There are 41 definitions of “good” in the dictionary. The one that refers to children is “well-behaved: a good child.”
You’ve heard it a million times —
“Is she a good baby?”
Just yesterday I had two strangers ask me that very question. Is she a good baby? What possible answer could I give aside from a smile and nod? Which of the 41 definitions of “good” were they referring to? The follow-up questions, “Is she a good sleeper?” and “Is she a good eater?” led me to believe they meant, does she sleep through the night, eat all of her food, and generally remain quiet throughout the day, occupying herself with little interruption to my routine.
If that’s the definition, then no. She’s not a “good baby.”
Good babies are convenient; their mothers can live virtually the same as before they came along. Some babies are born good. Others are trained to be good.
Bad babies are inconvenient; their mothers have to stop and be fully present with them. There are no short-cuts, and it’s all consuming raising a “bad baby.” Some babies must be born bad. Others are trained to be so.
The good baby question rests on the cultural assumption that the earlier we can instill qualities like independence and the ability to self-soothe, the better. (Miriam talks more about independence in a recent blog post. ) However, there are no studies that show that infant independence translates into adult independence. Bowlby and Ainsworth, psychologists who conducted a great deal of research in the 1960s and 70s, found just the opposite. Their attachment theory points in the other direction – if we give our babies love, nourishment, and proximity early in life, they will trust their caregiver, and feel safe enough to explore without someone right by their side. In contrast, babies whose mothers come and go and are not a steady presence in their life tend to be clingy and insecure as toddlers, because they don’t have that same assurance.
What I really wanted to say to the strangers was this:
Anabella wakes up several times a night, but she’s learning that her environment is safe and nurturing, and her needs are met. Do I want an uninterrupted night’s sleep? Sure. But I know it will come when she’s ready. This is just a season.
Anabella plays with her food more than she eats it, and often throws it on the floor, but she’s growing well, loves mealtimes and is an adventurous eater.
Anabella cries out when she has to use the bathroom, but she’s learned that if she communicates with me, I’ll respond.
Anabella wants me to play near her, read to her, and sing and dance with her, because she is social and enjoys human interaction. I’m pretty sure she won’t want to have playtime with Mama forever, so I’m cherishing the moments I have with her.
So maybe she’s not a “good” baby. But she’s MY baby, and I love her.
Do you have a good baby? Tell us in the comments!