You shouldn’t ask me “is your daughter a good baby?”
I don’t have a “good baby.” She doesn’t sleep through the night, she sometimes bites while nursing, and she puts her feet in my face when she’s in my bed.
And you know what? I don’t care.
At first, I wasn’t even consciously aware of the repercussions of this question. With my first child I was so in love (and so overwhelmed at the same time) that I didn’t even really understand what in the hell it meant. Of course he’s “good” – he smells fantastic, he’s sweet and gorgeous and perfect. I MADE HIM IN MY BODY. Why wouldn’t he be good?
But then I started to really read between the lines. When people asked me that, there was usually a follow-up question about his eating or sleeping habits. And then it dawned on me.
They aren’t really asking if he’s “good.” They’re asking “does he fit in society’s perfect box of what a baby is supposed to be?”… namely, “is he convenient?”
From talking to acquaintances (even our pediatrician, who didn’t last long with our family), friends and family, and other parents on the good ole interwebs, here is what I have discovered with this seemingly simple question.
When someone asks “are they a good baby?”, usually they mean one or more of the following:
- Does your baby sleep through the night? I know this sounds nice in theory, but it’s devastatingly wrong for many reasons. First, if you’re breastfeeding you gotta maintain that “supply and demand” relationship, so if your baby doesn’t eat then you have to get up and pump anyway. (And trust me, you’d rather get sweet snuggles than listen to that stupid whirring at 2am.) Your baby is also not programmed to sleep through the night. It’s biological! We can’t bring a new person into the world and say we’re clocking out from 9pm until the next morning. My 3.5 year old just started sleeping through the night recently, and I didn’t worry one bit.
- Does your baby cry? Well, let’s see. A baby runs on a “needs” basis. Everything in their life is need-based. They don’t want to watch more TV, or have another bowl of ice cream. When they cry, it’s because in their mind they truly need something. It can be a clean diaper, some relief from gas pain or burps, Mama’s milk, or comforting when they’re scared or tired. It makes no sense to tell your child “sorry, you’re not allowed to be hungry for another 45 minutes.” Your baby has only one way to communicate with you, and that’s by crying.
- Do they eat on a schedule which is convenient for you? There’s nothing wrong with your baby eating on a predictable schedule, but life happens. There’s illness and sleepless nights and growth spurts and teething and all kinds of other reasons why your baby would change up when/how much they consume. And this is true of formula or breastmilk babies. If you’re not going to feed your child when they’re hungry because you don’t want to get up, then you shouldn’t have a baby.
A good friend whom I really admire recently told me about a baby she once met. She’d been told by a friend that a baby at a gathering they were going to was just “such a good baby.” My friend – let’s call her Christy – saw the baby at the party, carried inside in her carseat. The child was quiet, which to my friend (who is a doula and lactation consultant, so yeah she knows babies) was not a good thing. Eventually Christy got to see the baby up close, and was told that the child was about three months old. The child had no head control, had a flat place on her skull from being laid down all the time, and couldn’t even hold eye contact with anyone. Good baby? No. Neglected baby? Yes.
So give me the loud, ornery babies who wake up in the night wanting Mama because they know Mama will always be there for them. Let me have the children who ask questions, want to be involved and be held and be active. I’ll gladly take all those “bad babies.”
Because those “bad babies” will be the innovators, the strong ones and the determined ones. Bad babies will change the world just like anyone else can.
There’s nothing wrong with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night (again I say IT’S NOT NORMAL ANYWAY!!!) or who wants to be with their mother and father. What’s wrong is that our society has decided that babies should be seen, not heard. Babies shouldn’t bug us when we’re tired. Let’s not think of the fact that babies have every need met perfectly when in the womb: an unborn baby is never hungry, cold, tired, scared, nor dirty. But they are born into a bright loud world and we expect them to fit into our lives without any sacrifice on our part.
I hope you can see how passionate I am about this. And don’t get me wrong: I’m tired. I use attachment parenting hacks like cosleeping and babywearing to help me meet my baby’s needs without going insane. And I’m not always joyous about leaky diapers in the wee hours of the morning. But I gladly meet all of my childrens’ needs, because I’m their parent damnit. That’s my job. It’s not a surprise that this is all normal parenting of a little person.
So for all that is holy, don’t ask me “is she a good baby?” Because she’s MY baby. And that means, in my eyes, she is all that is perfect.