7 Unsung Milestones of Motherhood

Putting the potty away and seeing your child feed himself are just a few key moments that should be celebrated as parenting milestones.

toddler learning to put on shoes
Photo: Blend Images Photography/ Veer Images

As parents, we all know there are milestones we reach when we bring children into the world. There are baby albums and medical charts just waiting for the dates of important moments to be filled in -- the first smile, first tooth, first step. But there are also the many milestones that no one mentions, the ones that happen quietly and quickly -- the unacknowledged milestones of motherhood, most of which are inextricably linked with your growing child. When your baby progresses to solid food, whose accomplishment is it? Is it his because he learned how to use a spoon? Or is it yours because you showed him the way?

"Recognizing and celebrating both a child and a mother's moves toward independence is a winning strategy for all involved. Identifying moments of reclamation ... is important to foster a sense of personal accomplishment that can so easily be lost during parenthood's trying moments," says Adam G. Stein, a clinical child psychologist in Irvington, New York. Read more about the unrecognized milestones, the ones that slip by between well-baby appointments and kindergarten screenings, that deserve to be noted and celebrated, even if you may not feature them all in the family photo album.

Putting Potty Problems to Rest

Gone are the days when you kept track of every wet and dirty diaper. Gone also are the days of Pull-Ups, potty training, and that oh-so-pretty plastic potty that perched in the corner of your bathroom. Even with this substantial progress, you may wonder, "Will I have to wipe her bottom until he goes to college?!" but then she will go to preschool and do it herself. Just like a big girl. And you will finally be able to shut the bathroom door and use the toilet all by yourself. Yes, you will poop in private once again, and you will like it!

Ending the Car Seat Tango

The bucket seat is a great starter seat in the world of baby transport but, in the blink of an eye, your tiny tot will graduate to a full-fledged forward-facing car seat and then a booster. Before you know it, that helpless infant will be an independent preschooler who can buckle himself in. And you will rejoice, because the days of squeezing your post-baby body into a too-tight back seat, twisting and turning while muttering profanities under your breath, are over, along with the days when Junior napped on long car rides and you could listen to radio or have a quiet conversation with your husband. These will be replaced by having family sing-alongs, playing the license-plate game, and ignoring the repeated shouts of "Are we there yet?!" As the miles pass by, you will smile in the rearview mirror, wondering what the road ahead will bring while marveling at how you've come far so fast.

Encouraging the Independent Diner

It's no secret that a newborn can't feed himself; what no one tells you is that once he arrives, you can't feed yourself either. It's impossible to cut the food on your plate while holding a fussy baby in one arm. There are months upon months of one-handed dining, followed by years of pureeing carrots, dicing grapes, and scoping out high chairs as soon as you enter a restaurant. Then one day you realize that your child is sitting in his own chair (rather than that high chair or your lap), cutting his own food (rather than using his fingers like a caveman), and actually enjoying a meal (rather than being bribed by dessert to eat it!). You realize your child is growing up, forming his own tastes and opinions. Even so, there's a good chance you'll agree that it's worth clearing your plate to get dessert!

Welcoming Back Old "Friends"

Several trusted items may have disappeared during the height of your baby years: hair dryer, razor, jewelry (I wore simple studs and one pendant for five years straight), and a handbag smaller than the Titanic. I hadn't even realized I missed these things, even as I repeatedly left the house with wet hair, hairy legs, and a two-ton diaper bag. As my children grew older and these cherished pals arrived back on the scene, I think my husband, family, and friends were as eager to welcome them as I was. Other loyal friends that disappeared during those early years of motherhood included lipstick and high heels; in my current lip balm and ballet flat routine, they are still struggling to make a comeback, but I remain optimistic that one day they will.

Saying Bye-Bye to Baby Gear

Although it's liberating to say sayonara to the diaper bag, it can be sad to say so long to some of the other survival tools that got you through the long days and longer nights of the first few years: the Exersaucer, Pack 'n Play, high chair, rocking chair, and rocking horse. One day they will be gone, and when the time comes, "use this opportunity to teach [your kids] about giving to the less fortunate by cleaning the gear together and preparing it for donation," says Elina Furman, cofounder of the website A-List Mom (alistmom.com). You may find yourself occasionally longing for those baby days, but when you do, recall how your back felt after bouncing in the Baby Bj?rn for hours on end and enjoy the sensation of walking through a house that no longer resembles Romper Room. Your living room, dining room, and kitchen will be back.

Raising a Reader

When your little wonder is first born, you often talk about her as if she's not there. ("Isn't she cute?" or "Isn't she precious?"). Then, as the months fly swiftly by, you realize that she hears -- and comprehends -- everything you say. So, you start spelling the things you don't want her to understand -- or repeat. But by the time kindergarten rolls around, your tot is a budding speller and burgeoning reader, and your game is up. No more skipping pages in the bedtime story and no more suggesting to your husband that you can share "d-e-s-s-e-r-t" after the kids are in bed. With any luck at all, you will have used some linguistic discretion in those early years so that when you go to your first parent-teacher conference, you're not asked about Junior's favorite question, "What the H-E-L-L?!"

Embracing a Pint-Size Fashionista

Cherish the days of rompers and footie pajamas, because when those days end, you'll be living with the strong will of someone small with a large, newfound fashion sense. Your child will insist upon everything pink or superhero underwear and then, all of a sudden, decide it's no longer "cool." This occurs about the same time he realizes that rain boots really are only for rainy days. This might make you sad, but the silliness of toddler styles gives way to the discovery of true style. For my daughter, that means red-striped pants with a purple tie-dye T-shirt and a glittery pink headband. Given that I was raised on The Preppy Handbook, this is a hard look for me to embrace. Until I realize I don't have to. It's her look. And it's just perfect on her.

Since these unsung milestones often pass in the blink of an eye, Sarah Welch, cofounder of Buttoned Up, an organizational products company, and author of Pretty Neat suggests using the mobile app Evernote to organize and keep track of them. "Little, unexpected milestones pull at my heartstrings and beg to be jotted down for future trips down nostalgia lane. But because I wasn't primed to look out for them, they would quickly slip through the cracks. After 'losing' a few too many, I created a little notebook in Evernote (which I have on my phone and computer) titled 'The Boys.' Now, whenever we hit a milestone or one of them says something hilarious, we create a little voice memo, snap a photo, or jot a note." However you choose to capture the milestones in your life, always take a moment to savor them.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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