Do you ever get asked if your baby is a “good baby”? Ugh.
- “Our baby is good-natured and not much of a crier.”
- “He is very happy, never cranky at all.”
- “I need a nanny for my mild-mannered, happy baby”
- “He’s happy, he never cries”
- “She’s easy-going”
- “He is very happy and he loves everyone.”
- “You won’t have any problems with her, that’s how good she is.”
I used to work as a Specialty Nanny for infants. While scanning posts by parents searching for nannies, I often–very often–would read comments such as the above. How do you feel when you’re presenting your baby to the world? Many parents feel as if they will be judged negatively by their baby’s responses. What if the posts said:
- “Our baby cries a lot”
- “Sometimes our baby is happy, but sometimes he needs to cry”
- “Our toddler throws tantrums”
- “She’s often quite colicky and fussy”
Would they attract the great nanny they’re hoping for? Would this choice of words make them look bad? I think this topic speaks volumes about cultural acceptance of emotions, perceptions of behavior, self image, and generations of habits and rules about what’s polite and socially acceptable.
When someone cries, there is often a general cultural discomfort–with good intention, folks may try to console with “it’s okay!” (when really it’s not); or to stop the emotional outburst with “oh, don’t cry!”; or in public, we may ignore it as if it’s not happening. And anyway, who wants to be Nanny to a crying baby?
Well, I did! Babies cry both to communicate and to heal. Emotion is a normal, beautiful, and healthy part of being alive. Why, then, is there a need to say that Baby is good-natured? This is unfortunate! It implies that it is socially unacceptable for a baby to be upset–or to have a baby that is. Or that a family has less chance of attracting an excellent nanny if the baby is cranky; or that crying is “bad behavior;” or that ‘something is wrong with me’; or that a baby who’s happy all the time will cost less when hiring a nanny. So… a happy-only baby is not only socially acceptable, but also economical??
Are we happy all the time? What if our boundaries are encroached upon–do we stay happy and easy-going? What if a friend or family member dies? What if we’re having a hard day? We need access to a wide range of feelings and expression for our well-being and survival. If we hold to the perception that baby should always be happy, it makes his normal and healthy moments of upset seem like a ‘problem.’ The next logical, but unfortunate, step in this thinking is that the ‘problem’ needs to be ‘fixed.’
‘Easy-going’ may indeed be some babies’ natural state, as also “happy.” Fantastic! It is nice for tired caregivers to have a happy, easy-going baby. However, it is human to experience different states of being, and it is healthy to be able to express them without bottling them up. I challenge you, Society, to see anger, grief, and frustration as “nice” also. How enormously wonderful that someone’s baby is able to express herself so fully, remain so connected to herself, and know what she needs! She will have fabulous relationships and a boatload of physical and emotional health if she keeps this up! And she trusts her loved ones enough to tell them how she feels? How “good”! …and while we’re at it, let’s get rid of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ period.
If a baby really never cries or remains easy-going without ever experiencing moments of frustration or upset, these can be signals that Baby does not feel safe enough to release his feelings or is not able to activate a needed reflex for motor skills. In other words, a baby who really “never cries” could be precisely the one who might need a little extra support. All of these options are okay—it’s all communication, not something to hide. I would like to see parents supported more, rather than shunned.
Many parenting articles present tips about distracting Baby when she gets cranky and maintaining control over babies’ behavior. I support you in continuing to be real with yourself, what you expect of your baby, and the perceptions you guide your children into as they grow up.
Here’s to those parents whose babies cry, have “colic,” get frustrated, and are cranky! You are welcome in society, we love your babies, and thank you for modeling this to the rest of the world.
© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved Links welcome.
Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aware Parenting.