Hoping to calm partner about baby's development
February 18, 2021 1:09 PM   Subscribe

The pandemic has been a lonely and tough time to have a newborn, and my partner is particularly struggling. In particular, my partner tends to feel extremely guilty about what they are doing to help the baby develop. Some examples below, but I'd love any articles or books that get across a message like "don't worry so much, the baby will be okay".

A couple examples:
- our 10 month old is totally fine developmentally according to our pediatrician, but when my partner sees a video from a friend whose younger baby is doing things our baby isn't, my partner will beat themselves up over not doing enough to promote talking or walking, etc. (when the reality is perhaps our friend's baby is just developing more quickly!)

- my partner will read a book about ways to encourage speech, and rather than feeling better about now having that knowledge to use going forward, they will become upset at the fact that they hadn't been using the knowledge even earlier - and thus blaming themselves as a bad parent

So I am trying to convince my partner that they are a perfectly great parent, that we aren't permanently screwing up our kid by not having done this or that ahead of time, that our friend's kid doing something doesn't mean our kid is delayed, etc. We are first time parents and it certainly hasn't been easy, but I am trying to calm the nerves of my partner.

Any articles or books you can point to that would encourage the better mindset that I am trying to promote for my partner? Or things that basically show the kids will be alright, regardless of whether you did this or that? And while I am sure there are plenty of anecdotes from members here who can speak to things they did as new parents, I'd really prefer more "official" reading materials that I can more comfortably share with my partner.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Emily Oster's book Cribsheet has a few chapters on milestones.
posted by weathergal at 1:54 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]

My daughter had some pretty significant delays. She didn't walk until she was 20 months old, for example, and never really crawled either. We had a physical therapist who was concerned she might have cerebral palsy, even. Then one day she stood up and walked, and she hasn't stopped running since. My wife was pretty (ok, really) nervous until that point. My nature is more low-key. My go-to mantra was that nobody gets a prize for walking first. When your kid is seven, or 18, or 62, no one is going to care that they started walking later than everyone else, or didn't write their name until 1st grade, or whatever. As long as they can do the thing then, that's good enough. As long as they're walking by the time they start kindergarten, that should be fine. And for intellectual stuff, sometimes it's even longer. The world is full of stories of people who didn't really get school until much later in life, in some cases even middle age. The most important thing is that your kid is happy and loved. If they've got that going for them, much of the rest will eventually work itself out.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:55 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend Ann Douglas's work - her books, her videos and I did a workshop with her. Here's one interview:

The secret to good parenting? Lose the guilt
posted by warriorqueen at 2:00 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

An assessment for postpartum anxiety should come before books. Perseveration or intrusive thoughts that one is hurting/will hurt the baby is a very common presentation.

After that, I highly recommend the One Bad Mother (the name stuck from early on, but the podcast and associated social networks are trans-inclusive and focused on parents and kids of all kinds) podcast and Facebook group as an antidote to feeling so terribly alone in the Newborn Forest, with a pandemic on top. Most of their episodes include expert guests, too, so your partner may want to browse by topic.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:02 PM on February 18 [32 favorites]

Kevinbelt is correct, and we had a similar experience (our older daughter was 18 months before she walked -- the day before we took her to an orthopedic specialist to have things checked out).

The thing is though, I bet your husband KNOWS that being happy and loved is the most important thing. Is it possible his worry/struggle is a manifestation of anxiety over the virus? An attempt to control a situation? Or even, is he somehow worried that YOU think he isn't doing enough? (I'm not saying you actually think that; but I had a terrible habit early in our parenting of thinking that my husband was silently judging my every move even though he wasn't).

Other than reassurance from you, and time, a couple counselling sessions might help?
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:03 PM on February 18

(To amend my suggestion: If the parent in question is not the one who was pregnant, an assessment for regular anxiety would be more appropriate, obviously. This is a big life change and a form of trauma and it's terrifying and high-stakes, it's okay to get help with that.)
posted by Lyn Never at 2:13 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Yeah, wow. I have no idea how I turned that into the husband was the one with the issue. There's clearly no husband mentioned. I'm so very sorry about that!
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:20 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

I do really remember that second part - I'd read about how you can do x or y with your child, and I'd be beyond that stage and feel sad/mad/bad that I hadn't known to do it. In general, babies are going to baby at their own rate! But maybe it's helpful to be prepared.

I liked this book from the Mayo Clinic with simple summaries and ideas for each month up to a year. Maybe you and your partner can read through the last two months and use the tips and ideas inside?

The Louise Bates Ames books are really good, too, this website also has a good summary (which for some reason starts at 18 months, even though Ames's books start at 12 months.) I really appreciate that the Ames books have half yearly stages, as I have found a 4.5 year old to be different than a 4 year old, etc.

It's really hard to stop comparing your child to others, but it's such a bad habit and can really rob you of enjoyment. There's so much fun to come for you both with your child.
posted by vunder at 2:25 PM on February 18

Has the partner been screened for postpartum anxiety? Either partner can get this, btw.
posted by rglass at 2:56 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]

Seconding Cribsheet; one thing of note in that book is how wide the range can be for normal development in babies and toddlers. It's very normal for children to teeth and walk and talk at very different ages.

