Uncomfortable unfoldings (0n patiently waiting for milestones)

Written by Hillary Boucher of infinitely learning

When you look back on your life it is easy to pick out milestone moments. It’s different for everyone, but learning to ride your bike or learning to drive are probably easy memories to recall.

Milestones are peak experiences that define a journey. You have to go deeper to remember the hours and days leading up to milestones and the frustrations and grumps that sometimes come along with them.

You may notice this in younger children and toddlers: right before they hit a major milestone, like sitting up or walking, they become restless, difficult to soothe and generally uncomfortable.

I notice this in myself, even as an adult: when life is asking me to change, to grow and stretch beyond my comfort zone, there is a certain discomfort that precedes my impending growth.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anais Nin

Today’s big milestone

Today, on our third day of summer vacation, my first born successfully swam underwater.

At first it was a dunk. Then again to see if it was really so. And again and again along with exuberant, “Mom! Look! Dad! Watch!”  His excitement birthed into new bravery as he dunked under and pushed forward, swimming farther and farther each time. My heart swelled as I watched him unfurl in joyful confidence.

What struck me was that this milestone was his alone. All I have done is loved him, nourished him and brought him to lakes and swimming pools when the weather gets hot. He did all the rest. I never worried, wondering if one day he would be able to swim under water.

Today he continued to practice nonstop, high on his accomplishment, until a short while later friends invited him on a boat ride. He looked at me and exclaimed, “Mom! First I swam under the water and now my first boat ride!”

As he ran down the beach to join them, his smile beaming brighter than the sun, I waved and was reminded once again it is my job to get out the way so he can bloom. He’s learning all the time and one of the best ways to support him is to relax and feel confident about the journey.

Will he ever learn to read?

Then my attention turned to a certain homeschooling milestone that I am emotionally invested in. While I may have had zero anxiety around him learning to swim underwater, I have been worrying about when he’ll finally start reading.

He’s 7.5 years old and reading hasn’t “clicked”. I love him, care for him and give him access to books and inspiring stories, but he’s taking his own sweet time and it’s me who’s left biting my nails.

Despite my best attempts to relax while I wait for him to reach this exciting milestone, waiting for him to read causes me to feel uncomfortable.

Intellectually I know that some random Tuesday it will all click and in the meantime adding my stress only distracts him from his journey, but because we’ve taken full responsibility for his education sometimes I feel the pressure of the status quo.

Every so often I need to be reminded that one of the reasons we choose to homeschool is because it affords him the luxury of working at his own pace and the freedom to discover himself and his capabilities on his own timeline.

It’s days like today — full of confident smiles and a big milestone — that help me trust that new skills are learned all in good time. Rather than worrying, I can work on compassionately supporting him while he grows and learns.

Sometimes learning new skills happens in small incremental steps and other times in incredible leaps and bounds.

Have you had a time when waiting for a child’s milestones was a struggle for you? I’d love to hear your story!

About Hillary

Hillary feels lucky to be able to work full-time from home and shares the homeschooling responsibilities with her partner. Together, with a little creativity, a full schedule and a lot of love, they facilitate the education of their three adorable, and sometimes very loud, children.


  1. marianne parker says:

    I remember the anxiety over reading – oldest read very, very quickly. He’s a logical, process driven learner and picked it up very, very quickly. There were days that I wasn’t sure that youngest would ever get it. He didn’t want to put the effort into learning site words. Phonics didn’t seem to be clicking with him. And, perhaps the most frustrating, he seemed to be perfectly happy with it. But, about March of kindergarten, one day – he could read – non stop – all at once. He went from not reading to reading 2nd grade readers. It was like a light switch. And your son’s day will come. One day, it will click.

    I get this one!!

  2. This is such a good lesson for me to learn before my daughter gets to reading age. (I’m sure I’ll have to relearn it several times). Thanks for sharing your journey with those of us who are just starting out so we can be prepared for what’s ahead.
    Steph’s latest post: Some Thoughts on Preschool

  3. yes! this was and is my daughter on so many things. i know that she was learning to read all along, but she didn’t read her first short chapter book until this year, when she was 9 1/2 – a time when i was reading series after series of books on my own and starting to scope out my parents’ bookshelves for more interesting reading! the bike riding didn’t click until this summer, and the swimming took a bit longer than i’d thought – but each time, when i was able to be supportive, encouraging, offering opportunity but not expectations, she was able to really happily come to it on her own. she now owns those things, having come to them in her own time.

