By Guest Blogger Kerryn Anker
"Is your baby a good baby or a bad baby?"
This wasn’t a question that filled my sleep-deprived thoughts after giving birth to my daughter. Despite the emotional roller coaster I was strapped into during those early months, when I looked into my daughter’s eyes I only saw pure perfection, as she radiated an innocence that was yet to be tainted or influenced by the big wide world.
But as I entered into the foreign and unchartered waters of motherhood, I started to realise that people were categorising my child’s behavioural traits and sleep patterns into two very distinctive groups – either good or bad.
Of course, this wasn’t intentional, nor did they realise the negative connotations but it was a recurring phrase coming out of the mouths of my friends and family. I sheepishly admit to being guilty of referring to my own child and other people’s children as good, solely based on whether they had slept through the night or allowed their mother to enjoy a hot cup of coffee without tugging their leg for attention.
As parents it isn’t really the case of actually thinking your child is good or bad. However, by alluding to it, even in a comical way, can make those poor mothers coping on only two hours sleep a night wonder why their child is categorised for dispatch to the naughty corner.
It is quite humorous that as parents we believe we can actually control our newborn baby’s sleep patterns or behaviour, and that sleeping through the night is some direct reflection of our parenting ability. Uncertainty is funnily enough the only certainty you can bank on as a parent.
I was very lucky in those first few months as my daughter would sleep for long periods of time during the night. Friends would praise my then three-month-old, informing her that she was such a good girl for allowing her mummy to get some rest during the wee hours of the morning.
When friends and family asked how I was coping with being a new mum, I’d respond with the common proclamation we’ve all heard time and time again. “Oh I’m lucky, she’s a good baby.”
I should have knocked on wood after uttering those words, as the tide began to change when my daughter hit the six-month mark. Our once ‘good sleeper’ had become a ‘bad sleeper,’ staying up for hours on end with me vainly trying to rock her back into a deep slumber. Hours later, once my arms had gone numb, I’d look down at this sleeping beauty and wonder where that good baby went.
Clearly there’s no good or bad baby and these comments are all tongue- in-cheek, but for mums, especially new mums, this term ‘good baby’ does start to get on your goat and wear thin when you are functioning on little sleep and have minimal patience.
As a mum, your life dramatically changes from that very first moment you hold your bundle of joy. For each of us our child is unique and amazing, the epitome of perfection and the very essence of goodness - well, most of the time. Unfortunately, bad sleep can become part and parcel with the parenting gig and is by no means a reflection of whether your child is a good or bad bub.
I began to understand and accept that if my daughter had learnt a new skill or was going through a developmental milestone, she would more than likely wake during the night. I started to realise as she became more mobile that rare coffee catch ups with friends were no longer going to work. My daughter would run out the front door of the cafe the moment my cappuccino got delivered to my table. This didn’t make my daughter good or bad - she was just being a child, eager to discover the world around her.
As my daughter approaches 16 months, I find that each day I am learning and discovering new things about her and myself. Her spirited, vivacious, fearless and tenacious personality does keep me on my toes. Some days I sigh when I look at mothers whose children sit quietly in high chairs at the local coffee shop, while my child is sprinting down the street.
But the realisation is that every baby is as unique and individual as the next. While one might sit back and survey the sandpit before entering, another may dive in headfirst while shovelling a handful of sand in their mouth. Neither is more good or bad than the next. They are just different and that’s a truly beautiful thing.
While it is correct that adults can have traits of both good and bad, I believe babies are top- to-toe bundles of joy that ooze that sweet smell of goodness.