One thing that has surprised us about our eight month old is how many tiny developmental moments there are. Recently he is making more sophisticated faces, he is learning to high five, he is trying out various different vocalizations, he has learned to sit up on his own, he does a movement like a skydiver that means 'pick me up', he does a kind of 'ma ma ma' sound that indicates that he wants something, he understands how to roll the ball back when it is rolled to him. These aren't the kind of things that appear in a study but there is something new every week, a new skill or a new aspect of his personality revealed.This makes sense if you think about it but it hadn't really occurred to us, how he is still changing and growing so quickly in tiny ways all the time. That's something that you and your partner can choose to revel in, to notice the small tangible progress that is happening before you.
posted by Kwine at 3:11 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

How about this: Early walker or late walker of little consequence
posted by plonkee at 3:49 PM on February 18

You might to take a look at Brazelton's book, Infants and Mothers which tracks the development of a child from birth to 12 months with examples of average, quiet and active babies - highlighting the natural variation in development associated with difference in temperament. (I know that your child is already 10 months and/or the gendered assumptions of the title might not work for your situation)
posted by metahawk at 4:28 PM on February 18

Hi Pandemic parent! My bbs are also 10 months! I see you! It has been a HELLUVA TIME.

Something that has helped me is adding a LOT of psychologists to my Instagram feed who make lil explainers to tell me I'm doing ok and not to worry (I started with healthiest_baby, thebalanceafterbaby, and themommypsychologist). Many of these aren't as gender inclusive as I'd like but it's still been helpful.

Also, those other babies? BLOCK EM. At least for now. You dont need to see lil Moonshine walk, it isn't helping. You aren't a bad friend for putting on your own anxiety oxygen mask first.
posted by athirstforsalt at 4:30 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Any chance of depression or anxiety? These responses sound a bit disordered and if so maybe therapy or medication would help.

Also, if partner was body-feeding the baby, and is now weaning or tapering the baby's feed schedule, their mental health can get a little awry with the hormone changes, and again, therapy can help.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:32 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Nothing makes me stress more than someone (my mom, my sister, my partner) telling me to chill out. I'm not sure you can calm your partner's nerves here. I'd take a step back and try to look at the big picture. Is your partner generally an anxious person? Even if not, we are in an extremely anxiety-provoking time, and being a new parent on top of that is a lot (as you know!). And add in the general new-parent-sleep-deprivation, and things sound quite tough.

Some of this stuff might get better with time. What's hard right now is that you're only seeing the curated stuff. You're not seeing the parent from the baby group post their perfect-baby content but then be all frazzled and stressed out during play group while the baby isn't perfect but just a normal baby. The isolation we're all in might be exaggerating this. Minimizing social media exposure could help.

But, parents never get past this stress and worry and will constantly compare. It can be exhausting to feel and even to witness. I don't think the right article will fix this. I suggest that in a time of calm, when nothing particular is wrong (as much as possible these days), have a conversation with your partner about how they're doing (which is to say, really listen), and also share your concerns about their anxiety and perfectionism, and how you see that impacting them and perhaps also you and your child. I don't want to presume that your partner is a woman, but it is extraordinarily common for women to take on the blame of every kid failure. A lot of this is about control, and we are in a time where so many things are out of our control. I'd try to approach this with compassion and understanding (no matter your partner's gender).

I'd also suggest they talk to a therapist. Maybe you all could scrape together some time in couple's therapy to talk about this, too. Because you could be getting into a weird dynamic here, of your partner having concerns, and then you dismissing those concerns, and then you're partner feeling you are minimizing their concerns. These worries and concerns aren't always reasonable, and I don't think you can reason them through this.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:33 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

The CDC has some nice developmental milestones charts and checklists, too. And a mobile app! What's great is that these mirror the screening questions your pediatrician will be asking you during your regular check-ins. Print out the checklist, stick it on your fridge. Check them off as you observe them, celebrate when your child hits those milestones, and bring that list into the pediatrician.

And look, I get it - there's enormous pressure and parent guilt if your baby doesn't hit the milestones. A PMAD (Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders) screening might be helpful for your partner, as others have recommended.

Good luck - things will get better, even if your baby doesn't hit the milestones or develop on your partner's perceived timeline. To paraphrase a parent friend of mine, "Have the patience and presence to let your child reveal themselves to you at their own pace."
posted by WedgedPiano at 7:36 PM on February 18

Just to highlight the point others have made about children naturally developing at different rates: we have identical twins. They have the exact same DNA and the exact same parenting. One starting standing two months before the others and then cruising and taking a few steps. We figured the other was 2 months behind. And then weekend she just just “caught up” and now they’re both running around at the same skill level.
posted by purplevelvet at 11:54 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I'm a person who likes probability distributions, so I found it useful to look at data like this from WHO stating that statistically crawling commonly happens anywhere from 6 - 12 months, and 4% skip it and go straight to walking.

