Life as a new Mum in Leyton is a life lived on buses. There’s not much going on, and the bus is the most convenient escape route for those brandishing an unwieldy pram. I make this point to excuse myself for two blog posts in a row based loosely around something that happened on a bus (insert predictable “you wait and two come at once” joke here).
So I was on the bus, and the grandmother of the baby in the pram slot next to mine struck up the normal small talk – how old, boy or girl, etc. Then she said “Is she good?”. Filled with pride, I gave her a knowing look, and said “Yes, she’s really good”.
What do people mean when they refer to a baby as “good”? They normally mean a baby that sleeps a lot (when convenient for the parents) and doesn’t cry very much. It’s a strange phrase to use, as it suggests that babies who don’t conform to these standards are somehow “bad”.
If I were to have taken her meaning as above and answered in all honesty, my little girl is going through a not so “good” phase at the moment. She is waking often in the night, and is sometimes finding it difficult to get back to sleep. She goes through phases of crying a lot during the day. But I answered as I did because there is no such thing as a “bad” baby. There are just babies who happen to be content or babies who happen to be distressed. Whether she is happy or sad, my baby is pretty much the best thing in my world – “good” is understating it.
Of course, the lady on the bus was very well meaning, and would have been sympathetic if I’d have chosen to bore her with a detailed account of my baby’s sleep routine. Referring to babies as “good” is so ingrained in our language, that it would be ridiculous to suggest people stop; I often do it myself without thinking. But it is symptomatic of the value placed on quiet / convenient babies in our society, and the latent pressure on parents to manage their behaviour.
It makes me sad to think that there is a burgeoning industry in books on how to train babies to cry less. Crying is the main form of communication that a baby has, and it’s a dangerous myth that no crying always equals a happy baby. If a baby has been trained to understand that crying will not bring the attention and comfort that it needs, it will stop crying not because it’s happy, but because it has given up. Why any loving parent would want their baby to stop communicating with them is beyond me.
For those with a passing interest in babies or developmental psychology, the article below makes for a fascinating read. It challenges those who advocate “cry it out” techniques with research-based evidence.
Each time I am kept awake at 4am by an unhappy baby, I take a deep breath and remind myself that (contrary to popular belief) babies do not cry just for the joy of being a pain in the ass. Being a pain in the ass is what their teenage years are for.