  4. Thanks for sharing . . . my two oldest (girls) each figured it out at the older end of four. My boy, who’s a few weeks shy of seven, is still just barely sounding out three letter words. I’m sure it’ll happen one of these days, but it is hard not to worry in the meantime. And like you said, it makes me more uncomfortable than him.

  5. Perhaps not as much for reading, but for physical milestones (like swimming) I really think a lot of parental encouraging and cheerleading is beneficial. When I was a kid, my parents never strongly encouraged me to climb a tree, get to the top of the cliff, go out on a boat, etc. I missed lots of great opportunities because I let my fear stop me. Sometimes this was only the fear of how I would look while I was doing it. Now I don’t force my children to do more than they think they are capable of, but I try to help them see they are capable of so much more if they will stretch their comfort zone.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Hiking (and Life) Advice from Annie Dillard

  6. My daughter, almost 11, has always been an avid reader. I didn’t teach her to read, since when I brought her home she was a 1st grader and already reading the American Girl books. I have twin boys, almost 8. We worked on phonics, not as much as I “should” have. Then we took a break. In the last 6 months, one son “clicked” with reading “overnight” and now can read just about anything. He was probably reading more than I realized because he has always liked to quietly look through books. Our other son, who can write his own music after hearing a song by ear, has taken longer to learn to read. He is more interested in the “rules” of phonics, but doesn’t like the lessons. I have been more subtle in my recent approach with him. When he is reading a book and asks me, “what does f-o-i-l say?”. I respond with, “o-i makes the “oi” sound, so that does that word say?” Still, I have to say that it also “clicked” with him since he went very quickly from reading almost nothing to reading books.
    I know how hard it is to relax with this. I am a school teacher by profession, and I have to remind myself that my kids are getting so many different learning experiences than they would have in school. Still, it was awkward that in their 1st grade religious education class, when I found out the kids were given a “test”, I had to let the teacher know that they weren’t yet reading. It can be nerve wracking to me, as a teacher, that my kids are behind the others. Yet, they are smart, imaginative, talented and have a genuine love for learning. We had an adult cousin visiting, and he was in awe by the attitude of my kids, especially when one of the boys said, “I can’t wait to finish my 2nd grade math so I can start Teaching Textbooks!”. It is SO hard to trust it sometimes, but if our kids aren’t going to go to school, then it truly doesn’t matter if they learn to read at 5 or at 7 or 8. However, (putting on my teacher hat here…really sorry but I can’t help myself), if they aren’t reading their own chapter books at 6 then they need to be read to often to make up the difference, so they develop the vocabulary and learn the concepts that they aren’t getting by reading their own books. You are no doubt, as homeschoolers, all doing that already.

  7. My older daughter learned to read really late by conventional standards (she was about 8-years-old). I think it was harder for her than anyone else; her closest friends were reading novels while she still struggled to decode every word in easy readers. It pained me when she’d say that she didn’t know why anyone would want to read for fun, because this certainly wasn’t fun. But then one day it clicked. Now she’s reading anything and everything. Looking back, I’m grateful for this delay. Not having to explain the graffiti on the NYC subway made for easier family trips 😉 I’m also grateful that she was allowed to learn to read in her own time. The pressure she puts on herself is more than enough.
    Kim Beauchamp’s latest post: Bodacious Black Bean Dip

  8. You are right, right, right! I’ve tried explaining this particular piece of philosophy many times, but it’s hard to put it into words.

    The one big thing I’ve learned as a parent is that it’s my son’s show. I offer new experiences for him, but he has to be the one to take the leap (sometimes quite literally!). Pushing him harder doesn’t make him learn faster – it makes him miserable.

    I love the wording you used with regard to that: “compassionate support”. Because that’s the thing about milestones, isn’t it? When a kid is ready, things seem to take care of themselves – including learning to read. Supporting them through the frustration helps them remember the unconditional love we have for them, and that kind of confidence can go a long way!

    In our homeschooling, when we find a lesson that my son doesn’t quite understand, we give it a few days. If it’s still obvious he just can’t grasp the concept, we put it aside entirely – sometimes for months. That gives his brain time to catch up to his enthusiasm, and we usually end up exactly where we need to be.

