It started when he was born. “Is he a good baby?”
And, still, it continues. “So, is he a good kid?”
And, I wonder, what does that mean exactly?
When my son was an infant the question bothered me. It bothered me because my son clearly did not meet the criteria of what most folks seemed to consider made a “good baby”. His colic, epic nursing sessions and tendency to wake up every hour or two ALL NIGHT LONG, were most assuredly not what folks felt qualified him as a “good baby”. And, in my sleep deprived haze I was embarrassed and worried that family and friends would think our darling boyo “bad”. In fact, I remember the sheer angst I felt when my in-laws visited when my son was about a month old–a visit that coincided with our realization that our son would scream all day if I ate eggs. I was horrified that they wouldn’t like him, or think we’d done something wrong, or somehow weren’t parenting properly!
Does this look like a “bad baby” to you?
So, why this insistence on applying character descriptors to an infant or even a toddler? The Catholic church has long held that 7 years of age marked the transition of a child into someone with the ability to take moral responsibility and has been clear that prior to that age or thereabouts a child is unable to actually commit sins. Our penal code even takes into account the idea that criminal offenses perpetrated by minors need to be treated differently than those perpetrated by adults. Further, brain science has made it clear that brain maturity is not reached until upwards of the age of 25(!).
So, why is it that a baby’s desire for food, for comfort, for love and affection are deemed good or bad? The idea of attaching judgment language to those desires–those NEEDS–seems kind of horrific to me.
I have certainly met adults who never shook the label of being a “bad baby”. Adults who became “bad kids” and then “bad teens”. And, it causes me to wonder…what would have happened if their experience of the world around them had been one of fundamental and unassuming love–where their needs were met by gracious response and their wants were tempered by clear boundaries and occasional indulgence?
Now, the only reason I am thinking of this kind of labeling is that, just the other day, we were asked if our son was a “good boy” (and it’s so WEIRD that the opposite of good is bad and that this is the only language we seem to have to talk about our kids!).
My response was, “well, he’s two”. And, there are times when I find two to be terrible and other times when I find two to be terrific. And…I am sure there are times when I (at newly minted 34!) am both terrible and terrific.
And, it strikes me how incredibly challenging it is to be two. Weaning (slowly and in fits and starts), potty training (bit by bit!), learning to talk (also coming slowly in our house)–alongst with the myriad other things we demand of this child who has been on this earth but a short 28 months! Good/bad–it’s amazing that he is as delightful as he is the vast majority of the time! (Truth be told, I’m pretty darn sure I’m not delightful the vast majority of the time!) So, two is not easy…for any of us, really. And, I guess that’s the question that folks are really asking in a way “is he an easy kid?”
But, are any of us really “easy”?
The point, roughly at which, we were pretending we weren’t with “that kid who keeps whining”