Missing a Baby's Growth and Development Milestone: How to Cope

June 9, 2017

Did you miss your baby's first word or first step? Here's how to cope with missing your baby's milestone.



You've been anxiously monitoring your baby's growth and development for weeks, excited to see her reach her first major milestone: rolling over. The phone rings and you step away, leaving your baby safely on her back on the living-room floor. When you return, seconds later, voila! She's made her way onto her tummy, as if by magic. As a mom, you're now experiencing conflicting emotions: excitement -- "Yay, she finally rolled over!" -- and guilt -- "She rolled over for the first time ... and I missed it!" Both reactions are normal, but it's important to not be too hard on yourself. Truth be told, unless you're physically tethered to your child 24/7, you'll miss things.

Here's how to cope with feeling disappointed that you missed a milestone:

  • Stop Feeling Guilty
    According to Russell Friedman, executive director of The Grief Recovery Institute and co-author of five books, parents often experience negative responses to having missed or overlooked important events in their child's life -- mainly guilt. Whether you missed the milestone because you were out of the room momentarily or because you were working while someone else cared for your child, that feeling of guilt may make you feel like a bad parent.

    "When a parent calls me -- upset for missing a milestone, for instance -- they will say they feel guilty. To which my response is, 'Did you miss this event with intent to harm your child?' Of course their reply is 'No,'" Friedman explains. "Then I tell them that guilt implies intent to harm, so 'Let's put the word "guilt" back in the dictionary where it belongs and see if we can help you find a more accurate way of defining how you feel.'" Feel sad or disappointed, but not guilty over something you couldn't control.
  • Let Go of Unrealistic Expectations
    Although we like to believe that we have eyes in the back of our heads, we don't. Your baby could crawl for the first time while you're focused on making dinner, her first word might be uttered to a stuffed animal and her first steps may be to her grandmother, not you. That's OK. Carrie Krawiec, LMFT at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Mich., and executive director of the Michigan Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, explains, "Happiness equals reality minus expectations. That is, if our expectations are high, unreasonable or greatly different from our reality, then we will end up miserable. It is unreasonable to expect you will see every first move of your child, but it is reasonable that your child's firsts are a work in progress and that you will see the steps toward perfecting a new task." You may not see her rolling over for the first time, but you will see her master it -- along with so much more of her growth and development through the years.
  • Focus On the Positives
    Though you may feel disappointed that you missed your baby's first milestone, it's important to remain positive. "By learning to be more reasonable with yourself, you'll feel better," Krawiec explains. She recommends coming up with five positive alternative ways of thinking about the situation, such as "I have seen many firsts; I will see many more; I only missed this one because I was cooking dinner for my family; it is good for my child to be independent and do things without me; and no mom can -- or should -- do it all." By focusing on the positives and remembering all the things that you do right, it's easier to cope when things don't go as planned. You know your baby is so much more than a set of skills and milestones, so don't focus on the moments missed -- focus on the moments shared.

And read  our guide to developmental milestones for kids

Victoria Georgoff is a freelance writer and therapist who enjoys writing about parenting, helping other parents, and of course, being a parent herself.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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