Learning to Praise Your Children for Who They Are, Not What They Do

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For the first year of my son’s life Philip seemed to reach milestones at an early age. He rolled over at 5 weeks. He began crawling at 6 months, and he began walking at 9 months. Philip reaching these milestones quickly only confirmed what I already knew: I had the smartest and brightest child! I know; every mother thinks her child is special. But I had confirmation and “proof” that my child really was extraordinary.

What should have been only confirmation that my son was a healthy and active child, his ability to reach milestones early instead fed my appetite of pride and expectations for him. And somehow I took these milestones as a reflection on me.

But then something happened to change this. By the time Philip was 1½, I realized that he was not hitting the talking milestone as quickly as were other children his age. Whereas other children his age were speaking in sentences, Philip was still babbling and saying many inaudible words. Suddenly, it seemed, I had turned into a worried, obsessive, and insecure mom. As a result, I began working hard to get Philip where I thought he needed to be with speech.

I didn’t stop with his talking. When he turned 2, I immediately went to work at getting him potty-trained. I mean other kids his age were already potty-trained! Let me tell you, it did not go well. He was simply not ready to be potty-trained. It boiled down to this: What I thought should be Philip’s timetable to meet certain milestones was shaped by comparing him with other children and maintaining this ideal expectation that he was an above-average child and therefore should be above-average in everything he did.

It has taken me almost 3 years to realize what I am about to tell you, but I am so thankful that I have realized it now. I was determining Philip’s worth and my worth as a mom by how fast he reached milestones. It is shameful and embarrassing to say, but it’s true. I was placing these expectations on Philip so that I could continue to believe that my son was special. But I have come to learn a few things since then.

hfheadshot3First, He is special and extraordinary not because of what he does but because who he is. I have always understood intellectually what unconditional love means, but I didn’t understand it fully until I became a mom. I love him completely and wholly. This love is not based on what he does but on who he is and my relationship to him – he’s my son. So to buy into the idea that he is special because of his ability to meet certain milestones quickly is foolish and antithetical to how I love him. He is special and extraordinary simply because he is my son and I love him.

Secondly, he will be great and above-average at some things and average and below-average at other things. It was completely illogical for me to assume that because he was an early crawler and walker that he would be an early talker and potty-trainee. I do not know one person in this world who excels in everything she does. So why would I expect something of my son that is not expected of anyone else? Just like parents’ unrealistic expectations of their children can be hurtful to them as adults, it can also be hurtful when they are young. The last thing I want in this world is to make Philip feel like he has disappointed me because he wasn’t ready or unable to do something. I do not want to set a precedent for him that he is to live to please mom.

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Thirdly, I remember the day vividly when I breast-fed Philip for the last time. I knew I would never get that time back with him. With every milestone he reaches I see a more independent little boy in front of my eyes. I rejoice at this; I want to raise a boy who will become a good man, husband and father one day. So why do I want to rush him? I don’t need to read the book, “I Love You Forever,” to know that in just a couple of pages he will have gone from a baby to a man. I don’t need reminding that one day he will no longer need my hands to help him or my arms to comfort him. So why rush it? Why insist on him reaching a milestone early as long as he is healthy and reaching them eventually? He’ll get there soon enough on his own time. Instead, I want to savor these moments and enjoy him today as he is.

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Kristen Padilla is a proud wife, mom and freelance writer. She writes about her reflections on her personal faith and family. She is married to Osvaldo and together they have one son, Philip, who will be 3 in April. When Kristen is not busy being a wife, mom and writer, she spends her time as a Happy Mama for Happy Family helping families in her Birmingham community learn about the importance of organics for all stages of life.

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