5 Things I’m Trying Not To Say About Babies

While I was at the park this morning with the kids, a woman approached us, smiling at LP.  My spidey sense buzzed a little.  But alright, I don’t want to pre-judge you, so let’s chat.

Halfway in, it started.  Groan.  It was clear she didn’t recognize that LP has Down syndrome, which was fine, but she also was wholly unaware that he might not fit into her idea of “normal”.  So all the questions about LP, along with her bragging about how early her grandson rolled over, sat up, walked, how “gifted” he was… Well, can you be happy for a person while also secretly wanting to smack them upside the head?  I knew she didn’t mean any harm and was just in love with her grandson, but I couldn’t help being irritated.

I’m not pointing fingers.  It is just the common discussion going around; I’m sure I’ve been that woman to someone else (and for that I’m sorry).  I never loved these kinds of discussions before LP, but honestly, the girls never fell outside of “normal” so I just shrugged and moved on.  Now that I have a child who isn’t going to fit into “normal” (and nor should he, for that matter), well, it stings.

The same play gets acted out hundreds, thousands, millions of times in a theater that seems way too concerned with abilities, milestones, intelligence, and being typical.  What’s more, the current theater isn’t terribly inclusive, and that means it isn’t great for any of my kids, not just LP.

So.  Five things I wish we didn’t talk about quite so much…

How old is your baby?

I know this sounds completely innocuous, but think about it.  Does it matter how old that baby is?  Not that talking about age is so terrible, but I’m trying to really examine why I ask that question when I do.  I’ll be honest, a lot of the times I’ve asked that question in the past, I’ve been sizing that kid up in my head, guessing an age and wanting to know if I am close.  The other times, I’ve wanted to compare that kid to my kid because they seemed close in age. Not all babies stick right on the 50th percentiles on growth charts, not all babies reach milestones in the average time frame.  What if the answer is completely unexpected?  Is knowing that number so important?

Your baby is so little!  Your baby is so big!

Babies just come out the way they come out.  Some are cute little peanuts and some are cute big brazil nuts.  The elder Taters were both very big babies, and I admit to feeling proud over it, but now, I feel silly for having thought that.  It isn’t something I could really take credit for, after all.  I treat LP the same way as I did the girls, and he’s just a different shape.

I bet he is just about to [insert milestone here]!  Has she [insert milestone here] yet?

If I’m a stranger, I don’t know that baby and the parent doesn’t know me.  So no matter my good intentions, it seems better to leave well enough alone.  The parenting world is stuffed to the gills with timelines, expectations, timeframes, and predictions for when babies will do what.  It is doubtful that anything I—the random stranger—have to say is news.  In fact, I’d wager that the parent has heard everything quite a few times already.  Oh, say, in emails, books, the pediatrician’s office, grandparents, aunts, uncles, co-workers.  Seriously, they’re all set.

What a smart baby.

Maybe it is just me, but I really don’t think that early behavior is such a great predictor of future smarts.  Not only is the very definition of “smart” very slippery, but constantly telling children that they are smart, as if that is a goal in and of itself, has some very undesirable consequences (seriously, click on the link, it’s interesting).  I now have a child who may not ever fit into the typical definition of “smart” (but who will undoubtedly be intelligent), and hearing this phrase just makes me wince.  Even if we could all agree on a definition of “smart”, complimenting a baby for being smart feels neither here nor there.  It isn’t as if the the baby is trying to be anything, so what does it do other than give a false sense of achievement?

What about more praise for being kind, hard-working, thoughtful, or funny?  I’d much rather some of these other words be used for all three of my children.

It doesn’t matter, as long as they’re healthy.

I used to think this was one of the safest things to say.  Now, no one is running around hoping they have a child with high medical needs.  Still, what happens when we unwillingly have to cross over that line?  All of a sudden you’re over there.

No one says it to the mother whose child just got diagnosed with leukemia.  No one says it to the father whose baby needs open heart surgery right at birth.  No one says it because it no longer rings true.  It isn’t about “as long as they’re healthy”, but more about being alive, being loved, and being valued, period.  I still have not walked in “high medical needs” shoes but I try not to draw any dividing lines based on health status anymore.  Medical issues just happen.  Kids are still kids.  Life is still life.


Please don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as if I think that we can never talk about milestones, age, size, or health.  It is just that I might not know everything about the person in front of me, or whoever might be listening a few feet over.

I want to talk more about character, connecting, humor, and celebrating difference.  Just because a conversation is casual doesn’t mean it has to be superficial.  We can  all agree that there is more to a baby than health status and numbers, right?  Apologies to the bajillions of parents who already figured this stuff out.  I admit, I knew it before and ignored it.  I’m just trying to know it a little better.

