What the world needs to know about its introduction to ‘Baby Sussex’
(And it’s got nothing to do with him or his parents...)
During the brief, first ever interview with the new family the reporter asked Meghan and Harry these two questions simultaneously;
‘How is he sleeping? Is he a good baby?’
A pretty common set of questions I bet many a new parent wishes they had a dollar for every time they’re asked, yet many are unhappy about them for reasons summed up here by Sarah Ockwell Smith;
This reporter is being ridiculed by some for his choice of questions, and supported by others. I’m glad he asked them because I think that it opens up an important discussion, one that gets us to reflect on how we talk to new parents and make improvements where needed.
A couple of months back I attended some training aimed at improving awareness, and being more accepting and understanding of people who are LGBTIQ++. In the training we talked about how the word ‘gay’ is often used to describe something as stupid, or dumb and many other things with negative connotations. It’s as though this word and associating negative things with it has become part of our vernacular, a colloquial term.
But this doesn’t mean it’s right- In fact it contributes to a widespread lack of understanding about the effect our words and actions can have on those who are LGBTIQ++. The same way common questions focused on infant sleep (to the exclusion of all else, and drawing possible conclusions that a baby who wakes frequently is bad), contribute to a widespread lack of understanding about the effects our words and actions can have on new families.
So what do we do?! One suggestion offered in relation to the ‘gay’ word was to pull out the code of conduct and basically throw it at anyone who continued to use the word in a negative way. But in my experience telling people off and in turn embarrassing them/ getting their back up (especially for something they didn’t intended to cause offense or harm) isn’t the best way to bring about change.
I find it better to share how the questions/comments might make you or others feel, offer suitable alternatives and reassure the person that you know they didn’t intend harm, because for the most part people are kind, caring and willing to change.
Besides! It’s a hard thing knowing how to talk to new parents!! Birth and the early days/weeks…heck months! Afterward is such an intimate personal time. If you don’t know the parent that well (or like this poor bloke not at all, with a worldwide audience wanting answers to all kinds of questions that are frankly none of our business thrown in for good measure!!) It has the potential to feel clunky and awkward- no surprises we fall back on the common old ‘how’s she sleeping’ or ‘is he a good baby’ questions we are so familiar with!
So how might these questions make new parents feel? Aside from many valid points raised by Sarah Ockwell-Smith put yourself in the shoes of a new parent with a baby at the extremely wakeful end of the infant sleep spectrum, or who feel that their babies sleep is a problem. Just as your processing your response to the first question, (one that will no doubt bring up many emotions for you as your currently struggling with the mammoth task of caring for your baby), it’s followed up immediately with a question that implies by default that you have a ‘bad’ baby based on any answer other than ‘they are sleeping well’! I know from speaking to many new parents that they feel further alienated and alone in parenting because of these questions.
So if you don’t know the parents that well what could you say instead?
If you’d like to ask a question, what about;
And then listen intently to the answer and take your cue for where to go with the conversation from them.
If you do know the parents well, then do both the steps, their answers to the first will let you know the things that they are currently dealing with, listen to them, avoiding the temptation to jump in with advice, instead listen and listen some more and don’t stop asking!
Because I’m currently writing this in a fog of jet lag (my own and my toddlers which are of course not in sync!) let me draw some comparisons between it and infant sleep to highlight why I think there are better things to ask new parents then; ‘ how’s he sleeping? Is she a good baby’? Here are some commonly understood facts about jet lag;
•Jet lag is normal and to be expected after a transcontinental trip
•Jet lag is an adjustment period due to crossing time zones
•With jet lag it’s accepted that it is difficult and you might need to be cut some slack but it won’t be difficult forever
•Jet lag affects individuals in different ways with varying levels of disruption to sleep
•It is the fact that you’ve flown to a different country that is the really amazing thing here, jet lag is just a small part of the overall picture
Some less commonly understood facts about infant sleep (but they might sound familiar!)
•Sleeping like a baby (which actually means frequent waking) is NORMAL and to be expected as they’re well... a baby…
•All newborns are adjusting to the world after 9 odd months in the womb and this means they usually want to be held close to feel safe and secure enough to fall asleep.
•It is a really difficult time for parents, and they NEED support but the disruption to their sleep will not be forever
•Different individual babies will all sleep differently this doesn’t make some babies saints or others sinners
•The really amazing thing is that a baby has been born- a miracle! Parents are finally meeting the tiny new person they created and patiently waited months for, disruption to/ deprivation of sleep is a small part of the overall picture for most parents (though some will need lots of additional support during this time).
So Congratulations Meghan and Harry! Well done! You’re doing a wonderful and very important job and your little boy looks perfect!
Me- a complete stranger