- “Our baby is good-natured and not much of a crier.”
- “He is very happy, never cranky at all.”
- “I need a nanny for my mild-mannered, happy baby”
- “He’s happy, he never cries”
- “She’s easy-going”
- “He is very happy and he loves everyone.”
- “You won’t have any problems with her, that’s how good she is.”
I often work as a Specialty Nanny for infants. While scanning posts by parents searching for nannies, I often–very often–read comments such as the above. How do you feel when you’re presenting your baby to the world? Many parents feel they are presenting themselves through their baby’s behavior. What if the posts said:
- “Our baby cries a lot”
- “Sometimes our baby is happy, but sometimes he needs to cry”
- “Our toddler throws tantrums”
- “She’s often quite colicky and fussy”
Would they attract the great nanny they’re hoping for? Would this choice of words make them look bad? I think this topic speaks volumes about cultural acceptance of emotions, perceptions of behavior, self image, and generations of habits and rules about what’s polite and socially acceptable.
When someone cries, there is often a general discomfort–with good intention, we try to console with “it’s okay!” (when really it’s not); or to stop the emotional outburst with “oh, don’t cry!”; or in public, we may ignore it as if it’s not happening and perhaps think the person is crazy. And anyway, who wants to be Nanny to a crying baby?
Well, I do! Babies cry both to communicate and to heal. Emotion is a normal, beautiful, and healthy part of being alive. Why, then, is there a need to say that Baby is good-natured? This is unfortunate! It implies that it is socially unacceptable for a baby to be–or to have a baby that is–upset. Or that a family has less chance of attracting an excellent nanny if the baby is cranky; or that crying is “bad behavior;” or that ‘something is wrong with me’; or that a baby who’s happy all the time will cost less when hiring a nanny.
Are we happy all the time? What if our boundaries are encroached upon–do we stay happy and easy-going? What if a friend or family member dies? We need access to a wide range of feelings and expression for our well-being and survival. If we hold to the perception that baby should always be happy, it makes his normal and healthy moments of upset seem like a ‘problem.’
‘Easy-going’ may be a baby’s natural state, as also “happy.” Fantastic! It is nice for tired caregivers to have a happy, easy-going baby. However, it is human to experience different states of being, and it is healthy to be able to express them without bottling them up. I challenge you to see anger, grief, and frustration as “nice” also. How gigantically wonderful that your baby is able to express herself so fully, remain so connected to herself, and know what she needs! She will have fabulous relationships and a boatload of physical and emotional health if she keeps this up! And she trusts you enough to tell you how she feels! How perfectly “nice”!
If a baby really never cries or remains easy-going without experiencing moments of “umph” or frustration, these can be signals that Baby doesn’t feel safe enough to release his emotion or is not able to activate a needed reflex for movement. This is okay—it’s communication, not something to hide. I would like to see parents supported more, rather than shunned.
Many parenting articles present tips about distracting Baby when she gets cranky and maintaining control over babies’ behavior. I encourage all of us to be real with ourselves, what we expect of our babies, and the perceptions we guide our children into as they grow up.
Here’s to those parents whose babies cry, have “colic,” get frustrated, and are cranky! You are welcome in society and we love your babies.
For support with continued crying-in-arms after needs have been met and crying as healing, see Aletha Solter’s books, “The Aware Baby” and “Tears and Tantrums.”
© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)
Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aware Parenting.