My son is 16.5 months old and he still isn’t walking on his own. He can stand on his own for long periods of time, he can stand holding a toy, he can hold onto a toy or basket and push it all around the room, even look like he’s running with it. But when it comes to taking steps completely on his own from point A to point B, he won’t do it.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have the oldest non-walking child around. On one hand, I know it’s easier to look after a child who isn’t walking yet. Fewer bumps and bruises, easier to catch, etc. He’s still very much a baby, if only because he still can’t walk. And I don’t want to let go of his baby-ness. I’m kind of in denial that he’s turning into a toddler. On the other hand, it makes social activities with other babies his age not only difficult, but intimidating for him because other kids can literally run circles around him and he can only watch. Playgrounds aren’t much fun because all he can do is swing in a baby swing. And I constantly have to worry about dirty floors because the moment he wants to cross the room, he drops to his hands and knees and crawls there. And with cold and flu season upon us, I’m a bit of a germaphobe so all I can think about is what germies are lurking on the bottom of everyone’s shoes and therefore, all over the floor. And it’s not like I’m somehow off the hook from having an independent toddler, one that’s content to be held, carried, or ride in a stroller. Oh no. He wants DOWN! OUT! On the floor! But just wants to hold your hand so he can walk on his own, but with a little support.
I mentioned previously that at his 16 month check-up, our pediatrician recommended we see a physical therapist. Within the week, we had our first appointment, and even though we knew what we needed (shoe inserts to help with balance/support), we had to make another appointment to get them custom-made, which meant another two-week wait for my insurance company to pre-approve it. Fast forward to that appointment and we finally have his custom inserts. Hopefully these will give them the added support he needs to improve his balance and confidence when it comes to taking steps on his own.
So that’s where we are today, but that isn’t really what I wanted to write about.
Years ago (according to my parents and grandparents), a baby’s first pair of real shoes (i.e. walking shoes) were very important. Babies were taken to special stores and fitted by a professional. The style of shoes varied. For my parent’s generation, “saddle shoes” were the most popular type. But generally something with ankle and arch support was what was recommended.
Fast forward to present day and nowhere – not on the blogs I read, not in mainstream parenting guides and books – does anyone talk about the importance of a baby’s first pair of shoes anymore. Even when I started researching possible causes for delayed walking, never did I read anything that told me to try better shoes. In fact, I’ve read that just keeping a baby barefoot is best for learning to walk. And I have to say, from personal experience, this is not true. Of course some children learn to walk as early as 8 or 9 months without shoes whatsoever. But not every child, and I wouldn’t even say it should be recommended. A baby’s bones are still a little soft. Their muscles and joints are still developing. A baby’s foot isn’t always ready to withstand the weight of the baby and simultaneously able to move with the balance and coordination it takes to walk on two legs. A shoe with good support is ALWAYS a good idea. Maybe not always medically necessary, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
What I really want to know is, where is this advice today? Why am I only hearing this from people who haven’t parented babies in 30-50 years? Most of us are buying cheap (but cute) shoes from Target or Walmart, not wanting to spend the money on brand name shoes because “they’re just going to grow out of them soon anyway.” Isn’t that all anyone ever says today in regard to baby clothes and shoes? Don’t spend too much money because they’ll just outgrow it soon. That’s what I thought anyway, not realizing that hey, those shoes aren’t providing the proper walking support that your child needs. And it wasn’t until his walking was delayed that anyone ever told me to get him some shoes with ankle and arch support. And that person? Was my 92 year old grandma.
With all the talking we do about developmental milestones – when to start solids, how to start solids, what types of spoons and sippy cups to use, when a baby should crawl, walk, talk, coo, wave, clap – somehow this generations-old advice of getting a baby a good pair of supportive shoes has fallen by the wayside. And now I can’t help but wonder if maybe we’d purchased a good pair of shoes months ago, if it would’ve made a difference. Something tells me it might have, and that makes me sad.
So if you have a baby or know someone with a baby that’s getting close to learning how to walk, or even if you have a baby that’s already walking, get him or her a good pair of shoes. It’s worth the money, even if they will outgrow them in a couple of months.