I think for most mothers - especially mothers who give up careers to stay home and raise a family - our feelings of value and self-worth are incredibly wrapped up in our children. Their successes and achievements are our successes and achievements. Their setbacks, delays, and poor behavior are our failures. They are a direct reflection of us, or so it feels. It's not like that for most fathers - even the really involved, hands-on fathers like my husband. Men tend to find their feelings of self-worth elsewhere (like their careers). How many dads do you know who lament about feeling like a failure because their 3-year old isn't yet potty trained? But we moms, we torture ourselves over these things. I know I do.
Which is why there is so much competition between mothers over their children's achievements. "Junior is walking at ten months!" (Read: "I must be a really great mother for my kid to be so advanced!") It's a race - whose child can walk the earliest, whose kid has the largest vocabulary at the youngest age, whose kid is potty trained the quickest, whose kid gets the most As on their report card.
And, really, what does it all mean? Do any of those achievements guarantee a full and happy life? Do they mean anything at all? Is the early walker destined to be successful in all aspects of life?
All these things, I think, are even more keenly felt when you're a mom dealing with a child with a diagnosis like Down syndrome. After you get over the shock and grief, you batten down the hatches and decide that your kid is going to be the best kid with Ds that there ever was. The most advanced. The least delayed. We're going to get this kid sitting independently by eight months! Crawling by ten months! Self-feeding with the appropriate pincer grasp by 14 months! Signing 25 signs and walking by 18 months!
And why? Yes, we want them to be the best they can be. We want them to be able to function as best as possible in this world that, in all honesty, caters to and is accepting of normal and above. But there's also the unspoken fact that they reflect on us. The quicker they meet their milestones, the better we feel about ourselves and the job we're doing as their mothers. The slower they are in advancing, the more guilt weighs us down, the more we feel that we are falling short. And, I think, the more we feel that the world looks at us, their mothers, in that light. We feel judged. If we can somehow assure our children's achievements, maybe the world won't hold it against us so much that we're foisting these imperfect children on society and asking for acceptance.
It's very difficult - and utterly humbling if you can manage to do it - to separate oneself from one's child and realize - really accept - that your child is his or her own person, with his or her own temperament and range of motivation and abilities . . . and that their achievements are their own, as are their shortfalls. And the best we can do is love them, no matter what, and provide them with opportunities, the biggest cheerleading squad, and a soft, safe place to fall.