    It’s taken me an entire year to get over “where SHOULD we be?” and focus, instead, on where my son IS – a place where he’s both challenged and comfortable. Whatever we need to do, we’ll do…it just may take a little extra time.

    Angela’s latest post: Angela’s Awesome BBQ – a GF/DF recipe.

  9. I worried about reading with my first son but didn’t think about worrying with my second. It will click and you will breathe a sigh of relief and wonder why you worried so. It’s hard to be the responsible ones for our children’s education but I am learning right at this very moment (with MATH!) that I want my sons to get it, truly get it and not feel pressured or signaled out by me or anyone else to live up to society’s standards of when milestones should be reached. We homeschool so we can tailor their education to their needs. Sending you a mama hug and praying that God will send you a little nugget (that’s what I call God moments or blessings) to encourage you.

  10. Thank you for this! My son is also 7.5 and still struggles with reading. He’s bright, has a fantastic vocabulary, but will not willingly read almost anything! (Even signs and easy kid books.) It’s so good to hear that I’m not the only one out there worrying that she has failed her child. 🙂
    Kendra’s latest post: Preparing Our Kids for the Real World

  11. Talking, potty training, reading, riding a bike, learning to obey right away – they are all things I have struggled with alongside various children in our family. Thanks so much for your encouraging post.

  12. I have a ten-year-old daughter who refuses to read much. She is an incredibly bright, artistic, lovely, infuriatingly stubborn and challenging child. It has made things, um, interesting for us in a number of ways, especially with the people we know at church, and in our last neighborhood. The most painful thing for me is feeling that other people (mothers of her traditionally-schooled-friends, religious leaders, and neighbors) now look at me with pity . . . concern . . . it comes back around to me through mutual friends about what they’re thinking and worrying about . . . and yet they won’t talk to me directly. That’s what I’m struggling with right now. A loss of my own sense of dignity (not pride . . . just a simple feeling of basic worth in the presence of others I thought highly of), and of struggling with new and strange reactions to others. Even after I speak with them about it (i.e. “Please, if you’re concerned about my daughter’s reading, come talk to ME–not anyone else.”), a lot of the basic trust in those relationships has been lost.

  13. !ll the time my friend! So much patience and waiting. Reading is especially hard for us book-loving homeschoolers. And writing… (at least those are the hard ones for me).
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  14. A few months ago I had a bit of a breakdown because reading hadn’t yet clicked for *my* 7.5 year old, and I was feeling responsible and guilty for not giving her enough support to get to that point. Wouldn’t you know it? Within a week or two of that breakdown (in front of other homeschooling moms, who were incredibly supportive and encouraging), it DID click. She started reading silently to herself, choosing to read for fun and is progressing through early reader levels like nobody’s business.

    You’re so wise to know that it’s just a matter of time before it happens for your son, but I know exactly what you mean about the emotions wrapped up in it as you wait for that moment.

  15. Such a powerful and important message. I love the analogy between the swimming and reading! It is so difficult to sit back and wait, especially when we are making ourselves vulnerable by taking the leap of faith that is homeschooling. I’m sure he’ll get there and he’ll love reading when he does because it comes from him.

    I’ve been astonished and delighted this summer to watch both of my boys develop into great swimmers for their age. Both love water, both dunk and play and my eldest is beginning to dive and swim underwater, something I still cannot do. I pulled back from doing lessons this year and they’ve already exceeded many of the ‘milestones’ they’d have met in a class. It reminds me that so much of learning is innate and will come in their own time, in a culture where more is more and pushing for success is the norm it can be hard to hold onto this truth. This article is a great reminder : )
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  16. Thanks for all the encouraging comments! It felt good to write this post, but even better to hear your stories and encouragement.
    Hillary’s latest post: Why I Chose Midwives (Video)

