Good Baby Bad Baby

"Is she a good baby?"

We've got our third baby in the house, and the question still startles me, although people ask it frequently. I know what people mean by the question. They are intending to ask: Does she cry a lot? Does she sleep OK? Is she nursing or feeding healthily?

Still, although I am not generally offended by the many, many inappropriate comments and loaded questions a new parent receives from friends and strangers alike, this one bothers me to no end. The implication that we can label a newborn child, just weeks old, "good" or "bad" begins a lifetime of judgment, of categorizing everyone and everything as "right" or "wrong." And the judgments that we make early on—first impressions—can live on, no matter how unintentionally.

And I still have not mastered the art of letting the question roll off me.

I am often tempted to answer sarcastically: "Well, she missed curfew the other night, and I found her smoking under the high-school bleachers."

Or mock ignorantly, with a shade of indignation (read: honesty), "What do you mean? How can a baby be good or bad?"

More often, I go for the saccharine: "Of course! All babies are good and sweet. Just look at this face!" (Seriously, look at that face... that's her, for real, at the top right of this post.)

Or I give into the madness and answer the question that the person intended to ask: "She's doing fine, though we're exhausted, of course."

I don't mean to imply that a "bad" baby will be branded for life—today's bad baby is tomorrow's bad teen-ager—but the implication is that a baby shouldn't be crying a lot, shouldn't be "difficult," and should be feeding, pooping, and sleeping on some pre-determined schedule. When my baby cries for long periods, I am rattled, upset, sometimes worried, often frustrated, but I recognize that that is her way of speaking, of letting me know her needs, even if I cannot always understand her. Adjusting to this world, even understanding day from night, is not an easy thing, and no baby can be blamed, even implicitly, for taking a while to figure it out.

I'd love it if we could shift the focus, from baby to mom and dad. Rather than asking whether baby is "good," I am sure any new mom or dad would appreciate a sincere question about how she or he is doing with the inevitable stresses and exhaustion of their new life. And rather than passing judgment—your baby is bad!—let's offer a helping hand.

We've gotten our share of "Is she a good baby?" questions, but we are also blessed with a community of family and friends who've made meals for us, loaned us gear, visited us and invited us over to their place, taken the older kids for playdates, and much more. We're keenly aware that not everyone has this network of support, and many new parents feel alone and overwhelmed.

So, let's resolve to listen—really listen—to how the new parents in our lives are doing, beyond their platitudes about exhaustion and the cute-as-can-be Facebook photos. And rather than passing judgment on them or their baby, let's offer the help that can make a difference. And in some cases, for those new parents who need more than just a meal and a visit, such as those suffering from post-partum depression, this listening can be the only way to know they need help that only professionals can offer.