Sunday, December 09, 2007

What Kind of Question is That?

Between the time that Joshua exited newborn-hood and Clare entered our world, I had forgotten that folks seem to want to ask mothers of newborns all sorts of loaded questions. Many folks believe that that the number of hours per night a baby sleeps is ultimate barometer of competent parenting. They always ask, with an air of smugness, "So, is she sleeping through the night yet?" I find that this is frequently asked by older men, and I always wonder if they're remembering the many sleepless nights they had when their children were brand new, hoping that everyone else is subjected to the same torture that they once were.

And of course people ask all sorts of developmental questions. Does she sit up, roll over, count to ten, solve quadratic equations? Because, of course, those are all reflections on parenting skill, too.

But the question that kills me, gets me every time, is "Is she a good baby?"

Let's think about this. If she's not a good baby, then she must be, say it with me, a bad baby. And what kind of mother would ever claim that she has a bad baby? I know the question they really want answered is, "Is she an easy baby?" But to couch it in terms of "good" and "bad" makes me want to respond in a not-very-nice way.

I have had to hold my tongue on several occasions, because the answer I want to give is, "Well, we thought she was a good baby until we found the cigarettes and playing cards under her crib mattress last week. But now we know...she's a bad baby."

Of course she's a good baby. She's a baby! Even if she's fussy, high-maintenance, cranky, or even, God forbid, colicky, she's still a good baby!

Believe me, I know the question-askers are well-intentioned, and I try to remember that. But we have many, many years to put labels on our children that will either make their spirits soar or crush them. Let's just enjoy the simple purity of baby-ness while it lasts.

12 comments:

Christine said...

I HATE that question.

I just used to look at my baby ... then back up at them ... then burst into tears when someone asked me the "good baby" question. That'd pretty much nip it in the bud.

HP said...

I think you should go with the smoking and gambling bit...at least once!

Darby said...

I agree with HP I would pay money to have you use that answer at least once! :)

Kel Bel said...

How about this...well, we thought she was a good baby until we discovered she was selling our chickens to support her crack habit!

Actually I will buy you lunch if you can burst into tears the next time someone says it to you. You can pretty guarantee that's the last time they would make such a comment :)

martha said...

This really is a prime opportunity for Great Comedy...

How 'bout...[zombie tone] 'She's a very good baby and don't let her hear you think she's not.'

...or..."No, she's *&^%ing stupid! Do you want her for ten bucks?"

Orangeblossoms said...

this post is priceless.....

You could also lean in conspiratorially and say , "Was your baby a baaad baby?" Then nod knowingly like you're really, really sorry for their suffering.

Or you could go with: "Well, we sort of consider her a cautionary tale...."

Tom said...

This all rings true. I found my own baby, Avery (16 months) has been involved in a complex identity theft ring. That's when I also found out about the insider trading. Needless to say I was shocked. We are currenly re-evaluating the quality of her baby-ness. I'm still convinced she can get back on the good track.

Sarah said...

In the defence of non-parents, sometimes it's hard to think of anything to ask. 'Is she sleeping through the night?' translates as 'I hope you're getting some sleep'... I try not to follow it up with complaints about my own lack of sleep the previous night...

Mary Beth said...

You are all very funny.

Sarah--Point taken. I guess new parents tend to obsess so much about sleep (or lack thereof) that it would seem logical to ask that question. I think most, if not all, parents of newborns would agree that two of the best questions to be asked are, "What's a good night next week for me to bring you dinner?" and "Can I hold her?" (when mom is trying to eat and baby is crying) :)

Erica said...

What I hate right now: our first is incredibly easy-going, social, slept well, etc. This has very little to do with what I refer to as my "slacker-parenting" style.

we are not pregnant again, but the church folk already say things like: "Oh, Zora's so good. The next one is going to be really tough."

What?!? Don't put that on the poor kid even before conception!

Mary Beth said...

OK, Erica, it's true confession time. I'm one of those people who has said that in the past, but I promise I won't anymore. It's a defense mechanism for those of us with "bad" babies. We're just hoping that easiness is random and that the high-maintenance-ness if our babies isn't a product of bad parenting.

Sorry *ducks head sheepishly*

anna said...

I have to admit I ask the "question" but only because if she is then I want to know what the secret is because my 11 month is still not sleeping through the night!

And I also admit that I tell parents all the time that bad babies equal easy going kiddos later in life...at least that's what I hope. ;)