“How long is she going to do that for?” someone asked of my still-breastfeeding 2-year-old. “Isn’t she getting a little old?”
No, but thank you for asking.
“She’s still not potty trained, huh?” someone remarked about my just-turned-3-year-old. “Isn’t she getting too old for diapers?”
No, but thanks for your concern.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people question whether a child was too old to do something — drink from a bottle, suck on a pacifier, ride in a stroller, use the car carts at the grocery store, the list goes on. Elementary school kids who still sleep with a blankie are given the side-eye. Strangers tut-tut the 3-year-old who hasn’t mastered the toilet. Every year, grumpy folks complain about teenagers trick-or-treating even when they’re fully costumed.
Did I somehow miss the memo that there are official age limits on everything?
We seem to have this odd notion that because kids are growing there is an arbitrary cut-off age for certain things. We worry that we will hamper our kids’ development if we allow behaviors to continue too long, or we feel like parents are doing something wrong if they allow their kids to do something beyond what we consider “normal.”
Of course, there is a small percentage of parents who hold their kids back developmentally for some psychologically iffy reasons. And of course, there are some habits or behaviors that we need to wean kids off of within a reasonable timeframe. The point is this: Those limits aren’t for random strangers or nosy neighbors to decide.
There’s so much we don’t know and can’t see from the outside looking in. The teenager who can’t sleep without her teddy bear? Maybe she suffers from debilitating anxiety. The big kid riding in the cart at the grocery store might be one of those kids who looks several years older than he his. The tween who still believes in Santa might just really love fantasy. The 8-year-old who still sleeps in her parents’ room might just be from a culture where that is the norm.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of different priorities and points of view. My youngest child is 7. I can barely pick him up and carry him anymore, so I rarely do. But I carried all three of my kids when their legs got tired until I was physically incapable of doing so. I know some people see that as enabling or coddling, but I see it as being helpful and showing compassion. If I could carry my husband or my mother when their legs get tired, I would do that too. My 16- and 12-year-olds don’t have any problem walking places, so it’s not like carrying them hampered them.
None of us have the right to judge what is right for another child or another family. If I see a kid who seems too old to be doing XYZ, I try to remember that people have thought similar things about my kids and those people didn’t know the whole picture. I remind myself that every family, every parent, and every child is different, and unless there’s a serious health or safety issue at play, it’s not my place to have an opinion about their choices. And it is certainly never my place to voice an opinion about their choices without being asked.
If you see a child who seems too old for whatever they are doing, ask yourself a few questions. Is the child actually being harmed by this? Are there things I don’t know about this child/parent/family? Is it really any of my business? Why am I even bothered?
Kids learn and develop at vastly different rates, and they eventually outgrow just about everything. Unless you’re a professional psychologist with intimate knowledge of a child’s psyche and circumstances, there’s no reason to make a judgment about a kid being too old for anything.
You do you, and let other families do things at their own pace.