A Mom on the Pressure to Have a "Good Baby"

Updated 06/06/18

Caley Rinker is a celebrity stylist (and mom!) who has spent the last decade dressing stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kelly Osbourne, and Gillian Jacobs. With the arrival of her son, Weston, she also found a new love for applying her stylistic talents to create fashionable mamas and kids.

Mom and Son
Ashley Burns photography

When I first had my son, I was often asked the same question over and over. “Is he a good baby?” This was typically followed with “Is he sleeping through the night?” As a new mom, if you answer no to either of these questions, it can feel like somehow you have failed. You begin to think those questions have something to do with your being a good parent or your baby being a quote-unquote good baby. But what does that even mean? The number of times new parents are asked whether their babies are sleeping through the night will make even the most secure person question their situation and what they’re doing. Am I right?

At first, when these questions were directed at me, I would reply with an “Oh yes, he’s so sweet and he’s such a great sleeper” only to think to myself, Well actually he’s not sleeping through the night or breastfeeding well, and I’m so tired and I feel like I’m going to lose it if this continues! But why does that then mean he’s not a good baby? Am I a bad parent? Or, more importantly, why do I feel the need to justify it?

Now, before I go any further, let me clarify something. I did have what’s considered a very good baby. He was super mellow, hardly cried, was easy to take anywhere, and napped great. I knew we had lucked out, but that’s exactly what it was: pure luck. He came out that way, and while yes, I do believe parenting styles affect our kids, they really do have their own personalities from the minute they enter this world—along with their own agenda!

Mom and Son
Ashley Burns photography

However, even though he was easier than most babies, when people would ask me that question, something about it really bothered me. The more (and more) I heard it, I’d think to myself, What an odd question. Aren’t all babies “good” babies? Just because they cry or struggle to sleep doesn’t make them “bad,” does it? Isn’t that normal? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? They are just babies, after all!

If that weren’t enough, after the good-baby question of how are they sleeping, it was quickly followed with “Where is he sleeping?” Again, kind of an odd question because does it really matter as long as he is sleeping, right? My son was waking up every three hours to drink a bottle, and yes, he had a bottle because breastfeeding didn’t work for us. (Ugh, another story for another time!) When he woke, I would put him in our bed because that was the quickest way to get him back to sleep, and let’s be honest: You will do anything to get your baby to go back to sleep! It was working for us, and I secretly loved it, but when I would tell other parents, “Well, yes, he’s sleeping, but he’s in our bed,” I often encountered an expression of “Oh no!” as if I had just committed a terrible crime and was somehow ruining him.

This really made me question if we were doing the right thing, if we were creating bad habits by putting him in our bed, and so much guilt came along with that. I was carrying around this shameful secret until someone asked me something that really stuck with me. I was telling a friend about our sleeping situation and how ashamed I was feeling about it, and she said, “Is it a problem for you?” I said no. “Is it a problem for your husband?” I said no. “Then there is no problem.” It completely changed my perspective, and it’s something I’m constantly reminding myself of through all phases and changes of parenthood. If it works for you, then it’s not a problem.

Mom and Son
Ashley Burns photography

My friend recalled a situation she’d had with another mom recently about how her baby was supposed to be sleeping and the proper training techniques. She told this mom that she didn’t have her 4-month-old on a schedule yet, but her daughter was only waking up once during the night, and she would go in and feed her when she cried. The other mom then told her, “She’s not hungry,” “You shouldn’t go in and feed her,” and “At this age, she should be sleeping through the night.” First, who says that every baby should be sleeping through the night? Or that you have to let them cry? That’s crazy. And second, there should be no guilt for doing what you think is best for your baby.

I remember telling my mom about my son sleeping in our bed, how he was dependent on the bottle, how he would not breastfeed, and she would always look at me so matter-of-factly and basically say, “Yeah, that’s normal, and you will get through it!” We’d be in a store when my son would start to cry, and I would panic or look around frantically like “OMG, we’ve gotta go!” when she would calmly look at me, and say, “So what? He’s a baby. Let him cry. That’s what babies do.”

It got me thinking about why we feel so differently about the way our kids behave now, compared to back when our parents were raising us? Why do we feel the pressure to be perfect parents with perfect babies? Our culture today puts these social stigmas on us that parenting should be a certain way. That if your baby isn’t sleeping 12 hours in his crib or hitting every milestone perfectly, then we as parents must be doing something wrong. Things for us today are heightened with social media and technology. We are constantly comparing our kids to others, and there is so much information out there that we are always second guessing ourselves as parents. Society has put so much pressure on us as mothers to do everything perfectly that we are expecting our babies to be the same. Whatever happened to just letting our babies just be babies?

Mom and Son
Ashley Burns photography

These days, when someone asks whether he’s a “good baby,” I say, “Yes, he’s a great baby thanks! He wakes up often during the night, ends up in our bed at least once a week, rises at the crack of dawn, throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, and won’t eat vegetables, but we are all healthy and happy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Now that my son is a little older, I laugh because all of those things are supposed to be “bad” things, but they are inevitable facts of life for a parent. This is the process. Every baby is different, and what works for one baby might not work for another. Kids and parents aren’t supposed to be perfect. That’s what it’s all about.

So let’s stop asking, “Is your baby a good baby?” It promotes negative thinking and implies that something is wrong and needs to be fixed, when in fact your baby who doesn’t sleep 12 hours every night (like most) or cries when they want something is a completely normal, well-behaved baby. And you are a completely normal rock-star parent!

Baby Crawling
Alex Rinker

Instead, maybe we ask “What milestone is your baby going through right now” or “What changes are they going through?” Because they are just that: changes. And change usually comes with some kind of challenge. Embrace it all. Nothing that’s worth it is easy. It’s life, and it’s supposed to be messy. That’s what makes it beautiful.

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