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When your child isn’t normal

December 22nd, 2004 · 6 Comments

Heather Armstrong yesterday wrote:

Last night we were at a neighborhood Christmas party when one of the neighbors I have never met walked up to Leta and me and asked how old she was. When I told him she was ten-months-old he asked if she was “walking all over the house” yet. I answered, simply, “No.”

He looked quite surprised and then continued, “Well, I guess she must be in that crazy crawling stage, huh?”

And when he said that it felt like a dagger went through my heart.

While I haven’t had a child like Leta, I have had those daggers hit my heart. Two of our three kids didn’t walk until 18 months, on the extreme of the curve. At that age, many kids have been walking half of their lives, while mine were barely able to take a step. Pediatricians have had concerns for our children, and our first one was subject to special scrutiny. My babies also tended to be low on the weight chart, to the dismay of those who wanted to plot points on a median curve. Each one of our children has had minor medical problems that have required extra attention.

Later in the same post dooce wrote

It’s not that I am ashamed of the fact that she isn’t crawling. It’s just, people ask me all the time if she’s crawling yet, and I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I feel like it’s my fault, and while I know that’s not true, I keep wondering if there’s something I should be doing that I’m not doing.

Between our scientific knowledge and our sense of parental responsibility, we moms and dads can feel it is our fault when our kids are off the curves on the chart. If they’re not crawling or walking or babbling or growing according to the standards and expectations, we parents bear the blame, or at least we carry it around on top of our shoulders, or lay on it like a bed of nails each night. Any question from a stranger or even a glance or awkward playground moment can make us wince, as the daggers descend.

I believe babies should be taken to physicians for regular medical care and that differences from the norm should be examined and evaluated. It is good to ensure as much as possible that the child is growing and developing as she should. Moms and dads should do what they can to help their children’s health.

However, I also see that there are limits to our responsibility as parents. I can wonder whether our daughters’ minor problems are due to my diet during pregnancy, something I ate, or something I didn’t eat. Maybe I stood too close to a piece of machinery for a moment. Or maybe I allowed too many ultrasounds. Maybe it was the antibiotic I took. My imagination can get carried away and shovel the blame onto me with weight. The guilt can grow – more than the child! – to the point where I am unable to change the situation or see it clearly for what it is.

It’s taken me years of parenting to begin to see our daughters for who they are. To see them without adding the filters of guilt, the lenses motherhood can tempt me to wear, blaming myself for every blemish, wondering whether their imperfections reflect on my lack of parenting.

My girls aren’t perfect. None of them ever will be. I can do my best as a mom. Ted and I will put in our efforts as parents. But our children will have flaws. They are imperfect people, like their parents. As a mom I can help shape and shepherd them. But there are areas of my daughters’ development that are beyond my control. No physician can fix them either. They are wild and alive. God has made each of our daughters in His own way. Each one, in her individuality, in her strengths and weaknesses, reflects back His mystery and beauty.

As I thought about writing this piece, I realized that part of the reason the daggers dig deep is due to the illusion that my child is the only one who is not normal. Watching my kids among others, sometimes I’ve felt aware of their flaws compared to the crowd. Questions from friends or strangers also have hurt rather than helped. I feel my kid must be the only one this way, and therefore I as a mom am also alone.

But as I think about the friends I have, the moms and dads we know well, I can’t think of one family where all the children are “normal” without any special concerns or health issues. The truth is that no one is normal. We all have our problems: parents, children, people – perhaps not identical to each other, but we each have ways where we don’t fit into the statistical curves. As we share how we are not the norm, we come together and discover how normal we are.

I wish I could give Heather a hug

Tags: motherhood

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tom Ligda // Dec 22, 2004 at 8:39 am

    Amen to that!

    One of the realizations that has affected me the most is that which came from being with other parents and their kids. It took us a while to put ourselves out there to meet other parents and also for each kid’s place in life to make itself known. Each kid has places of ease and places of difficulty and they are all wonderful and infuriating.

  • 2 enoch choi // Dec 22, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    we struggle with the same issues of nally being small. loved this post. touching…

  • 3 joann // Dec 22, 2004 at 10:38 pm

    I was just spending alot of energy a few days ago wondering if my lil’one was a bit on the small side, too!

    And we had some initial minor issues with our lil’one but seemed important at the time and now that lil’one is older, all seems OK. Actually, I can’t even remember what those problems were right this minute…

    It’s easy to worry a lot isn’t it? It’s easy to feel guilty like as if we, the parents, can fix all and make all perfect. But we can’t.

    I try not to get into those guilt slumps. I rather like to remind myself that lil’ones are all unique and will develop in their own way at their own time.

    But then, I do have those days where I’m wondering if it’s all my fault… standing too close to something during the pregnancy, etc. So, when my lil’one is a teenager and acts in a bizarre way, I’ll have my explanation! LOL 🙂

  • 4 Julie // Dec 23, 2004 at 1:02 am

    Thanks, everyone! 🙂

  • 5 katy // Jan 1, 2005 at 10:31 pm

    Who is to say what is “normal”? My teenage children are not “normal”. My daughter will not wear trendy clothes; we can’t find decent modest clothing at the mall. My son doesn’t play any sports, no soccer, no basketball, no track, nothing to talk to other parents about when they talk about going to practices and All-Star games.

    I am proud that my children know right from wrong, they know and love Jesus, they are kind to others. In the end, who cares when they started walking??

    Keep up the good work as a loving, conscientious parent.

  • 6 ay // Feb 24, 2005 at 11:40 am

    excellent reflection =). we all strive to be perfect, but it is only when we realize its the flaws that make life so unique and rewarding that we can truly accept who we are and be content with it.

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