(My kids were at the 99%ile age for walking, but it turns out, they walk fine and nobody cares when they started it.)
posted by away for regrooving at 12:16 AM on February 19

The CDC developmental guidelines and the ASQ quizzes at the intervals recommended by your pediatrician is all you need.

Yes, it is nice and good to read books about all the the things you can do and teach your kid! But at the end of the day, regardless of the quality of parenting most kids learn to walk and talk and do the basic developmental milestones that you are concerned about. Because basic development is NOT a function of parenting, it's a function of human biology. And if something doesn't/isn't happening it's not your fault. (There are exceptions to this regarding abuse and neglect, but that's not what we are talking about here)

In addition, Development is not as linear as we make it out to be, and some kids just skip steps that you expect to see.

My story is my kid didn't babble sounds like other kids. Didn't point. Just learned the word cat and didn't say anything else. At 14-15 months old we weren't super sure she knew the word mama. She got a speach eval and they were like yeah, she's definately behind. Well, turns out her little brain was busy on that walking motor skill stuff and as soon as she could walk the words started coming fast!

It's hard to have a young kid and all the what ifs out there. But there's a reason those quizzes by your doctor exist and they'll will tell you when to worry about this stuff.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:30 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]

Kids grow up fine in the most adverse conditions you can imagine. You sound like good parents. Maybe it would help to ask what your kid might be "falling behind" on? What is the source of her fear? Sometimes these are weird class issues coming out through parenting. Not all kids should or will go to Harvard and that is just fine.
posted by benzenedream at 2:44 AM on February 19

I am so much like your partner it's absurd. I find economist Bryan Caplan's book "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" is helpful for this. (It is a dumb title and is basically about how making yourself miserable being a parent is not worth it; twin studies apparently show that little you do with language development, for example, matters that much after early childhood.)

For example, in an interview he writes:

"Language fits a standard pattern. . . . [U]pbringing has a noticeable effect on the vocabulary of young children. But as children mature, this effect largely fades away. The Colorado Adoption Project found, for example, that 2-year-olds adopted by high-vocabulary parents had noticeably larger vocabularies. But as the kids grew up, their vocabulary scores looked more and more like their biological parents’. By age 12, the effect of enriched upbringing on vocabulary was barely visible."

Is this really true? I don't know. But I find it comforting that maybe my parenting style doesn't really matter that much for things like language.

The amazing Alison Gopnik has said something similar: “It is very difficult to find any reliable, empirical relation between the small variations in what parents do – the variations that are the focus of parenting [advice] – and the resulting adult traits of their children,” Gopnik writes in her recent book The Gardener and the Carpenter. “There is very little evidence that conscious decisions about co-sleeping or not, letting your children ‘cry it out’ or holding them till they fall asleep, or forcing them to do extra homework or letting them play have reliable and predictable long-term effects on who those children become. From an empirical perspective, parenting is a mug’s game.”

But even better for me is the idea of "good enough parent" -- particularly that not only is "good enough" actually good enough, but a Good Enough is actually PREFERABLE to a Perfect Parent. I love this article -- the best thing you can do for your child is help them have a happy childhood, and maybe that's ALL you can do for them as adults. And if you're seeking perfection now, it's really hard to do that (and may rub off on your kids, as that may mean you expect them to be perfect, better than peers, etc., even though you don't really believe this.) I re-read it every so often to help me let go and just BE with my kid.

And put down all the baby advice books!
posted by heavenknows at 3:57 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]

I know you are looking for reading material, but if it is at all possible I would also consider other live parents as a source of information in whatever capacity is possible right now. It's one thing to read about what's normal, it's another to actually see that range and to hear about real people's real experiences. And it can't hurt to try and alleviate the loneliness. New parenting can be so so lonely in the best of times. Even if it's a Zoom sing-along or a masked and distanced stroller walk or whatever kind of subpar activities are currently available.
posted by Viola Swamp at 9:41 AM on February 19

I’m going to go the opposite route of everyone here: Sometimes things really are wrong. Most people are unaware that ultrasounds cannot detect all problems, nor can blood or DNA testing. Even these days with all the modern science we have, it is true that some children have mental delays that only become apparent as they age. Waiting for this to become apparent is an excruciatingly painful process because everyone constantly gaslights you with the best of intentions. “Oh, this kid was fine!” “Oh, don’t compare!” “Oh, you’re overreacting!” “Oh you have PPD!” “Oh, calm down!” “Oh, make sure you do tummy time!” “Oh have you tried xyz?”

I experienced all of this as cruel and intensely invalidating. It was enormously unhelpful and actually much worse than just accepting “yes, your kid may have serious problems. That’s tragic. Of fucking course you feel sadness and despair. I’m here for you. Let’s plan for the worst case and hope for the best.”

The first time someone said this to me, I sobbed for an hour because I finally, finally felt seen and actually supported.
posted by stockpuppet at 7:13 AM on February 20

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