I've known no greater joy so far in my life than being a mom. Even with all the work and effort, lack of sleep, exhaustion, and the change of pace, there really isn't a way to describe the delight and miracle it is to grow, birth, and raise a tiny person. Watching my daughter change and develop from a baby to a budding little girl over the past nine months has brought many emotional moments for me, but I refuse to be sad about my baby growing up.
I can't say that I haven't shed tears after she had her first bath or reached for my face for the first time. I've expressed emotion for sure — I might feel like a robot if I didn't — but once it's happened, I don't dwell in a place of sadness over it. According to WhatToExpect.com, my daughter has hit a whopping 18 milestones in her 9 months of life so far. And there's still over a dozen more in the next 15 months ahead of us, and for that matter, the rest of her life. Childhood is a series of firsts, and the way I see it, my reaction to everything she experiences for the first time can either encourage her to explore or inadvertently shame her for growing up — and I want my daughter to always feel like I support her growing up and gaining independence.
My approach to motherhood in this area stems from my own struggle for independence as an adult based on my parents' resistance in “letting me go.” So even before her birth, I decided to immediately begin practicing in the art of letting go. It was at about the four-month mark — when she was almost rolling over — that something clicked for me. That was the first major movement-related development and the one that really gave me the opportunity to practice what I had preached. I remember posting a video on social media of her clumsily rolling over as she tried to grab for a toy just out of her reach. In the video, her father and I were encouraging her to roll to the toy herself instead of easily giving it to her. We coached her along the way, prodding an arm here and a leg there, until the toy was in her hands. I captioned the video, "This is what parenting is all about to me. Love. Teach. Let go. Repeat." That expression perfectly exemplifies my approach: to neither push her nor slow her down in meeting milestones but to embrace her own timeline and simply celebrate with her whenever it happens.
It's not my right as her mother to hold on to her childhood because I feel like she's growing up too fast. It's my responsibility as her mother to do everything I can to help her become a capable individual no matter her stage in life — and that sometimes means letting go.
I know most loving parents already encourage growth in their babies, and it's completely natural to feel nostalgic over their earlier phases in life. But I've decided not to let myself say things like, “I wish you would just stay little,” “You were so tiny then,” or “Please stop growing” out loud in front of my daughter as she ages or even to think it to myself. It keeps me from being happy for her as she grows up, and it selfishly focuses on my own need to keep her “my little baby” instead of cultivating her development into a well-adjusted child, teen, and then adult.
This isn't to say I don't record her milestones and her successes. I have a baby book for her and even a daily journal to record little moments in her first years. I'm just keenly aware of the need to balance this desire to savor it all with space to let her be her own person even as an infant instead of solely an extension of myself. It's not my right as her mother to hold on to her childhood because I feel like she's growing up too fast. It's my responsibility as her mother to do everything I can to help her become a capable individual no matter her stage in life — and that sometimes means letting go.
When I first started doing things without them, it must have felt like they were losing me instead of being the ones choosing to let go, and I don't ever want my daughter to feel that way if I can help it.
Occasionally, I fear my mentality towards my baby's milestones and growth will make me seem detached or distant. Will she grow up not knowing how proud I am of her because I choose not to make a massive emotional deal out of her developments? I don't want to be the opposite extreme. I just want her to know she is free. Because I see everyone else over-celebrating (in my opinion), I sometimes feel that I'm making too big a deal out of not making too big a deal over it all. I'm tempted to get caught up in how she's not “little” anymore, too, but I'm just not interested in that.
I obviously can't remember my parents' reaction to these early milestones as I was growing up, but I can remember the first sting of unwarranted guilt I felt when I started making some of my own decisions as a teenager. I never felt like my parents were living vicariously through me, but in a way I think they saw my accomplishments as their accomplishments, too. So when I first started doing things without them, it must have felt like they were losing me instead of being the ones choosing to let go, and I don't ever want my daughter to feel that way if I can help it.
My mom says that a mother always hurts the most when milestones are met: after an initial few tears, a kid runs happily into the first day of school while their mom sits in the car and cries; a kid can't wait to drive on her own for the first time while their mom worries over their safety; a child moves into their dorm room without looking back while their mom sits on her daughter's bed back home in tears. And though my own mom fully expects me to relive these same scenarios with my daughter, I intend to exceed her expectations. Don't get me wrong, I get the heart behind the sentiment, but why must I feel so sad whenever my baby girl grows up? Crying (the sad kind), worrying, and mourning aren't my idea of what I want motherhood to look like for me. I don't want to have to put on my happy face for my daughter as she develops and does new things and then hide my true emotion from her. I want my first reaction of elation to be the only reaction, because my own life is too short for anything else.
I don't want to make any of my children feel like they need to be or stay a certain way because above all, I understand life goes by quickly. I'm trying to embrace it all as it comes without living in my child's past nor her future — and I want the same for my daughter, too.