Is He A Good Baby?

by shelly on September 22, 2010

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Is he a good baby? You ask, as you ring up my groceries.

It’s 5PM on a Friday. I’ve been waiting in line for quite some time, and my two girls are getting ready to have meltdowns. I’m holding my baby boy in my tired, aching arms because for some reason he decided he didn’t like to ride in the sling today, and he is too young to sit up in the carriage.

I know you are trying to make conversation. I know you are reaching out to me, a stranger, because you think the baby I’m holding is adorable. I know you are trying to be nice.

I know all these things, and yet I still have to grit my teeth and pause before answering. You have no way of knowing that you just asked me the question that I despise the most.

When my girls were infants, I never minded that question. They both fit society’s idea of what a “good” baby should be; neither cried very much and were very content, and both slept through the night starting at four weeks old.

But my son? At three months old, he is what the revised version of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding calls a “Sparkler”: a baby who is “doing, fussing, and demanding all the time.” My son never seems to be content. He’s always fussing, always demanding to be held, always needing some kind of input.

My son does not fit society’s view of a “good baby”.

But then…does that make him a bad baby? No. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a bad baby. All babies are good babies.

To be asked that question all the time can be draining. I have a friend who, when asked this question about her lovely infant daughter, will sometimes reply “Well she’s a bit of an arsonist but we are trying to break her of that habit”. Why can’t our society just accept babies as they are, as nature designed them, instead of trying to turn them into scheduled, convenient packages that fit into our lives exactly as we want them to?

Having a baby whose problems were not solved by bringing him to the breast; having a baby who at times I can not calm, not matter what I do; having a baby who cried so much at me that at times I took it as a personal rejection…it hasn’t been easy.

But he is not a “bad” baby. He’s my baby. He’s my baby with his own strong personality. He’s my baby that I love to hold, even when he is fussy. He’s my baby that I will wake up in the middle of the night for and stay awake, just to watch him sleep peacefully. He’s my baby that I kiss and hug, bury my nose in his hair and breathe in the wonderful baby smell.

Is he a good baby?

It’s 5PM on a Friday night, and my arms are so tired that they feel like they are going to fall off. You are smiling at me, waiting for my answer.

Yes, he is.

Then I bury my nose in his hair….and breathe deep.

Shelly is a homeschooling mom of three and birth and postpartum doula. She blogs daily at Adventures of a Breastfeeding Mother.


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shelly (9 Posts)

Shelly is a mother of two and a birth and postpartum doula. When not blogging, she homeschools her children and is involved with her local La Leche League chapter. You can find her daily here: http://www.adventuresofabreastfeedingmother.com.


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

the grumbles September 22, 2010 at 8:13 am

beautiful and well put. really.

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Chrissy September 22, 2010 at 8:28 am

I have been trying to put it into words but this is exactly how I feel. Thank you

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TZoe September 22, 2010 at 11:39 am

Beautiful, made me cry, so sensitive, so true… Thank you!

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Rachael September 22, 2010 at 11:43 am

Thank you for this post. Being the loud and energetic mother of a loud and energetic 2-yo, I, too, despise the question. Though the asker of the question probably does not intend these meanings, what I hear is good baby = baby with no (or few) needs, bad feelings, or moments (or hours, or days) of excitement. Or, possibly even worse, a baby who has needs, bad feelings, or moments of excitement — but keeps them to him/herself. No, my Critter isn’t easy, but boy is he good!

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Covey September 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

As a mom to three “sparklers” I know the feeling. I always answer that “all babies are good babies.” My youngest is 8 months and still gets up 5 or 6 times a night. ITs draining but I know it will end shortly and this time will pass quickly.

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Sharon September 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Shelly, for posting this today!! I so needed to read this. I was just pouring my broken heart out over some very similar things in the comments over on Blacktating…

I do not have one of those fabled “good babies” either. My son has been intense and “sparkly” right from the start…and it seems he’s only gotten MORE sparkly as he has grown! You can almost always find me at the end of my rope, desperately holding my eyelids open, and reminding myself to take deep breaths and count to 10 before I finally lose it at my poor little boy who is only asking to have his needs (however excessive they may feel to me at any given time) met. But the truth is I LOVE this boy. I wouldn’t trade him for anything, not even more sleep or peace and quiet. I love him exactly the way he is and I would not want him to become that “good baby”. I usually laugh and tell people, “Yeah, he’s the best!”

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Nm September 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I’ve had this exact same thought process and conversation with strangers with my little “sparkler” in my arms too. You are soooo right! Babies are all good – it’s our perception of them that needs adjustment.

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Amber September 22, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I love this. Love.

And I have so been there.

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Sharron September 23, 2010 at 7:29 am

Amen, Shelly. The other dreaded question was “Is she a good sleeper?” My third child began sleeping all night at 17 months. Good baby? Absolutely. I used to respond, “she’s doing everything just right.”

Love this post. So well written and speaks for so many of us.

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Lani September 23, 2010 at 7:53 am

Thank you! This is exactly how I feel and I also hate that question! I’m a new mom and my daughter is almost 3 months old. She doesn’t sleep through the night. She fusses…often. But she’s my baby and I adore her.

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Martha September 23, 2010 at 9:14 am

My daughter is mostly a “good baby” but I still hate the question. Or even worse, when they skip over the question and tell her, “You’re such a good girl!”

