Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stages of Development

Yesterday in my MOPS group (for which I am a been-there-done-that Mentor Mom) my friend Elaine shared with the moms about the stages of development their young children will go through, how to gage their child's progress and what to do when they hit a bump in the road. I wish I had received such wise advice as Elaine gave when I was raising my preschoolers. She reminded moms that they are their child's number one teacher and advocate - they know their children better than anyone else. She also reminded them of the power of a mom. "Let your face light up each time your child walks in the room," she said. "Your children notice this and it boosts them tremendously. Children, even adult children, crave their mother's approval."

As I listened to Elaine's presentation and later took part in a small discussion group on the same topic, I kept silent for the most part. When the moms talked about their favorite stage of development and their least favorite stage, I held my tongue. Those days seem like so long ago; I didn't really have the right to put in my two cents. I remember when my children were that young feeling like they would be young forever. I couldn't see past diapers, nursing, tiny tennis shows, sippy cups, and plump little cheeks. I watched anxiously for my children to roll over, crawl, cruise around the furniture and then walk. I listened for first words, sentences, original thoughts, and questions. I watched their feet grow longer and their hair grow coarser. I heard their voices change and measured their weight gains. But that was the limit of my knowledge of developmental stages. Sure, I knew in the back of my mind that they would grow into school aged children, teenagers and eventually adults. But those stages scared me, so I gave them little thought.

But as I sat among these young moms yesterday, I held a precious secret close to my heart, careful not to share it at the inappropriate time. They were relishing the sweet innocence and even the seemingly huge struggles of raising babies and preschoolers. I wasn't about to burst their pastel colored bubbles. Still, I smiled because I know the hurdles and the tremendous victories that lie ahead of these moms, even though they've probably given them little thought...and they don't need to yet.

My children are tall. They are both as tall or taller than me. They wear big clothes that cause me to have to wash many loads of laundry each week. At times they smell really strange (both the clothes and my children!). Their toys are no longer strewn over the family room floor, but they litter my office and the kitchen counter - things like Ipods, multiple purses, tennis rackets, cell phones, CDs, novels, and car keys. Little shoes no longer hide in hard to find places. Instead I trip over their big shoes and wish they were tucked away out of sight. While my children seemingly need me less, their presence in our home has not diminished, but grown.

My kids continue to grow through stages of development and these stages cause me just as much worry and stress as potty training and introducing new foods. (In fact, we're still introducing new foods!) We've been through the "she's not my friend anymore" stage and the "well, of course we're still friends" stage. We've shaved for the first time, talked about "becoming a woman", become a woman, talked about why we don't use words that "everybody else" uses, learned to select clothes that are "appropriate" in the junior department (Lord, help!), and learned to write thank you notes. My kids are in stages right now - some that I hope stick and others that I pray every night will be gone by the next morning. I would never tell those Mothers of Preschoolers about the angry stage, the "I don't like you" stage, the "come home and go in your room and close the door" stage, the dirty clothes all over the floor stage, the clean clothes all over the floor stage, the "I'll get a haircut next week" stage, the learning to drive stage, the "You don't understand me" stage, the "Could you just give me the money you'd spend on me and let me stay home from the family vacation?" stage or the stage where they can't seem to wake up to an alarm clock to save their life! But fortunately these difficult stages are off set and put into glorious perspective with some wonderful stages: the stage where the 17-year-old boy still wants to hold your hand while you walk along, the stage where the 14-year-old girl spontaneously tells you she loves you and when you ask what she did wrong (because she must have done something wrong!) she looks at you blankly and sincerely says "nothing." You get to look forward to the day the older brother tells the younger sister, who is about to enter high school, that she needs to be her own person and not follow the crowd. And you get to anticipate the day your teenage daughter actually agrees with your selection of an appropriate and lovely Easter dress.

Right now I ache for my children to get through some stages successfully. I want my daughter to realize that it's ok to wear the same dress to church twice in the span of one month. I want my son to not be offended by questions. I want my children to realize money doesn't grow on trees and it's not going to grow at all if you keep spending it so quickly. I'm trying to teach them to be more respectful, more appreciative, more loving, and more concerned about others. They're getting there...slowly.

Indeed, stages don't end when your child enters kindergarten. The hurdles just get bigger, harder, more challenging, and sometimes more glorious. But I see no need to share this somewhat daunting information with mothers of preschoolers. They'll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, I count my blessings every time I see my children pass another milestone. They're growing up...still.

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