  17. Oh, yes! Our firstborn came to reading easily… as he did with all “traditional” learning skills. Our second was a bit slower on this end – but had walked at younger than nine months, swam “like a fish” by 3, mastered the playground equipment earlier than any of her peers. In retrospect, I feel certain she would have been reading — enjoying reading — and we all would have felt far less pressure, anxiety, and needless worry had we homeschooled both children at least through second grade. Hindsight is so perfect! We visited the pediatrician, the pediatric opthalmalogist, and finally a child psychologist who did a full range of tests. The pediatrician’s advice? “Reading is developmental. You can no more tell her to read at 7 than you could tell an infant to crawl or a toddler to walk by a specific age.” The child psychologist’s advice? “Never let this child re-enter the school where she has done K and 1st grades.” Best advice ever? Learning is individual and developmental, and with all respect to those devoted classroom teachers — every child is a person who deserves not to be labelled. Having ruled out medical problems, the best thing we did for our daughter was to relax, reassure her that all was fine, and yes, it all worked out in “third” grade.
    Wonderful article; thank you so much for sharing. Even twenty years after the fact – this reassures me.

  18. I have four kids. Each of them reached baby and toddler milestones (walking, talking, etc.) relatively early. I was reading before I went to kindergarten and have never stopped. I made the assumption it would be the same for our kids. My first daughter didn’t take of with reading until third grade, and my second waited until 5th grade to fall in love with books. Reading was very, very difficult for them and I felt that I had to shelter them from prying family and friends who wanted to ‘quiz’ my kids all the time. After reading up on dyslexia, finding a great spelling program, and LOTS of prayer I figured out that they’ll get it when they get it. No amount of pushing would help – in fact my anxiety seemed to make their issues more severe (go figure, right?) I am in my tenth year of homeschooling and wish that I had always been able to see that my children’s strengths greatly outnumber their weaknesses, and that it is those strengths I should highlight.
    Kara’s latest post: Every Now and Then

  19. Exactly. I have it about reading but many other things too. Making friends on her own, independent skills in general….my daughter is somewhat a late bloomer. I needed this today. Thank you.

  20. Such a beautiful thought. A truly beautiful one that has a lot of applications.

    But, I’m a mom of children with learning differences. I hesitate to do this,but I have to introduce something else. When our children cannot yet dunk underwater, we aren’t thinking, “Oh no, what if he has some difference that makes dunking impossible?” Or if they cannot yet walk at 13 months, we don’t often think, “Oh no! What if his legs don’t work?” (although that’s actually different — the child MIGHT be hypotonic and need occupational therapy and other helps to aid in some difficulty).

    The thing is – your core message of not living in fear is a good, sound one.

    But the “wait and see” message for reading is not necessarily the right one for all children. If you feel strongly that your child will be fine, just wait and see, you might be right. However, for children with dyslexia, “wait and see” is “wait until they fail”.

    Children who do exhibit signs of dyslexia will exhibit them from a very young age. This was not discovered until some years ago by Dr. Sally Shaywitz (a pioneering researcher in this field who discovered that actual brain differences between a dyslexic and a “normal” brain through functionalMRI). The thing with dyslexia is that the earlier a student is remediated, the better the outcome.

    I am not saying your child has dyslexia. Reading on his own timetable could very well be the very thing for him. I am not advocating fearful hunting the interwebs for reasons why he isn’t reading yet. A lifestyle of fear kills all enjoyment. But I do worry that many parents will see these testimonies of, “I waited and it was perfect!” and think that it’s the right approach in all cases. If I had done that, my child would not be able to read.

    I have at least one dyslexic. My husband realized he was mildly dyslexic through the diagnosing process of my son. It explained why, with three degrees and a high GPA, he always felt dumb. He knew he had to work FAR HARDER than anyone else to achieve it. And his success was because of his work ethic and how mildly dyslexic he is. Anyone who is moderately to severely to profoundly dyslexic will likely not experience that. So I look at him and think that it would have been far better that he had known the truth of his high intelligence, the reason why reading was difficult, received tailored tutoring, and experienced success without feeling dumb.

    Children who struggle know it. They feel “less than” other children. Even home educated children are aware that something is off. They need our recognition and support. Fearless support. But the ability to look at it and determine if there IS something that could be done.

    I am sorry. I don’t want to detract from the core message of not living in fear, enjoying our children, patiently awaiting their growth and change. I love Charlotte Mason’s comment that we should not be expecting loaves of bread from grains of wheat (children). I fully agree. It’s just that reading ability is a sensitive topic because of what I’ve learned and experienced.

    If you feel you are, by the Holy Spirit, supposed to wait and see ~ do so. If you are uncertain and would like more information, please research dyslexia at a reputable site (not some silly one). Here are two good places to begin:


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