As a teacher I have never been comfortable using the phrases “good girl” or “good boy”. These descriptions seem to indicate that a child is “good” when he or she complies with an adult’s wishes. The flip side is that we can then infer that the child is “bad” when not doing what an adult wants him or her to do. Semantic fussiness, I know, but it has always rubbed me the wrong way when I hear an adult tell a child she is a “good girl”.
I prefer to praise the specific behaviours that I want to encourage in children, so I aim to say things such as “wow, great work using those finger spaces today” or “thanks for listening so well at the carpet” or “good job tidying up the painting materials”. I find that children generally respond quite well to this sort of specific positive feedback, and it is not tied to their inherent worth as a human being, girl or boy (yes, yes, my equity training tells me that I must insist that gender is a social construct, but that’s a whole other blog post to come, in which the mountain of pink clothing in my daughter’s closet shall be discussed).
A woman at the community centre met Willow and asked me, as many others have asked in recent weeks, “Is she a good baby”? My answer was a resounding “Yes!! Of course she is!”
Let’s be clear: In my eyes Willow is perfect. She’s a miracle. She is my greatest teacher. She’s a joy to behold and cherish and she makes me a better person by her very existence. She makes this world a better place and I am so thankful to be blessed with her in my life when so many are denied this very joy. Of COURSE she is “good”. She is better than good… She is amazing.
The woman, like so many before her, went on with her line of questioning, unsatisfied with my answer that I have a “good” baby: “Oh, so she sleeps through the night, then?” Well, if you call a two hour stretch comprised of 45-60 minutes of actual sleep bookended by 60-75 minutes of quiet bleating noises (lovingly coined her “barnyard noises”) between feedings “sleeping through the night” then the answer is “yes”. Otherwise, like many babies her age, no, she is not sleeping for 8 hours straight. Does having a tiny tummy that needs food every few hours at night make her a “bad baby”? I certainly hope not. No more than my needing insulin and food at regular intervals makes me a “bad” adult.
I told the woman that Willow sleeps for a few hours at a time and that I am doing well with bits and pieces of sleep. The woman looked at me apologetically. “Oh… It must be so hard”, she said, shaking her head. “It’s all good”, I replied. And it IS all good. I was not just being polite. The human body is incredibly amazing. Humans can adapt to extreme situations, including sleep disruption, sleep deprivation… And we not only survive but thrive. Yes, I am often tired. Most parents of newborns are tired. BUT I chose the job of motherhood very deliberately and have been preparing for it for many years. I will happily trade sleep for the bundle of love nursing at my breast as I type this. The best part is that my new “boss” lets me nap on the job now and again, so while I lack long uninterrupted stretches of sleep I certainly get nice tiny chunks of sleep that allow my brain and body to sufficiently rest and recover.
The woman pressed on, “Well if she’s a good baby she doesn’t cry then, at least… right?” Well… She cries when I change her, she cries when I put her hat on, she cries when she is hungry, wet, gassy, hot, cold, bored, overstimulated, when the car comes to a stoplight, when the cat decides to stop purring by her ear, when the bath water stops running… But so do many other babies. Crying is how babies communicate with us and let us know what they are thinking and feeling. If I thought that crying to tell me that she needs a diaper change made her a “bad baby” then maybe I should have researched this a bit more before choosing to become a parent. I am indeed lucky that I don’t have a constantly screaming colicky baby, but even if I did… she would not be “bad”.
When Willow was sick for the first few weeks of her life she was a model “good baby” by the standards of the community centre woman as well as many others. She slept as long as we’d let her, and would have easily slept “through the night”, albeit with dire health consequences. She had to be woken and force fed with a syringe every few hours in order to stay alive. She had zero interest in eating and lacked the energy to suck at a breast or bottle. The doctors could not do an eye exam because she refused to open her eyes. She didn’t communicate by crying because she didn’t have the energy to cry. Apparently she was a “dream baby” since she was quiet and didn’t “bother” us. Heck, we didn’t even really have to change her diapers that often since she was dehydrated and not eating enough to produce an adequate amount of urine or stool…
I am so thankful for the dirty and wet diapers that demonstrate how healthy my daughter is now. I am thankful for the nighttime barnyard noises that let me know she is digesting her food. I am thankful for the screams I hear and the kick/punch combo I see when the kitten knocks a toy off the table that was being intensely stared at, as this demonstrates adequate reflexes and normal visual, auditory and brain development. I am thankful that my baby now wakes ME up when she needs food with a hearty cry, instead of me living with multiple alarms set, constantly pumping milk and preparing formula, forcing her to stay awake and forcing her to eat one mL at a time. I can laugh when an “incident” has me changing my clothes and her clothes for the fourth time in a day.
Is it hard to be a new mother? Absolutely. Do I resent my baby or my role as a mommy? Not a chance. Would I consider my child to be a “bad” baby, even if she never slept and screamed around the clock? Nope. She’d still be a perfect and cherished gift… no less wanted, no less loved. You don’t wait this long for a miracle and then ask to send it back.
Willow Bean, you are loved beyond measure. Always remember that.