In early pregnancy, looking ahead to the months to come and early babyhood, you’d be forgiven for thinking child development follows a perfectly linear path. Stats are the order of the day. Fetal growth is neatly marked on a graph, head circumference and femur length compared on a percentile chart, birth weight seemingly so important it appears on every birth announcement.
Then, as your baby grows and learns new skills, you can tick off significant milestones. Lifting head? Check. Rolling from tummy to back? Check. Crawling…. Walking… Talking…. Check, check, check.
In the midst of these major milestones are the quieter, but still important ones. Are they eating solids, feeding less frequently, sleeping in their own room, sleeping through the night?
It can feel like a race, always looking ahead, and at other babies of the same age, to see what comes next. And your baby does this too, filled with an irrepressible drive to keep moving forward, straining to lift that head up, pulling up as soon as crawling is mastered, and practicing all hours of the day and night.
Yet you might find your experience of parenting this baby doesn’t feel linear at all. Instead, babyhood seems to be full of false starts, plateaus and sudden bursts into super speedy turbo drive. Your baby who did sleep through the night at 6 months, just as the Health Visitor said she should, suddenly wakes up starving every hour at 9 months. And the baby you proudly boasted ‘loves his food’, refuses all of your lovingly prepared tidbits and even goes on a nursing strike. Your toddler who has slept in her own room for weeks decides mummy’s bed is now her favourite place.
What appears to be regression can be disheartening when you’ve become used to a decent nights’ sleep/not scraping an entire plate of food into the bin/sleeping in a position that doesn’t result in dead arms. But these steps back are in fact your baby’s way of getting ready for that running jump forward, the regression before a very speedy progression (this is detailed in the brilliant book, and app, The Wonder Weeks)
So after weeks of sleepless nights, your roller starts crawling, your crawler starts walking, your babbler starts talking.
While for younger babies and toddlers, these steps back are down to internal pressures to move onwards. Sometimes, in older babies and children, the regression might be to do with external pressures. It’s not unusual for a toddler just starting nursery to suddenly want to be carried everywhere, or for a new older sibling to decide babbling is the only possible source of communication for now.
And although you might get used to the dance of development, what about feeling that runs alongside? That agitated, unsettling, sometimes somewhat insane feeling of never quite having a handle on things. The disappointment of realising your toddler, who has been napping like clockwork for months, is now dropping a nap, and the reshuffling of your routine that demands. The dread of realising you’re far from home with no change of clothes when your long-ago-potty-trained preschooler suddenly starts having accidents again.
Again, what we’re talking about is moments. Knowing that, just as the easy going, well rested, sunny-mooded phases pass, so do the high velocity tantrumming, sleepless, crotchety phases. And in between are the perfectly ordinary, nothing special, sometimes grumpy sometimes hilarious days of family life. And on they pass, learning from each other but knowing those kids will always be a step ahead.