Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In which there isn't such thing as "bad" babies....

“Wow, he’s such a –er—content baby,” I commented to a friend recently, noticing that it didn’t bother him that he’d been left alone forever in his stroller seat. I almost said “good” baby, and catching myself and thinking about what I was actually saying got me to thinking in general on the topic.

We’re pretty good at slicing babies into a couple categories….good babies and bad babies. Good babies never cry, take minimal or no effort, and really aren’t much of an inconvenience to your life. Bad babies…well, let’s just say they rule your life for at least a little while. But really? Are babies actually bad? It’s not like it’s their goal and intent to inconvenience you, ruin your plans, and make your life frustrating. I don’t think a 3 month old wakes up devising ways to ruin your day. I don’t think a good baby is truly any more angelic than a “bad” baby, even if they allow you to carry on with your life.

So…I really prefer terms like “content” and “higher needs”. Because really, that’s what it is. It’s not a matter of a baby being “bad”…it’s simply that they really, truly, have higher needs than your average baby. They aren’t trying to make sure you get nothing done, they’re just conveying that they have important emotional and physical needs to be met by you.

And, unless I go over the deep end (not saying that won’t happen…but it’s not the plan, at least!), I’d never know if I had a “good” baby who would sit for hours by itself. I don’t want to know….I have no desire to take advantage of a more-content-than-average baby and neglect important emotional needs just because I can. I don’t want to “test” our kids and push them to their limits just to see what kind of freedom I can get from each one.

On the other hand, whether or not some of our babies are more content will be obvious. A high-needs baby is pretty unmistakable. And content babies don’t need quite as much as a high-needs baby, necessarily. There isn’t anything wrong with letting a content baby do some things that Viviana would never have done- like playing on the floor for 10 minutes. Each baby has individual needs, and a content baby might really enjoy and desire floor time that Vivi couldn’t handle and wasn’t interested in until she was fairly old. I just wouldn’t want to practically ignore said baby just because “hey, he’s content sitting over there by himself, so why should I ruin a good thing and ‘have’ to spend time with him when I could be getting such and such done?”

Content babies can be a blessing, especially in certain seasons of life….God knows what we need when He sends small packages our way! But so are high needs babies….Vivi brings so much joy every single day, and getting to spend all her waking minutes with her is a lot of fun. There’ve been harder seasons, but I’d never trade our Vivi-girl for an easy baby- she’s too great a blessing to us!

So….let’s not forget the blessing in each baby, whether content or high needs. Let’s not write some off as being “bad” simply because they’re babies with needs and don’t allow life to go forward as used to be normal. And let’s not enviously label some as “good” because they’re willing to play alone all day….it isn’t overly healthy for them anyway- and I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to loose so many hours a day with my baby just because he’s content.


  1. I agree! I have the opposite of you: a baby that is labeled "good" wherever she goes. She was born with a strong, mature digestive system and never had problems with gas or colic. She is content to be held and cuddled and rarely cries. She is very observant and loves to just sit and watch things. She is still able to sit through an entire church service on my lap (most of the time!) with only a pencil and some paper to keep her busy...she spends most of the time looking at everyone and everything. Her interest in the Mei tai waned as she got older and now she prefers to sit in the front of the grocery cart when we shop. She starts bouncing and smiling and reaching for the seat when she sees a cart! I can take her on long shopping trips (with snacks and drinks of course) and she will be content to look around and help me put things in the cart. Until very recently, she was able to fall asleep anywhere my lap was - church, friend's house, airplane - and stay asleep for at least an hour. Strangers are constantly telling me what a "good baby" she is.

    I hate when people label fussy or high-needs babies as "bad"...or when they label my baby as "good" (because it implies that others are bad). Scarlett simply has a low-attention-needing personality, and is more observant and interested in her surroundings than other babies her age. While she loves to cuddle and be with us, she doesn't need direct attention all the time like many other babies do. It's just the way she is...not good or bad.

    I do have to mention that having a baby play on the floor by themselves for 10 minutes (or an hour or more, like our baby) is not always ignoring them. Scarlett has a basket of spoons/cups/ladles/etc in the kitchen and a little shopping cart and she will play happily around my feet while I do dishes/laundry/dinner and other things. Sometimes she sits in the sink while I do dishes, sometimes she helps make food, sometimes (well, always, lol!) she helps put clothes in the washer and take them out of the dryer...but the rest of the time she will play happily in the same room as me. I don't feel that I'm ignoring her. She is very dependent on us, but is capable of playing on her own (and loves it!). Just like electronic toys and television, I have to admit that I wonder sometimes if over-entertaining a baby actually causes them to have less imagination and ability to think on their own. If everything is done for them (blocks stacked, toy people danced around, etc), do they become "addicted" to constant movement and attention and become unable to play quietly and imaginatively with their own ideas? That would probably be another topic for another blog post though!

