Removing “Should” from my Vocabulary– Parenting a Child with Developmental Delays

As a child, I imagined what life would be like once I became old enough to drive and become an adult. As I progressed into my twenties, my perspective on adulthood continued to evolve. I eventually reasoned that the adults who I thought “had it all together” in my childhood were actually just big kids who acquired bills.

Like many, I imagined someday getting married and starting a family. When I met my wife, Rachel, we talked about children, as most couples do. She wanted two or three and I wanted one or none. The compromise? One and done.

Mya Jayn

I had just opened the doors of my private practice in 2019 when we learned that we were expecting. When the sonogram confirmed that there was just one baby in there (thank God), Rachel and I reasoned that we would give all our attention and resources to this little person and hope for the best. We just hoped that they’d be healthy and become a kind member of society.

When Mya Jayn (MJ for short) made her debut in December 2019, we had no idea that in a few short months, the world would stop. MJ became a member of an exclusive group of young people known as “the COVID babies.”

Fortunately for us, we became first-time homebuyers and moved into our cute little two-bedroom house mere days before the government began issuing stay-at-home orders.

Before COVID, I had seen 100% of my therapy clients in person. The pandemic forced me to operate my business completely online.

I was not too fond of the switch to virtual therapy initially. While I’m an introvert by nature, I enjoy the rapport, safety, and energy exchange that in-person sessions provide. But with no other choice, I did the best I could with the circumstances.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a silver lining.

Because I was working from home, I now had the unique opportunity to be a working stay-at-home dad! Sure the world was falling apart, but I was blessed to be able to continue working with lots of breaks to pop across the hall and look at my adorable loaf of joy!

She should be walking by now…

As the pandemic progressed, I did my best to handle the influx of new clients struggling with coping with the various global meltdowns, while juggling my own self-care and life as a new parent.

One of the most powerful quotes I know is, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Because I was in my twenties at the time I became a parent, I had peers and clients who were in a similar life stage. As you have conversations with other parents, it’s hard not to fall into the comparison trap.

For example, we have neighbors across the street with a daughter the same age as MJ. I couldn’t help but compare the fact that their daughter began walking at less than a year old; meanwhile, MJ seemed to be taking her time with crawling.

Whereas Web MD suggests that babies, on average, begin walking between 8 and 18 months, MJ barely hit that milestone in time for her second birthday.

When she eventually learned to walk; it felt like she went from crawling to running overnight!

Parenting Anxiety

Rachel and I have an interesting parenting dynamic. I’ve always been the anxious and logistical one whereas she’s the free spirit with ADHD (combined type). When MJ was born, something strange happened. Rachel developed anxiety about everything related to MJ whereas I remained calm and orderly, reserving my anxiety for everything else, haha!

It’s almost like the Universe determined MJ couldn’t afford to have two parents freaking out at the same time.

With that being said, Rachel has been a rockstar with organizing MJ’s developmental checkups and general health appointments. Throughout the first years, MJ was progressing for most milestones; however, walking and talking were delayed. At first, we reasoned that being isolated due to COVID was the culprit in addition to the fact that MJ is an only child.

But then the unsolicited opinions and comparisons started rolling in.

Remember: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

While I’m not perfect at following this advice, Rachel struggles a lot with comparison when it comes to parenting. In her defense, she works in an elementary school and has several coworkers with young children. I’m a therapist in solo private practice, so I’m less exposed to other parents and subsequent unsolicited opinions.

As MJ missed the milestones for walking and talking, I noticed Rachel’s anxiety growing. There’s a lot of pressure on parents to “do it right.” This is magnified in our situation since MJ is our “one and done.” I’ve seen Rachel break down on many occasions over the years, somehow blaming herself for where MJ’s development “should” be.


In early 2022, Rachel and I made the decision to put MJ into preschool. Though we were terrified about exposing her nonexistent immune system (COVID isolation) to the petri dish of a preschool, we reasoned that her need for instruction, social interaction, and stimulation outweighed the risk of COVID.

