? Or are we going to take a step back and realize that none of it really matters in the long run? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter whose child walked first, talked first, read first or who gets the best grades?
Children need to do things in their own time, without pressure
When Skyler was born and we returned to Africa, I felt like I had kind of escaped it all. We have smaller community here and it just seemed way more relaxed. I don’t really have any memories of feeling judged by anyone or in competition with other Mums; we just kind of got on with it. Although, I have also never paid attention or really cared about anyone else’s opinions either so maybe that plays a part. It’s a good job really to, as Skyler never did anything first! He never crawled, walked just before he was 15 months and had a speech delay until just after he turned 3. But now he is 5, talking beautifully, has a thirst for knowledge and is a very happy and content boy. He is living proof that they all get to where they are heading, whenever they are ready to get there. I learnt that milestones don’t really matter and to just listen to your mothering instincts way before River even came along, with Skyler preparing me for the challenge.
Anyway, I never went into the whole competitive parenting thing with Skyler, and I’m so glad as it’s unnecessary and damaging to both our children’s and our own self esteem. It’s so exhausting to be constantly wanting your child to be the best, or wanting to prove that your parenting techniques are superior to others and it’s really unfair. What happens to your child’s sense of self-worth when they fail to achieve something or struggle? No few minutes of feeling like a perfect mum in front of your playgroup crowd, is worth making your child feel like they’re not good enough. Nor is a few minutes of giving yourself an ego boost worth making a worried mum feel like shit.
The actual reason for this article!
As usual I’ve got so carried away that I haven’t even reached my point yet! Right, so regardless of how I feel about this parenting battle, I knew it existed in the typical parenting world. What I didn’t expect was for it to exist in the Down syndrome community. But it does and it is fierce!
For example, the other day I was reading through the posts on a support group I’m a member of. Another member was worried about her daughter not being able to crawl yet at nearly two years old, and she was after some advice and reassurance. There was lots of helpful advice, tips, encouragement and support, but there’s always one. There is always that bloody one and the following comment came up –
“My daughter crawled at 9 months and was walking by 13 months. She is very much following the typical milestones chart and she amazes us every day”.
That was it! Just that! No words of advice on things she had done to aid her daughter, no mentioning of how all our children are different and reach their goals at different times. No mentioning of how children may excel in some areas but be delayed in others, as yes her daughter may be physically capable but what about in other areas? Honestly, how was that comment helpful in any way? It didn’t even acknowledge the original question and was just a blatant brag. I have a thick skin and actually found it quite funny, but then I’m not concerned that River is over two years old and not walking yet. The poor mum who was worrying herself probably felt like she had been slapped in the face! I mean, the person who commented may as well have said –
“MY daughter is better than yours, nah nah nah nah nah” (followed by blowing a big raspberry!).
I thought the competitiveness wouldn’t apply to us
When River was diagnosed I felt a kind of relief that milestones became irrelevant to us. Nobody knew when he was going to reach them, and the variety of ages that kids with Ds master things is on a huge scale. I loved the fact that we could be out on the sidelines and not be included in the “I got there first’ arguments. I genuinely did throw away the milestone expectations and have never looked at a single chart on what he should be doing at what age. I really just don’t care, and that is the truth. I made peace with the fact that River will have development delays a long time ago and I don’t feel the need to prove otherwise anymore. I am very committed to giving him the resources to achieve things, but to sit back and just allow him to get there when he gets there. It has taken so much pressure off me and made the whole journey so much more bearable and less stressful.
There’s a reason why we do it to ourselves
And I get why as parents of children with Down syndrome we do it, I really do. We all want to cling to the fact that our children are going to be just fine, that they are keeping up with their peers and that Ds in going to have a minimal impact on their lives. That they are ‘high functioning’ (I hate that term and it’s so damaging to people with disabilities. Are children who are not ‘high functioning less?)?
Also, it’s a different kind of competition to the usual army of mums of typical children. It’s not really that we are desperate for our kids to do things first, we just want them to do them full stop. Other parents may feel stressed about their children reaching their milestones a bit later, but deep down they have the comfort that they will eventually get there. We don’t have that luxury; we don’t have the comfort of knowing as nothing is certain with our babies. There is a doubt that they may never achieve things and that is why we cling to every hope that they are above average.
River’s diagnosis was the easy part
The hardest part about learning River had Downs syndrome actually wasn’t the diagnosis for me. I’ve written about it before, and I actually coped with it really well and our experience was a positive one. The hardest part for me was the realization that no matter how much I convinced myself otherwise, River was going to be affected by his disability. He wasn’t going to be the first person with Down syndrome to stay completely at development level with his peers and live a totally ‘normal’ life. In his early life he threw me off a bit as he lifted his head up at days old, rolled over at weeks old, sat up at 9 months, crawled at 12 months and even said his first words just after his first birthday. He was at the back end of typical milestones, but on the whole it was easy to convince myself that he was keeping up just fine. But reality did come, and although I’m accepting of it now, at the time it was hard to hear.
The simple fact is that the development delays become way more noticeable as our children grow up, and that is probably why this type of parenting competition is so much more noticeable among parents of young children with Down syndrome. We are just not fully there yet in our processing of what Down syndrome means for our children, and it is a process that we all go through in our own time. Reality will come to us all though, and although it is hard, it is actually how we choose to deal with it that will influence the lives of our children. We can choose to feel permanently hard done by and disappointed, or we can choose to accept our children for exactly who they are. Who they are meant to be. I chose the latter.
Our children deserve better
We really do have to stop this competitiveness, the need to want to be best and have the best child. We have enough worries in our lives without parents from our own community adding to it. And not only that, it goes against everything we are trying to change about society. We live in a world that is fueled by competition, with a belief that by being the best at something makes you better as a person. I don’t want that to be my world. In typical parenting, whose child is the fastest, highest achieving and most capable has become so important, and it’s harmful and exhausting to everybody. If your child struggles at something or fails at something, do you feel less proud of them or see them as less worthy as a person? You’re probably thing ‘of course not’, but even if you don’t think so, your children will.
I’m not saying don’t celebrate your children’s accomplishments, not at all. Every parent has the right to brag and most definitely should, but just at the right moments. I love hearing about the achievements of other children with Down syndrome, whatever age, and every single accomplishment should be celebrated. People with Down syndrome were not celebrated for so long, and it’s about time they were! Just don’t make it into a competition, don’t spar our children off against each other. They are a team, and they are struggling to be accepted by society together. We need to join up and celebrate every single child, not just our own.
Make an effort to be a different kind of Mum
As parents of children with Ds it is our duty to do this. It is our job to fight against this style of parenting and not be a part of it. We want a world where our abilities don’t determine our worth, but our drive and our determination do. Where if a child is delayed, they are still worthy of inclusion. They are still entitled to a normal childhood just as much as anyone else. They are still worthy and deserving of peoples respect, and do not deserve to be out casted by society because they are different. How are we meant to change the world if we can’t even change our own Down syndrome community?
Please try not to fall into this typical style of modern parenting, fight it with all you are worth. Let’s celebrate our children together, let’s build each other up, support each other and celebrate every accomplishment of every child. Whenever it is they reach it! We are a community and it is so important that we remember we are in this together. And most importantly, our children are in this together – let’s make them a winning team.