I’m trying to spend less time talking about things that matter less, and more time talking about things that matter more.  Seems reasonable.  Most importantly, I’m trying to spend more time fawning over delicious squishy little people, not for any reason other than they exist.  Not so awful, eh?

She said whaaat?


12 Comments on “5 Things I’m Trying Not To Say About Babies”

  1. Girl, how do you manage to write such great pieces so frequently? I count the days I get a shower good days and the days I finish an essay amazing, miraculous days. You make it look so easy with three munchkies in tow, too.

    Great piece and all questions that I, too, have revisited in light of my daughter’s diagnosis with DS. Particularly when multiple people have asked me if my child was a doll or a real baby. “Well, she’s so tiny,” they would say and I didn’t bother to go into the fact that kids with DS have a separate growth chart or that hypotonia makes them floppier. I was usually just too stunned to say anything at all.

    The inverse power of praise essay by Po Bronson is also in a book of collected articles (by Ms. Bronson and Ashley Merryman) on children, parenting and scientific research titled Nurture Shock, which I read shortly after it was published and have recommended many times since.


  2. Lisa says:

    God, I wish we could get married.

    Anyway, you just pulled a conversation I’ve had with myself a million times right out of my head. Especially number 5. I am so weary of so many parents thinking their kid is going to be some genius because he or she rolled over early, sat early, etc., etc. My older brother walked at 10 months – and you know what? He turned out to be an underachiever/criminal with a learning disability. Or parents who are freaking out because Junior isn’t doing this, that, or the other yet, like their entire future hinges on that.

    I don’t know. Maybe I was that parent once upon a time. I really don’t recall being like that, but it’s definitely true that having Finn has made me more aware of those conversations and their implications.

  3. Miriam says:

    I love your posts. I agree with everything you’ve said here. I have my own things I get annoyed with (people grilling my kids about school and having to help them figure out what to say, mostly) but I appreciate the larger picture: that people in general need to be more sensitive about the things they say to other people, including children.

  4. Leigh Ann Arnold says:

    Man, I feel like you write about everything that goes through my mind! Amazing! All things I have thought about and continually struggle with responses for! People who make patronizing and just plain ignorant comments just seem so stupid to me, I think next time I come across them I may direct them to your blog! Love your thoughts keep them coming!

    • jisun says:

      Haha, but you have to answer any hostile comments. ;) I have such a hard time in the moment as well, because I’m so busy being frustrated. Maybe we should come up with crib notes!

  5. 3graces says:

    groan, yes. my son with Ds is my first-born, and i didn’t confirm the diagnosis while pregnant, but pretty much knew. i waited it out, not telling anyone about the Ds or AVSD. people would ask the gender, and then comment “as long as it’s healthy!” i would get SO hurt and pissed and defensive every time and agree that people need to come up with some more original material when conversing with strangers (about anything, really, but especially this topic!)

    • jisun says:

      Ugh, this is exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote that part. People don’t often think about the next logical thing that comes after such a statement like “As long as he is healthy”. Plus, the fact of the matter is, we all have health issues, babies are not exempt from that. I imagine pregnant women waiting it out get this kind of statement all the time and no one knows how hurtful it actually is.

  6. Josephine Lebbing says:

    Love it all:)
    I’m mostly able to make it fun – seeing if I can come up with come backs that leave people puzzled. What I love about having our son Obi, is I’ve had to examine many values and things that we don’t normally have to examine in any depth, to come up up with a new, fuller picture of what my “perfect world” is.
    With the healthy baby comments (“Well as long as he’s healthy”) – I just chuck in a “yeah, or as long as he needs open heart surgery and that’s great too:), cause they’re pretty good problems to have really. We’ve got hospitals and surgeons and all the equipment to do it.”

    I’ve even felt compassion for those people who’ve said “ooooh I’m so sorry.” (I did think “I give you f****en sorry!!! And here’s the number for a good psychologist, go tell them your problems”).

    It says a a lot about how we strive for this ideal which I think in reality is crap. That normal baby and a normal relationship…. Don’t air your dirty washing….. Not my cup of tea!!! I like having a son with DS and I’m proud of the fact I haven’t showered today! Why? Not sure – I just like to be different….. I like a challenge….. Helps me grow and appreciate what I have.

    YAY to the DS crew, challenging the worlds assumptions, one moment at a time:)

    (you can delete this – I just wanted to rant – but am not rereading to see if it makes sense – gotta run)

    • jisun says:

      No, no deleting! I love what you had to say, especially approaching these moments as opportunities to get people thinking.

      I couldn’t agree more–difference is good and showering is overrated. ;)

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