Is she a good baby? Learning about ‘Motherguilt’.
The thing about having a new baby is that people stop you in the street, in a cafe, in a bookshop – just all over the place, to admire, coo and comment on your gorgeous child. This is lovey. What is not lovely is the inevitable question which follows – ‘Is she a good baby?’ It’s not just strangers who ask this question though, it seems that it’s one of the first questions asked of a new mother and it’s beginning to make me uncomfortable.
At the risk of totally over-analysing an innocent question, last week I started to feel embarrased if the little precious cried for any period of time while we were around people. Ridiculous I know, but for some reason I started to feel responsible for this, like it was a reflection on my parenting. What was probably an innocent question started to take on a whole new meaning for me. And I didn’t like it!
As I’ve said previously our little darling is a reasonably settled baby (already I feel the need to ‘defend’ my precious girl) but she does cry. In fact she cried for about 4 hours last Thursay and nothing I did helped. I fed her, changed her, rocked her, walked her, put her down. Nada. In the end I just held her and let her cry figuring that at least she could get it out of her system in a loving embrace. Perhaps I just didn’t ‘get’ what she needed. Perhaps what she needed was just to cry. I will never know.
What I learnt from the experience, and please be kind to me as I bare my ‘new mother’ soul, is that this innocent question implies some really unhelpful things.
First, it implies that a baby is capable of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and second, it implies that this behavious is a direct reflection on the parenting skills of the mother. Ok, perhaps it doesn’t imply that second bit but a new mum may find herself going down that path…as I did.
A ‘good’ baby presumably is one that eats and sleeps on cue and cries only with a gentle whimper when it needs something. A ‘bad’ baby is a nightmare for the new mum who struggles through long nights and frazzled days with a baby whose seeming sole purpose in life is to frustrate his or her parents.
A competent, capable, calm mother will result in a contented, happy, ‘good’ baby. A mum who’s not coping, is stressed, sleep deprived and overly cautious will have a whingy, unhappy, unsettled ‘bad’ baby.
All of a suddenly this innocent question leaves a new mother either feeling guilty and embarrased about their own parenting ability, and/or unsure how to answer without making her baby ‘look bad’. The rare mother might be left basking in the glory of a wonder child…but if you meet her let me know :)
For me, the answer to the question is of course, “Yes my baby is a wonderful baby. She is my baby. She is the best baby I could have…and she cries a bit.”