    I agree though...some people take advantage of their "good" babies and simply ignore them. I could see this being an even bigger issue in a home with lots of other children to care for. A child like mine would simply fall through the cracks.

  2. One of Vivi's "strong points" is, too, a great interest in seeing what's going one. It was a problem when she was little since she got so over stimulated by noise/sight/etc., but is quite fun now. :-) Shopping trips are fun and generally easy- she loves seeing everything that's going on. She's recently ridden in the cart a time or two, which she likes- I think she thinks she's pretty big stuff. ;-)

    I agree- there's nothing wrong with short/limited/monitored periods of "floor time" which may happen to be alone if mom's busy with something else. On the other hand, I don't think there was anything wrong with catering to Vivi's inability (emotionally) to handle it, and I think it would've been cruel to have forced it. But for all the babies who love it, have at it! It's still different from ignoring your baby or stretching them as long as you can, just because you can.... (10 minutes- fabulous. Hours....not so much. Time would vary in different ages and stages, too) Vivi spends a lot more time on the floor now than she did previously. We're still in the same room or vicinity (it's really nice that our kitchen/living room/dining room is all open to each other!) and gab a lot with each other and I take the time to get down and play with her....but relatively, she's playing on her own. She still doesn't walk (mastered crawling a couple months ago) so there's a lot of aspects to "helping" me that she can't participate in yet. So rather than helping me cook (occasionally she sits on the counter to do so) she often plays with pots and pans at my feet which could last long periods of time. If she needs touch time, she watches from her perch on my back. Same for laundry and other tasks that I know she'll be very eager to get into (and does to a small degree now) once she masters movement. :-)

    And yeah- there is an interesting balance of letting children learn how to use their imaginations....and not being too "in their face". A lot of it's probably an age thing....the first year or so, I would probably tend to say that emotional development and needs are the most important. But I would never argue against a 3 year old needing to play on their own since they're at a critical stage for developing their minds/imagination/etc.

    Things will be different with two, as well...Vivi's still going to need my focused attention- she's still a lot "younger"/more needy emotionally than a typical child her age....as will the baby. And while there are a lot of needs that can be met simultaneously there'll be times when one or the other needs my focus...which means if the other isn't sleeping they'll be more or less playing alone. Just as you mentioned with a large family (totally agree!) with any life changes I think it's important to evaluate all your children and their needs in order to help make sure that kids don't slip through cracks or get "taken advantage of". I'm sure it's easy to do....like so many things in life, it's one of the reasons we're really big on thinking/talking through and reevaluating our priorities and how life's working out for everyone in the family!

  3. I wonder if physical maturity has something to do with children's abilities to handle "floor time"? Scarlett has always been rather active and physically ahead of other children her age (commando crawling at 7 months, walking at 11, running and independently going up/down stairs at 12, climbing on/off furniture at 13 months), so she enjoys being free to roam and explore, and it helps her get out energy! She's pretty rough and tumble and doesn't mind falling and scraping her knees and stuff. She seems more like I would have expected a boy to behave than a little girl sometimes!

    I definitely agree with catering to your child's personal needs. If Scarlett had wanted to be held rather than run and play, I would have held her. Baby wearing is difficult for me because of a back surgery, but I was able to wear her a lot when she was younger and lighter. Now she gets frustrated in the mei tai and wants to get down and run. She still sits in my lap for meal times and sleeps in bed with us, so that probably fulfills some of her need for touch.

    I hope everything goes well for you with two babies! I always wonder what the personality of a new baby will be like...you could get another just like Vivi, or one more like my Scarlett. Or one totally different than any baby you've met before!

  4. I'm sure it's not the case for all children, but I totally think Vivi's physical development has corresponded with emotional development. It just seems like she never wanted to try anything because the toys or whatever weren't worth leaving the security of touching mom's leg. She just wasn't ready to handle being that far away from me....even if it was just a matter of inches.

    Yes, I'm quite curious to see what this baby's personality is like! :-) So far, as far as in-utero goes, s/he's totally different from Vivi. I really don't think Vivi ever moved (kicked/stretched out a lot- but not actual movement), or at least not much....but this little one is very active. Loves to move all over the place.... :-)