Remember when you learned about a baby’s “growth chart”? The first time the pediatrician measures your tiny child’s weight, length and head circumference can be stressful. It can also be confusing because it’s one of the few times when the 50th percentile — or perfectly average growth relative to other babies of the same age — is the most desirable score.
Our firstborn had colic, so my wife and I developed an intense relationship with our pediatrician. Fortunately, he had a great sense of humor. During one of our “growth chart” appointments, we expressed concern that our daughter’s head was measuring large and her height was measuring small. He turned to us and said, “What’s the mystery? You’re short (motioning to my wife) and you have a big head (pointing to me).”
We just had to laugh. But nearly two decades since that growth chart panic moment, I realize his message had a larger meaning. We needed to grow as parents. Our journey had just started, and we were already falling victim to the tempting habit of comparing one’s child to other children and finding him or her lacking. Fortunately, our pediatrician explained that there is a “wide range of normal” physical development that most children experience. Only those cases that fall beyond that range tend to cause concern.
Too bad there isn’t an emotional growth chart for parents. Chances are most of us would start at the 95th percentile for anxiety, fretting and hovering. But as we age, ideally, we could chart our progress toward calm, sensible and just-the-right-amount-of-oversight around the 50th percentile. These full-grown parents understand that the “wide range of normal” for a child’s physical development also applies to a child’s emotional and moral development.
Such a growth chart for parents might also help us understand — or at least tolerate — other parents who annoy us. The ones who criticize other parents harshly just need to work on decreasing their “judgemental” percentile. The ones who overreact at Little League games just need to work on increasing their “self-fulfilled” percentile. At a minimum, as long as parents like these don’t go “off the chart,” we could accept that they are just part of the “wide range of normal” for parents who are still growing.
As parents grow, they also shrink
Parenting is humbling and requires much growth. For example, until that growth chart moment with our pediatrician, I did not consider my head big. In fact, despite my laughter, I was a bit upset by the accusation. But after some emotional growing pains, I had to accept that he was right. (Unfortunately, I think about his gentle jibe every time I try on a new hat.)
Figuratively, there is nothing like the transition to parenthood to keep you from getting a “big head” ever again. As parents age, we experience the growing, ironic realization that we’re actually shrinking. In the baby days, we are in full control of our child’s environment, especially physically. But over the years our control shrinks, and all that is left is our immeasurable influence in the form of words, values, habits, memories and our own example.
That’s why it’s so important to put forth maximum effort every day and not take anything for granted. If we manage to do that, we might become wise grandparents someday, the ultimate full-grown parents.