From the moment most of us find out our children are coming, we start tracking milestones. From how our fetus’s size compares to a piece of fruit to what to expect from our newly adopted toddler, knowing the milestones can help us feel prepared for what’s to come in all the stages of raising young humans. But there are a few milestones I wasn’t prepared for, the motherhood milestones no one mentions. With two girls, ages two and nine, my life is full of these tiny feats that squeeze my heart and remind me my daughters are growing bigger and more independent every day.
1. Their Own Relationships
We are defined by our relationships with each other, and they start with the first time your baby leans out of your arms toward someone else. A mother’s arms are often the first safe place for a baby, and they continue to be a safe place to land throughout the tumultuous stages that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. That first little journey toward another person is the first step on a lifelong journey, and one of the major baby milestones.
Before you know it, other people have a relationship with your child that you only know a little bit about. I remember the first time a preschool teacher from a different classroom greeted my older daughter, Karys, as I was picking her up. She was only two at the time, but they had a full-fledged conversation about an activity the classes had done together. I marveled at the confident way my little one interacted with an adult I’d never met before. It was my first real lightbulb moment that this tiny person I had brought into the world was going to have many relationships with people, many of whom would be complete strangers to me. It was both thrilling and tear-jerking at the same time.
2. Establishing Independence
Even though I lived through mothering a toddler once, I forgot how fraught with turmoil this stage is. Watching my two-year-old navigate the world reminds me how frustrating it is to be unable to do, see, explore, or convey everything you want. It takes perseverance on both our parts to master new skills. Toddler milestones worth mentioning is the first time they say, “I do it myself!” It feels like only seconds separate the time when your baby needs you to do everything and the moment when they want to do everything independently. It takes patience to the absolute limit to step back and watch, but it’s so fulfilling when they figure it all out. From walking down the stairs without holding your hand to dressing themselves or picking out books, these independent toddler steps lay the foundation for everything beyond.
3. Big Kid Strides
At nine, my oldest daughter still reaches plenty of her own milestones. Recently, as I was arranging the girls’ shared closets, Karys’s shirts kept slipping off of the kid-sized hangers, and I had to hang them up on adult hangers. She will never again wear clothes that fit on kids’ hangers. The thought made me catch my breath a bit. The first time she won an argument with her infallible logic, she was probably only three, and I realized that I could either ignore her logic or help her hone her negotiating skills. I chose the latter.
There are heartwarming moments like the first time your big kid offers to do the dishes or remembers to do a chore without being asked that make you feel like maybe your baby will actually someday become a responsible adult. Some milestones are heartbreaking, like the first time your child is excluded on the playground and you realize what ‘Mama Bear’ means, or the first time your emotional tween cries for no apparent reason. Then there are the sobering or hilarious milestones, like the first time you hear your mother’s voice come out of your mouth, or your voice come out of your child’s.
4. A Disembodied Heart
The final milestone hits each mother at different times. It’s the time you realize that the clichés are true: being a mother is like walking around with your heart outside your body. Motherhood is the hardest job you’ll ever have; it is not for the faint of heart. And it is so worth it!