On being good

His mother told him “Someday you will be a man
And you will be the leader of a big old band
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying Johnny B. Goode tonight.”

Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode

Johnny B. Goode is one of my favourite songs for dancing around and singing with Frida. It’s a perfect song for changing the lyrics – “Oh Frida go, oh… Frida be good.”

I am discovering that the word good is used a lot when talking about babies. I am often asked “Is she a good sleeper?” or “Is she a good eater” or even – the worst – “Is she a good baby?” and it makes my heart sink.

Take the sleep question. When people ask “Is she a good sleeper?” what they are really asking is “Does your tiny baby sleep in a way that is convenient for you and fits into your routine?”. We know that babies are biologically meant to wake up regularly, to ensure they are able to take in sufficient nutrition and because their sleep cycles are so different to adults. That’s why many babies will wake up every couple of hours for weeks or even months (and yes, all babies are different – so some may not!). Tiring for parents? Absolutely. But this doesn’t make it bad.

Sleepy baby

I truly believe the answer to the “good sleeper?” question is always “Yes, because she sleeps exactly the amount that she needs for this stage in her development.” And I say this as the parent of a child who – so far – sleeps quite a lot and at twelve weeks only wakes up once or twice a night, meaning we are all well rested. I don’t believe my baby is any “better”than yours at sleeping – she just happens to need more sleep.

(This natural variation is also why I don’t want to impose a routine on our daughter – another post for another day).

It’s the same with developmental milestones – is your baby “good” at holding their head up? Good at rolling over? Good at crawling? Walking? Talking? As a new parent it’s tempting to compare your baby to some golden ideal, and very easy to fall into the trap of criticising yourself if your baby isn’t hitting milestones at the same time as others, but therein misery lies. Frida has strong head control, and enjoys hitting out at toys. However, she cannot yet roll, or move during tummy time, and shows very little interest in doing so. It doesn’t make her any better or worse as a baby. It is just the speed at which she is developing.

I can only imagine these questions about goodness will continue for years to come – about her “goodness” at school, whether or not she has “good” manners, whether or not she has won a place at a ” good” university, about her getting a “good” job.

As a parent you hold hopes and dreams for your children  – S and I both went to a very good university, and I would be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes daydream about us taking her to visit when she is older, walking her around the beautiful old buildings where her parents studied/partied, helping her write her application, accompanying her to her interview, settling her in… But we may have a child who is not academic at all – not “good” at school (much like our protagonist Johnny B. Goode who “never ever learned to read and write so well, but he could play his guitar like ringing a bell”). And that’s ok too.

I don’t like the way that the word good is too often used (in particular when referring to children but for adults too) to mean conformity and a surrendering of your will to someone else’s. I don’t want that for my daughter. She is a person with her own needs, her own desires, and (when she’s a little older) her own opinions and world-view.

I hope I can be like Johnny’s mother in the song, helping Frida along the path that works for her, not the one that others expect, at every stage of her life.

I hope my daughter is kind, happy, interested in the world, gentle, and true to herself. But I don’t want her to be “good” in the way so many people use the word. I don’t want her to sit on her hands and opinions. I want her to stand tall and shout for what she wants and believes. I want her to know that she can be mighty.

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