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vahnee September 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

I totally hear you! A friend and mine had really different babies and now as toddlers they’re still really different. We use words like “mellow”, “easy-going”, “challenging” and “high-spirited” instead. Her daughter may seem fussy to some, but to me it’s just that she’s more discerning than my take-anything daughter, which is really fun to see. Hang in there!

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Angie All The Way September 23, 2010 at 11:16 am

Thank you for this. I am a first time mom of a 6 week old and his temperment requires me to hold him at ALL times but for some very brief periods of time he will be amused by his mobile where I haul ass to pee and get a snack! He is only this past week starting to nap better during the day. His lack of day time sleeping was causing him to be over tired and extremely cranky = needing to pacify himself on my nipples all day long. That coupled with sleep deprivation during the night made/makes for some pretty tough days.

It was so tough and caught me completely off guard because I never anticipated “my” baby would be challenging in that way. I imagined the sleepy agreeable newborn that you could tote everywhere in your sling etc. He’s now starting to improve even though I still can’t put him down for naps during the day and he needs to nap “on” me, but I’ll take that any day over where we started from! I really appreciate this post because you’re right – even with the “cranky” challenges in which we face(d) how can I not consider him a “good” baby? He is my child and as I learn to meet his needs as they change, he’s starting to show more of the “happy” baby that’s been in waiting to show himself. Referring to babies as “good” or “not” now strikes me in a completely different way. Do people mean “easy” when they say “good” perhaps? I think most people are liars when they casually brag about their “good” babies. At least that’s what I keep telling myself! lol

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Julia Jenkins September 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I hate this question too! I’ve actually blogged about it was well. http://pontificationsofatwinmom.blogspot.com/2010/04/use-your-words.html

Oh, if only people would think about what they are actually saying before they open their mouths!

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Jacki September 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm

good baby= convenient baby
;)

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Dena September 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I agree 100%.
I hate responding “yes” because it reinforces their view of good/bad babies. But I’m afraid I’ll sound like I’m lecturing if I say “all babies are good babies”.
I’ll try the arsonist line next time. – love that.

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Melissa September 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I love this article… It reminds me of the way I felt when people used to ask me if my infant son was “spoiled”… Really, what kind of question is that? At first, I thought people were joking when they asked that… but when I responded with a smile, “of course he is!”, I was often met by a confused and disapproving look. People are weird… just accept and love your babies as they are!!!

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Whittney September 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I like to answer :what’s a bad baby?”, but I think I may start using the arsonist line!

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Erin September 23, 2010 at 4:19 pm

I also hate that question and the sleep question. Depending on my mood, I’ll either answer with “Of course! All babies are good babies!” or something along the lines of your friend’s arsonist comment. I’ve also been known to say “Oh no, she’s TERRIBLE! We’re thinking of sending her back where she came from.” Which invariably gets the “Is she adopted?” question, to which I answer “No.” and then usually just walk away while they stand there looking confused.

For the sleeping question, I’d say “She sleeps like a baby, wakes to feed several times a night. Like a normal baby.” (Not that babies who sleep through on their own early aren’t normal, but the opposite is so often seen as abnormal.) Neither of my kids slept through until well into their second year, and my sparkler baby didn’t until close to three years old.

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hannah September 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm

This reminds me of a grad paper I wrote titled “What Does It Mean To Be A Good Student?”–the word “Student” could certainly be replaced with that of “Child.” Check it out on my blog.

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emily September 23, 2010 at 6:24 pm

that was my least favorite too. my little colicky girl was perfect & good. even when she was screaming for hours.

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Amanda September 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Great post Shelly. Connor is definitely a “sparkler”. I love him for it, not in spite of it. Someday his ambitions and the power of knowing what it is he wants and the drive to achieve it, will benefit him greatly. Its not an easy road, but what in life that is worth it, is?

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Katie September 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Two out of my three children are “sparklers”, including my 5-week-old. I really enjoyed your post. People also don’t want me to reply to their question with, “No, he’s really fussy,” or “He’s actually a crab.” And of course, he isn’t “bad”, just intense.

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Beth September 23, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I applaud your ability to blow off the question. Just a week ago, I had a meltdown when I’d been asked that question *yet again*, and when I responded with my stock answer “I’ve never met a bad one!” the women who asked had the audacity to get snippy with me and say, “You know what I mean!” And this was when I lost my composure. Yes, I knew what she meant, but it was my only-slightly snarky way of letting her know I thought the question sucked.

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Tabitha September 23, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I read an article once that said that what we consider difficult or bad babies have a better survival rate in a 3rd world setting or in famine situations. Its an evolutionary benefit

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Sarah G September 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Thanks for posting this. I love it. I’m in the “mommy of a sparkler” club too. All babies are good. :)

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Jessi September 28, 2010 at 9:34 am

I HATE this question! I have the same response internally: ALL babies are good babies! No babies are BAD!!!

But ending the uncomfortable dialogue as you do, with a refreshing breath of baby, is perhaps the best relaxant ever.

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Arielle October 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm

So well said. You made me tear up too. Both my kids have been extremely challenging. Our first was colicky and screamed day and night for months before teething took over with a vengence. Our second started teething hard at 2 weeks. Watching the pain change them was awful. The helplessness I felt aged me 5 yrs each for the first year of their little lives. I will never be the same…and yet I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Our “bad” babies become very intelligent, sensitive little beings as they emerge from their first year and we are still breathing a sigh of relief that they are whole, healthy and crackling with wit and intelligence. It’s wonderful to know we are not alone:)

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