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A Look Back: Does the Perfect Mother’s Baby Cry?

shutterstock_199832582By Carolyn Butwyn, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Originally published in July/August 1971 La Leche League News

Editor’s Note: The first issue of La Leche League News, the bimonthly publication for members, was published in 1958. The name changed to New Beginnings in 1985. New Beginnings continued to publish until 2014 when it switched to its current blog format at

Did you ever think that perhaps it is the baby’s personality that determines whether he cries a lot or is quiet? Perhaps the mother’s skill doesn’t have so much to do with it.

We have all seen the mother and baby couple who seem to have a perfect harmony. The mother hands the baby just the right toy, which he takes and is fascinated by. The baby sits contentedly on the floor playing and watching Mother walk by. Baby squawks once or twice, and Mother nurses him to sleep for a refreshing nap. We all pursue this goal, understanding baby’s needs and meeting them, as if that rapport were something that grew out of mother’s skill alone. But does it?

With my first baby I bumbled through, learning tremendously, and getting by as most first-time mothers do. By the second baby I was a veteran and a consummate artist at mothering. I was chock full of La Leche ideals, cognizant of child psychology, relaxed, devoted, and happy; of course this baby was the perfect baby. She awoke to play happily, nursed to sleep, bright, playful, active, and docile. What mother wouldn’t be the perfect mother? Then came the third.

Jennifer, number three, is sensitive, difficult with transitions, and a light sleeper. Barbara, number two, loved to lie in her infant seat, or bed, or on the floor to watch me work. To Jennifer, seeing is holding, or else she cries. Barbara sat in her high chair finger-feeding herself and had a great time. Jennifer has to be on my lap stealing food from my plate, dropping silverware, and generally disrupting the meal. Barbara nursed to sleep every day of her life until she was two years old. Jennifer cranks to sleep while being walked, rocked, and suffered with. Where did I go wrong?

shutterstock_244844065I am still the same mother; my ideals are the same, my personality the same. The household environment is easy on children. There is little sibling jealousy, lots of fresh air, activity, and interesting things. But somehow this baby just insists on being fussy. And when she gets fussy and demanding, all my skills are nothing. She cries. I have to conclude that it is her personality.

There is a lot that I can do to help her personality. Instead of sitting her within sight of me as I did with Barbara, I can sit her near toys and sisters to play with, so that she doesn’t see me and demand to be held. I can make sleep come as easily for her as possible. And of course I can also carry her in the baby sling as I work.

Many of the things that I do for her were unnecessary for my older two, but they work with her. And after I’ve exhausted my store of knowledge to placate her and she still is cranky and crying, I sit and rock and wonder: What did I do wrong? And where is that perfect mother? Is there a perfect mother?