There are no bad babies.

baby crawlLydia, almost 9 months old

My Lydia is the happiest, easiest baby to care for.

I take her to restaurants, where she plays contentedly with packs of crackers and munches on whatever I pass to her. I take her to the grocery store where she smiles at the other patrons and chews on my keychain. I take her to friends’ houses where she crawls around quietly on the floor and babbles to herself.

(There are exceptions, of course, like when she’s not feeling well. So if you’re a friend of mine and thinking, “Um, she complained quite a bit at my house!” she was probably having an off day).

I often get comments: “What a good baby!”

While I’m pleased that other people enjoy her company, these comments always trouble me.

When she was three months old, I took Lydia to the library in my Moby wrap. The lady behind the desk who scanned my books smiled at Lydia and asked her age. When I told her, she followed up with the (all-too-common) question, “Is she a good baby?”

“I’m not sure: she hasn’t really had time to develop a moral character,” I replied.

Okay, I didn’t actually say that.

What I really said was, “Oh yes – she’s wonderful.” (Because it’s true. But I thought the other response. That counts for something, right?).

What a question!

What I wished I could express to that lady was that Lydia couldn’t possibly be a bad baby. ALL babies are good, no matter their temperament. How can they not be? Or at the very least, they’re born morally neutral, with the capacity to develop into people who do good and/or evil.

But there are no bad babies. Only hurting or needy or sensitive or unhappy babies. What a terrible thing, to call unhappy babies bad and happy babies good!

Ben and I were very blessed with a healthy, easy-going, smiley baby. It makes our lives as parents so much easier than if she was anxious or in chronic pain. But she wouldn’t be a worse baby if she was either of these things.

And if we’re blessed with more children, we might get one who suffers from colic, or who is painfully shy or sensitive or a poor sleeper. But that won’t mean the child is any worse than Lydia — just more needful of our energy, attention and creativity.

That’s why I want to call for a moratorium on calling happy babies “good.” While it’s a nice compliment, the implication is dark: that unhappy babies are bad. And that’s just completely unfair and untrue.

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  1. It’s funny you say that. I feel like every time I go out in public people always comment on how “Good” my boys are. Although I of course feel the same way about them, I don’t feel that babies that are higher maintenance are “Bad” babies. I do however feel really sorry for the sleep deprived, stressed out moms :( The encouraging thing for these moms is that the baby will EVENTUALLY grow up, and be able communicate their discomforts. Which will ultimately make things a whole lot easier.

  2. I get the same thing a lot. Often I’ll reply “She’s a very easy baby” with a smile, just to gently try to steer it to what they really mean. The other comment I get, especially after church, when people say something about her being so good or so happy, is a laughing “Wait ’til you have the next one!” Part of me is a bit annoyed by that, but to be honest part of me also thinks (knows?) that they won’t all be this easy! :)
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  3. Stefanie says:

    This post made me smile and feel hopeful…thanks Kathleen!

  4. Sarah Allen says:

    What do you mean by babies being morally neutral?

    • I just mean that at birth, we haven’t had a chance to do either good or evil. We have the capacity for both. I tend to believe we enter this world good, but some might think that’s a bit optimistic . . . so I concede that it’s possible we’re born neutral, and become either good or evil as we make decisions. What do you think?

      • Sarah Allen says:

        I guess I wouldn’t put a label on them at all at this point. They haven’t realized anything about good & evil as far as their own behavior as of yet, so I feel like it’s not a fitting category fr babies. My friends/fellow mothers & I had a Facebook thread/discussion about this article. I posted because I loved what you had to say about “there’s no bad baby”. My husband & I are constantly bombarded with that question & it has disturbed us from te beginning of Jude’s life (he’s 6 months today). They did not agree with children being morally neutral but I honestly had to think about what I believed. Psalm 51:5 states that we are “born into sin” and I grew up learning this. I then said, more importantly, when babies grow they learn good & evil through us as well as the world around them. That’s a huge and scary responsibility! I do not err on the side of babies being manipulative and so-called “playing us with their emotions”. I think they are learning everyday what it means to interact and what they need most is our attention…hands on attention!

  5. I know how you feel!! My nephew was barely a month old before my Sister in Law was complaining about him “being a pill” or “cranky all the time” It broke my heart to hear her talk about her own son like that! What’s worse is I had no idea what she was talking about. When I sat for them, my nephew was always wonderful! Sure he cried, but only when he needed something, not out of some malicious attempt to keep me from living my life. The problem was she never bothered to stop living her own life a listen to her child! My husband and I have already agreed when the kids come and we get such questions, we’ll tell them, “of course he is a good baby, he’s only ever been a baby so he should be pretty good at it, but he’d make a terrible adult!”
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