Written by Meg Kant
why parents of ‘spirited’ babies need support, not criticism
Some define a ‘spirited’ baby (also referred to as high temperament, fussy, colicky, difficult) as: a baby with some or all of the following traits: a high needs temperament; challenging to settle; cries often; struggles with transitions; difficulty sleeping; temperamental feeding; uncomfortable with new people; typically has a preference for one caregiver over another; and, can be exhausting for their caretaker.
During my maternity leave with my oldest son, I was very fortunate to have the support of two close friends who had babies around the same time. My friends and I got together often, to laugh, eat and connect about new motherhood.
My oldest son was a very low maintenance baby. He ate well, slept well, had a happy temperament and loved to be social. At the time I thought that was how all babies were, so I found it confusing when one of my friends seemed to struggle with her baby.
One day I was holding my infant on my shoulder while he snuggled into my neck, which was one of his favourite positions. My friend asked “how do you get him to do that?” I had to clarify what she meant because I was very confused. I couldn’t fathom that she wouldn’t be able to hold her baby that way, it seemed like such a simple task because it was so comfortable and had come so easy to me and my baby.
After explaining the steps of how I held my baby on my shoulder, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was so hard for her. I assumed that if something so seemingly simple was difficult for her, it must be something she was doing wrong. At that moment, regretfully I judged my friend.
I had it all backwards
Fast forward 18 months, my youngest son was born, and everything changed. He was difficult in all the ways my oldest wasn’t and pretty much the definition of “spirited.” He wouldn’t latch for the first ten days of his life, and was always fussy when eating. It felt impossible to get him to sleep; he didn’t like going to other people; he was discontented much of the time; and he WOULD NOT GO ON MY SHOULDER.
I thought back to the day I judged my friend and so many things fell into place for me about parenting, infant temperament and understanding. Shortly after he was born I called my friend and apologized.
I said “I’m not going to lie, I judged you that day. I didn’t mean to, but I did, though I see it all now. Your baby had a different temperament than mine, and it had nothing to do with your parenting. I am so sorry, I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for you.” She very much appreciated that phone call.
The meme below seems to sum it up quite nicely, although this could be true for all parents, not exclusively people who identify as mothers.
“My well-behaved first born gave me the confidence to be a good mum. My wild-child second kid taught me not to judge other mothers.”
you don’t know until you know
Had my youngest not been spirited I may NEVER have understood the different personality and temperament traits of children and infants. It allowed me to intimately understand that even when individuals parent the exact same, their children can/will be different from one another.
Parents can do everything within their control to support their baby, and the baby may still cry, be fussy, not like going to other people, have difficulty sleeping, hate feeding from the body, etc. Parents are praised or blamed based on the behaviour of their infants, when in reality so much of that behaviour is based on temperament and personality.
support over criticism
Parents of spirited babies don’t need judgment or criticism, they need support. They need others to understand that they are genuinely doing their best, and what they are going through is HARD. For those who haven’t had a high temperament child, it’s easy to cast judgment on how other people raise/parent their children. But I can attest that parenting a spirited baby is a beast in and of itself.
Have you parented a ‘spirited’ child? What helped you the most? Feel free to share in the comments.
why parents of ‘spirited’ babies need support, not judgement
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Ohhhhh mama! I had a dragon baby for my first, a unicorn baby for the second, and an absolute hell beast for the third. Thank goodness baby number four is not only a unicorn, she might as well be a freaking winged Pegasus.
I legitimately laughed out loud at the “freaking winged Pegasus” hahaha, I am soooooo happy for you that baby four is the unicorn of all unicorns!
I can so relate to this! Gray was also a spirited baby… She would kick and buck and cry out like in paid when breastfeeding from day one. She would only go with me, she was very particular about her sleep space and clothes and food texture and, and, and…. I would bounce and sing and sway and deep breathe and hang out in the deep bath and so much more just to keep her relaxed and calm. She is on the spectrum so it makes so much more sense now lol. It was REALLY hard though, especially single parenting. She also would get hyper focused as a slightly older baby and toddler which I appreciated because she would be quiet and I could work or read.
You are a flipping superstar, it must have been so challenging navigating that as a single parent. I can imagine finding out she is on the spectrum must have had so many things click into place, like ahhhhh right, yupp, okay this makes a lot of sense, especially around the sensory things.
oy. this takes me back 7 years to my 1st. I remember sitting on our stupid red rocking chair that feels more like a bounce for hours upon hours nursing my daughter, afraid to move so I’d wait until I thought she was in a deep sleep and try to get up and transfer but nope. for the first 8 months sleep was SO hard and at the time, the idea of cosleeping was off the table (for some reason) but that changed with my 2nd and 3rd. cosleeping was a game changer for me and for my littles <3