Relax, Mama, Your Late Bloomer Will Be Fine

by Sam Grant
late bloomer
Maria Evseyeva / Shutterstock

My firstborn was an early talker, walker, and reader. Everything with her was so easy. I taught her something, and she quickly picked it up. People all around me were praising my stellar parenting skills for raising such an intelligent and reasonable child. (Honestly, a monkey could have raised her, but I took any compliment that came my way.) My second child followed a very similar path, though his feisty temperament often got me looks of “why can’t you control your kid?” Still, he was hitting milestones like a boss — just sometimes with a little extra gusto.

And then came my third child. Very quickly, I knew that we had a late bloomer on our hands. What’s a late bloomer? This is the child who takes his sweet time learning almost everything that our parenting culture cares to track. My youngest is the epitome of a late bloomer. She isn’t in a rush to hit any of her developmental milestones — maybe because she doesn’t have the skill and maybe because she’s focused on something totally different. Eventually, she gets things done, but it’s often in the most convoluted way possible and right at the edge of what experts call “normal.”

And I love her for it.

If my late bloomer was my first, I would have freaked out on a daily basis. My tenure in parenting has taught me to chill the fuck out and let kids learn at their own pace. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about her or work with her on tasks that I think are important. We have been in to see the early childhood speech pathologists more than once, but they assure me that she is developing well at her own pace.

At 3, my oldest could identify and write nearly all 26 letters and could recite 30-page books from memory. My youngest, however, can’t dress herself and thinks that 4 and 5 are numbers that should be optional when counting to 10. Despite all the obstacles she may have against her to be kindergarten-ready, I know she’s going to be immensely successful in life.

Here’s why:

She is kind.

My daughter is a lover. She is the kid who is kissing other kids at the playground when they are crying after falling off the slide. She walks right up to kids with disabilities and gives them a big squeeze, often leaving the moms around her holding back tears.

I have seen her approach people whom I wouldn’t consider especially kind or affectionate and engage them in conversation. It’s like she knows when people need a little love, and she happily spreads her love around. This world needs a lot more love, and she’s ready to give it.

She is resourceful.

It took us months to figure out that she couldn’t dress herself — because she knew how to play everyone in the house on a rotation. On Monday she would ask her sister, on Tuesday her brother, on Wednesday her dad, and so on. Once we put this together, we realized the genius of her craft. Rather than learn to do it herself, she quickly learned that manipulating others to get what she needed was efficient and more fun. Part of me wants to be mad at her and part of me wants to high five her.

She can make people laugh.

Despite having slow-growing language skills, she has an uncanny ability to use language to make people laugh. We can be in the middle of a family dinner talking about our nightly plans when she enthusiastically votes “heck yeah,” and we erupt in giggles. She brings laughter to everyone around her.

She isn’t a pushover.

Half of the time I think she doesn’t do things my way solely because I asked her to do it that way. My daughter has a sense of agency that she is going to stay true to. As an infant, she was the child who refused to take a bottle and would go eight-plus hours waiting for her milk supply to come home. No one was going to convince her otherwise. Thankfully she’s a pretty chill kid most of the time, but there is no messing with her when she doesn’t want to do something.

This girl knows her signature.

My baby knows how to shake it. She is constantly bursting out into dance in the middle of the grocery store or church or in the midst of her sibling’s temper tantrum. You can’t help but love seeing that little bootie shaking it. My highest hopes for my daughter didn’t include her ability to shake her bootie, but I have to respect a girl who knows what she’s good at early in life. Knowing your signature in life can get you a long way.

For you parents with a late bloomer on your hands, rest assured, they will be fine. If you find yourself up late at night worrying whether you have a late bloomer or a child with a more serious delay, ask for help — because no parents should sacrifice sleep. A late bloomer will take a different path in the race, but at the end, they wind up exactly where they need to be. It’s like taking the scenic route instead of the congested highway.

I’d like to think that her path is one that is going to be rooted in meeting amazing people, growing unique skills, making people laugh, and dancing for the heck of it. Of course, I worry about my late bloomer, but even if she can’t count to save her soul, she’s gaining an important number of life skills that will make her thrive. In turn, she’s teaching me that not every child has to do things the same way and that a healthy dose of relaxation will make our house a better place.