Parent the Baby in Front of You, Not the Baby in the Books

Photography:Alexa Doula Photography

By Sarah Palmer

The comparison game is strong – we are trained to compare. The problem is we are constantly wondering if our baby is normal. We worry we’re doing something wrong because our baby doesn’t fit into the box that we’ve read about.

Most of the babies in the movies sleep peacefully in their cot, while their parents contentedly watch the monitor, while drinking wine and cuddling on the couch. The babies in the books sleep through the night, self-settle and fall asleep independently. Babies on social media are set down in picture perfect nurseries, often sucking a cute coloured dummy and wrapped in a beautiful swaddle. On TV, all parents have to do is go for a drive around the block and the baby falls asleep, then they can peacefully transfer them into the cot.

My baby doesn’t fit ANY of these boxes.

He didn’t sleep well in his cot, and only sleeps for 1-2 hours in his floor bed now as a toddler before needing to bedshare with us the rest of the night. He wakes frequently through the night and breastfeeds back to sleep. He’s a very active kid and is go-go-go all day; he isn’t a “peaceful” sleeper and is restless throughout the night. He doesn’t self-settle and doesn’t fall asleep independently. He never took a bottle or a dummy and fought swaddles. He hated the car as a baby and as a toddler will tolerate it for short periods of time – if he does sleep in the car, it’s only for 30 minutes and he wakes as soon as the car isn’t moving. And he’s completely normal and is thriving!

Have I compared him to images of other babies that have been painted for me? You betcha! Has that been helpful? Heck no! What has helped is letting go of those images and accepting my son for who is. And knowing that just because he doesn’t fit into those boxes doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong as his mum: he’s not a bad kid and I’m not a bad mum.

I don’t want him to fit into boxes anymore, because that would be denying his true self.

These boxes of what a “good baby” looks like, assuming that all babies are the same – and assuming that if they don’t fit the box, that they are not a good baby – which is NOT true and a conversation for another day! And yet we also hear the rhetoric of “all babies are different”. But what does that really mean? People don’t really talk about how vastly different each baby is in all areas of their growth and development – the ranges of normal are enormous! People don’t talk about how each baby is their own person, from the moment they are born. They are not a blank slate to be written upon. They are born with their own unique personality, temperament and preferences.

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