Dear Carolyn: Thus far our two children, 2 and 7, have met or exceeded their development markers. The same has not been true for all of their cousins. In fact, our 2-year-old is much more verbally advanced than some of his older cousins. Can you please offer some guidance for handling situations with uncles and aunts at family gatherings (every month or so) when the differences are out there for all to see? Our relatives are nice and also very human, which means they notice such things, and sometimes (to my eyes) it seems to make one or two of them uneasy.
Our 7-year-old is the oldest of her cousins, and when she was born everyone (aunts, uncles, grandparents) all gushed and followed every new step with delight. For obvious reasons this is less true about our younger one’s new tricks; everyone has their own kids now. Yet when occasions do arise at gatherings to show what our 2-year-old has done, I find myself holding back because it might make the other adults feel bad. One result of this is that they don’t know as much about their little nephew.
Mercifully, I say, but I guess I’d better be quick with the context.
All kids upon birth should be warmed by a blanket of community love, and both of your kids – and their cousins – sound fortunate to have been so.
When that blanket then declares your child special for saying “doggie” three weeks before ordinary humans, then the benefits open themselves to debate.
Developmental markers don’t necessarily declare your exceptional child is on track to be an exceptional adult. It might be more useful, in fact, to treat such markers as a scavenger hunt: Each child has roughly two decades to acquire that list of human skills to arrive at adulthood within the range of normal. Some zip through the list, some mosey, and a few fall outside the typical range (these lists are really for the latter, to signal the need for help).
For the ones who finish, how quickly they got there isn’t particularly relevant; little Sammy doesn’t walk the high school corridors with a special glow because he walked at 9 months to Janey’s 18.
So the most useful way to approach relatives might be to have “The Tortoise and the Hare” on a mental loop. Speed can be a gift and might promise great things for your children, yes – and they’re yours, so by all means gush to their grandma when no one else has to hear. But also don’t be impressed into believing speed is the only gift worth having.
These cousins could have later-blooming, singular expressive gifts – or compassion or business acumen or mechanical wizardry. Perhaps the cousins’ parents know this, and aren’t as “uneasy” as you’re projecting?
This long view might not seem useful in an awkward moment, but it can be, as the lens through which you view children, period. They’re all just kids. In particular: Shrug off differences “out there for all to see” as an utterly normal snapshot of any given moment of the 20-year scavenger hunt. There’s no winning; there’s just the (often delightfully nonlinear) business of becoming themselves.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.