So often, strangers strike up a conversation about my newborn baby; the youngest of our 4. When out in public he’s comfortably nestled into a wrap or carrier, often sleeping and almost always looking angelic. Through the course of the conversation, the question inevitably comes up, “is he a good baby?”. This question has always confused me. At his age, he’s still running on instinct, so I’d hardly call his behaviour either good or bad, regardless of what it was. What constitutes good or bad? I think that if he communicates with me then he’s doing pretty well; I may not always understand or respond appropriately, but that’s on me.
It is not uncommon for this question to come up about our older children too. When asked to describe them, instead of asking about their personalities or interests, people ask “are they good children?” I think that what people are asking is “do they obey your instructions?”, “do they disrupt your sleep, activities or conversations?” and “do they meet arbitrary expectations in behavior, appearance and academic performance?”. I think if I measured things by those benchmarks, my answer would be no and the thought of answering that way saddens me. Luckily, my journey to respectfully connected parenting has lead me far away from this way of thinking.
There is a term often used in Buddhist proverbs, Mu, which sometimes translates to “the question itself must be ‘unasked'” or “no answer can exist in the terms provided”. In essence it describes a situation where the answers of both “yes” and “no” are incorrect. So why talk about “good” or “bad” children? The question itself is wrong.
If “good”or “bad” children is a Mu kind of concept, then what is the right question? I think that first we need to consider that our children are people. For some this concept is radical. “Child” is seen as almost a label and a class; often one that is seen as lesser in intelligence, rights and abilities. There’s a whole other post or series or website in that idea and why I reject it, but suffice to say that it is core to respectfully connected parenting. Just as a question like “Does your partner obey your instructions?” is inappropriate, once children are framed as people, that question becomes inappropriate in that context also. A more appropriate way to ask that question would be in the context of the relationship; “Does your partner work with you to complete the task?” It speaks to the fact that both people are involved and equal and that is the responsibility of both to maintain the relationship.
So are my children “good”? My children communicate their needs. My children know that they can ask for help. My children sleep when they are tired, eat when they are hungry, learn when they are curious and stim when they are overwhelmed.
Yes, my children are excellent.