What You’re Really Saying When You Ask A Mom If She Has A “Good Baby”
On a recent hot summer day, I strolled my 5-month-old baby out to the local library for some air-conditioned baby story time and sing-along. As we wrapped up, I plopped my baby down on the floor for a quick diaper change. Another mom, who had an older infant and a toddler, started chatting with me. She called my baby cute and said hi to him. Then she asked me the question that makes my blood boil: "So is he a good baby?"
Here's the thing: When people ask if you have a good baby, they're most likely asking about how they're sleeping, or if they're colicky. These are reasonable questions, though perhaps they're a tad invasive. But the question, "Is he a good baby?" doesn't come across that way. When a fellow new mom asks if you have a good baby, what they're really asking is, "Are you having an easier time than I am?"
To a degree, this is understandable; every new mom is measuring herself against every other mom, and these questions just kind of come up naturally. But one thing folks can do to help is not plant the seeds of self-doubt in moms' heads by asking the dreaded "good baby" question.
I can remember the first time someone asked if I had a "good baby." I think it was my husband's great-aunt, and our baby was only about three weeks old. We were still in the throes of early parenthood, and we were trying to figure out what the hell we could do to get our baby to eat or sleep. We were incredibly stressed out and sleep-deprived. So when she turned to me and asked, "Is he a good baby?," I kind of drew a blank.
What does that question even mean? How could a 3-week-old not be a "good" baby"?
I had no idea what she was talking about. What does that question even mean? How could a 3-week-old not be a "good" baby"? He's too little to misbehave, right? Or is it totally possible for a three-week-old to be a jerk on purpose? I looked at her, the confusion evidence on my face, "Um, I don't think he knows how to be bad yet," I said. My reaction elicited some chuckles from some of the more experienced parents in the room. Clearly, I had no idea what was going on.
I remember meeting a fellow new mom in my apartment complex whose baby was just about the same age as mine. She told me her baby was sleeping 11 hours at night when he was a month old. I was still waking every three or four hours for my little one to eat, so I seethed internally, raging with jealousy and cursing the skies for my dumb luck. Now, that mom had a "good" baby. I must have gotten a "bad" one.
Every new baby is different. Every new baby sleeps differently, eats differently, and acts differently during play time, night time, and nap time. Nothing an infant does, especially at such a young age, can be inherently "good" or "bad" — it just is. Their behavior also changes dramatically throughout the first year of their lives. Who knows how that other baby in my apartment complex is sleeping now, after regressions and changes and growing?
Asking someone if they have a good baby might just be a way for people to make conversation or to inquire about new parents' lives, but it creates self-doubt in new parents who are already beaten down, sleep-deprived, and unsure of themselves. Besides, can you imagine if someone asked you, "So, are you a good mom?"
Actually, every baby is a good baby. Your baby is a good baby. My baby is a good baby. They're good because they're ours, and we love them.
So let's stop asking moms, dads, and parents if they have a "good baby." Because actually, every baby is a good baby. Your baby is a good baby. My baby is a good baby. They're good because they're ours, and we love them. If you want to know how a baby is sleeping or eating, just ask that question instead. Or better yet, ask a new parent a better question: "Can I cook you something?" "Can I bring you something?" "Would you like me to come over to babysit so you can nap/shower/sit around staring at the wall for no reason?" Every new parent is looking for consolation and non-judgmental help, and the "good baby" questions just reeks of unintentional judgment. So let's send it to the garbage.