Well… Homegirl caught COVID on her first day, ended up in the ER, and then shared the virus with us… But that’s neither here nor there.

MJ thrived at preschool and quickly became a little celebrity among the staff. Though her social and learning skills were developing, we were still concerned about the delays in speech.

Early Intervention

Since Rachel is a school counselor, she knew all about early intervention services. Early intervention is a set of services funded by the local community services board. I remember how overwhelming the initial assessments were; however, after all that stress and paperwork, they eventually determined that MJ qualified for both occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy.

To my understanding, OT helps with motor skills, activities of daily living, and learning skills. Speech therapy was prescribed to assist with MJ’s speech delay, which was scoring at a one-year-old level when she was already two.

From my observation, OT didn’t really help MJ, and the folx providing it didn’t seem to care much about the treatment goals. In contrast, speech therapy was amazing. The lady would come to our house and MJ’s preschool to spend one-on-one time with various language exercises. Between speech therapy and preschool, MJ’s talking improved a lot; however, she was far from where she “should” be.

Early Intervention went on until MJ aged out of the program on her third birthday in December. Rachel then had to fight with the school system in our district to provide speech therapy through an IEP (Individual Education Plan). Requesting a child study and an IEP is a right that parents have as taxpayers in the school system.

Colonial Heights was initially lax about our sense of urgency to keep supporting MJ with speech therapy after MJ aged out of early intervention, but Rachel played hardball and got them into formation!

MJ currently participates in speech therapy weekly through the school system. We take her to a private preschool since the school system doesn’t take children under 4 years old.

Our Broken Healthcare System

In addition to dealing with the red tape of the community services board and the school system, we’ve had to navigate the busted-ass healthcare system to get support for MJ’s developmental delays.

  • ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist appointments
  • Hearing tests
  • Seizure studies
  • Treating allergies and recurrent ear infections

To date, MJ has had four surgeries to correct barriers to her speech and hearing:

  • Ear tubes
  • Adenoidectomy
  • Lip tie removal
  • Tongue tie removal

Again, Rachel has been a beast in advocating for all these medical interventions because our pediatricians often brushed off our concerns. Despite not being trained in mental health or psychological testing, one pediatrician flippantly suggested MJ might be autistic (autism spectrum disorder, ASD), which doesn’t seem to be the case based on early intervention, the child study from the school system, or Rachel and I’s professional opinions (I’m a therapist and she’s a school counselor).

SN: My annoyance at the suggestion of autism isn’t shade to those who live on the spectrum; rather, as a licensed therapist, it pisses me off when so-called professionals throw around a label or diagnosis without doing their due diligence. 

As of this writing, MJ has not received a formal diagnosis, as the DSM 5-TR (the Bible of mental health) requires the elimination of physical and environmental ailments before determining a mental or learning diagnosis.

The Journey Continues

Three out of four of the aforementioned surgeries were performed yesterday by an outstanding ENT physician that was recommended by one of my therapy clients. As I write this, I can hear MJ upstairs waking up for the morning. Understandably, she’s cranky and annoyed. The poor thing is in pain physically and likely emotionally. As of this writing, the doctors and specialists have determined that before surgery, MJ’s hearing feels to her that she’s listening to the world from underwater. I can only imagine how frustrating that is to her.

MJ is incredibly intelligent and tantrums because she can’t hear or speak well enough to communicate with us.

Rachel and I have been through a lot over the past three years with MJ and her developmental delays. Here’s to hoping these surgeries, interventions, appointments, and stress are leading to the next chapter, where our little Mya Jayn will soar.

But until then, I’m removing “should” from my vocabulary.

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4 thoughts on “Removing “Should” from my Vocabulary– Parenting a Child with Developmental Delays”

  1. Jennie says:

    Thank you for writing this up. Comparison is indeed a thief of joy.

    1. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  2. Bryan Munson says:

    Well written and informative, so nice to get such a clear update on your journey with Mya Jayn. Hope she recovers quickly.

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