Baby, Why Aren’t You Talking Yet? by Heather Bowles
When I was a little girl, my family, and my mother in particular, would brag to anyone who would listen to them for longer than five minutes about how incredibly smart I was. Nearly forty years later, my ears are still left ringing with the repetitive accolades of how I spoke my first words at nine months, and could read the local Sunday paper’s comic strip pages at the age of two and a half years. When you’re a child, you love hearing that sort of thing. Every child craves attention, and the feeling of being something special, and you don’t question it. You certainly don’t question your parents’ motivations for making such grandiose claims.
As a parent, I’m sure there was a certain amount of patting one’s own back for raising someone with so much promise and potential. But now, I’m left with an insidious sense of failure, due to the fact that my daughter is not performing the linguistic acrobatics that I was reportedly doing at her age. To protect my self esteem, and the opinion I am forming of my own child’s intellect, I find myself questioning everything I thought I knew about my own development. I wonder and even hope a little that my mother was full of crap, and that I did not really do the things my family swears that I did.
I want to believe that my child is smarter, more adaptable, and ultimately, will be a more capable, successful human being than either of her parents, but she is a quiet, mellow baby, and does not babble a great deal. She is not consistently performing the basic language milestones that I am told I can expect at this age even from professionals in the field. For example, I have been told to expect the following consonant/vowel pairings: ba-ba-ba, da-da-da, ma-ma-ma. One day this week, she made the ba sound for five, maybe ten minutes, and then never did it again, even with all the coaxing, begging and pleading I could muster. What does this mean? I don’t know.
Given her lack of opportunities to be sociable with others outside her immediate family, Tabitha actually handles contact with others quite well. The waitresses at the local Mexican restaurant we frequent are enamored with her smile, and spend a lot of time at our table whenever we are there, talking more with her than us, her parents. In that way, I suppose I can console myself that even if my daughter is not excelling at direct communication, she certainly can affect others in a way that she can have her needs fulfilled. I mean, good grief, she’s nine and a half months old and she can manipulate total strangers better than I.
For myself, it is not understanding where she is in terms of her language development that is the hardest part of parenting an infant who is not yet verbal. Should I continue to expect great things, or am I setting myself up for disappointment? Should I scale back my expectations? And why on earth do I even feel the need to compare myself to her anyway? That really needs to stop.
So you tell me, fellow later moms… did you feel performance pressure on behalf of your child in comparison with your own development? At what point does the worry that your child is not meeting someone else’s expectations go away? And how do you combat the feeling there is something more you could be doing if you only knew what that something was?