Thursday, September 19, 2013

Boasting

We all know the stereotype.

Here's the latest incredible development in my child's life! He rolls over! She uses a spoon! He says "Uh oh" in the most adorable way! She sings 'Twinkle Twinkle'! He puts his blocks away! She is nice to the cat!

All said as if these are somehow special, unique, nearly impossible occurrences.

If you're a good friend of a mom, you've nodded and given appreciative responses, even as you've thought, "I guess this is a big deal for her." Perhaps in a more cynical moment, one might even dare to consider, "So what? Is she trying to take credit for this? Aren't they supposed to do that eventually?"

The answers are yes, yes, yes.

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This phenomenon is often chalked up to boastfulness. Yes, there is a level of pride when a child reaches any sort of milestone. It further demonstrates that you are sending them along a healthy developmental path. And yes, I do love getting a supportive smile from others.

It can be easy to forget that it might not be the biggest deal to the rest of the world. If you don't have a child yourself, you should see how this kind of thing can escalate when TWO moms compare notes.

"She uses a spoon."

"That's great! Mine just learned to use a fork."

"Wonderful! We're skipping the bib these days."

"How exciting! We had some success with a regular cup this morning!"

It may sound competitive but at heart, it isn't. It's two moms realizing that someone else can understand the triumph involved. Hidden beneath these simple statements are quite a few layers of consequences. No longer hand-feeding a child means mom can eat her own food at the same time. Bibs are yet another thing to wash and remember to bring everywhere you go (and find moldering in the bottom of your purse). Sippy cups fill up dishwashers and drying racks with endless lids, valves, and straws. Quite often the impulse to help your kids reach new levels of achievement comes from a basic need to be done with the time-consuming trappings of babyhood.

Plus, in many cases, it takes endless working with the child to have them attempt such things. If left to their own devices, how soon would a child decide that a fork is a better idea than using their hands? On this specific topic, I was very lucky, as Theo does not like to get his hands dirty, and as soon as he realized he could eat AND keep his hands clean, he was on it. I never expected that of him, and wouldn't be surprised to hear that a child of four would have to be reminded to not eat mac & cheese with fingers.

See what I did just there? I slipped in a boast, right in the middle of a discussion about boastfulness. Theo used a fork early. But was it really a boast? Again, there are layers of meaning to any milestone, and especially ones that develop early. A child that won't use his hands for food when they're still not very capable with utensils can be its own nightmare. Many times we tried to get him to just use his hands because he just wasn't doing well in getting it with a fork. Now that he's a little older the focus shifts to using utensils well. He likes to turn the fork or spoon over as it goes into his mouth, often with messy results, but so far we have been unable to break him of it.

So much of this type of thing is nature, not nurture, and taking credit is tricky. Let's round up the possible layers of information being delivered in "boastful" one-liners:
  • Child's personality enables certain abilities
  • Child has learned new ability
  • Parent taught child new ability
  • Parent is coping with child's new ability
  • Parent is freed up by child's new ability

And this is just the beginning of the conversation, as evidenced by my second paragraph on Theo's adventures with using forks. I could literally talk for hours about how Theo's personality affects his attitudes and capabilities in eating. In fact, I have.

It can be hard to know what is and isn't good milestone conversation. I have learned not to jump in when moms talk potty training, as Theo trained easily, and I never want to come off as dismissive or unsympathetic, as I know I dodged a huge bullet (more boasting?). But when there's talk about cry-it-out bedtimes, shy homebodies, or stubbornness, I know I have experience in these areas, and that while I have a few success stories, I can definitely commiserate, and continue to need advice and support, too.

When it comes to talking to those who don't have kids, I try to keep it straightforward. If you ask for more detail you'll get it, but there's no reason to dive in with endless histories of how we got to this wonderful point in time.

Here's mine for today: Theo chose his clothes AND got dressed entirely by himself this morning.

Hooray!