• Tue, Feb 11 - 12:00 pm ET

How Dare You Label My Child ‘The Easy One’

easyI was raised as the oldest child of three, the perfect type A oldest daughter of divorce. I guess you could say that my personality pigeonhole has worked well for me because I’m organized and punctual and always work hard. But on the other side of the coin, I get anxious and stressed and sometimes struggle with low self-esteem if I don’t do everything perfectly.

I have two boys, and I am guilty of labeling them myself. But as I talk to other parents and family members, I am realizing more and more how harmful it is to label one kid the “good” or “easy” one and the other the “spirited” child.

On the one hand, I do like to use these labels whenever I’m talking with my husband. We had both of our boys close together, only 16 months apart. Sometimes it’s fun and interesting to compare how our first son was way more difficult to handle when it came to sleeping, eating, and independent play, compared to our second son who has a much calmer demeanor.

At the same time, though, how much of that had to do with how stressed we were as first-time parents?

We probably made my first son feel totally on edge because we had no idea how or when to use a bottle, if we were over feeding or under feeding him, how long he should breast-feed for, and if we were even allowed to use formula and breast milk 50/50. It was all so confusing and overwhelming, and I know he picked up on that.

So does that necessarily make him the “challenging” one?

Yes, children have much different personalities, but I’m going to do my best to refrain from the labels whenever I talk about my kids. I know many parenting conversations fall into the trap of saying, “Oh, my first son was hardheaded and independent, and my second baby was so much easier.” I’ve been guilty of saying that myself.

But as I see both of my sons’ personalities develop, I don’t want to do anything to stand in their way. My oldest son is already outgoing and is the “goofy one” at his daycare. As an extroverted personality, I couldn’t be prouder. But I’m never going to call him the “class clown” or “funny one.” That’s a decision he has to make for himself.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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  • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter
    • Bethany Ramos

      #howdareyou #lordknows #blessed

  • Kay_Sue

    Last night, we took a tour of our local college’s radio station with our Cub Scout pack. At one point, one of the students set up the recording studio and let all of the boys record jokes. While all of the boys were coming up with knock knock jokes, our oldest stepped up to the mic and did the tomato joke from Pulp Fiction (he’s never seen the movie, but my husband told him the joke), which led to a lengthy conversation with his friends about tomato jokes, a few tomato knock knock jokes, and finally, my son declaring knowingly into the mic, “Hey, who doesn’t love a joke about tomatoes?!”

    It was so much fun to see his personality shining through there, and to see him just let loose. Usually, he is my quiet, well-behaved, reserved one. He’s friendly, but not overly rambunctious, and he’s usually a bit timid to speak up. I hope that I can take the same attitude you express here–I never want to pigeonhole him into who I think he should be. I’m his mom; I want to help him let who he is shine out.

    This piece really struck a cord with me after that experience last night, I have to say. :)

    • Bethany Ramos

      I’m glad, and that is SUCH a cute story! He sounds awesome.

    • Kay_Sue

      It was pretty cool. He could definitely be a DJ if he wanted, I think. He worked that like he’d been doing it forever. I was impressed! ;)

  • Muggle

    I think the labels can do more harm than good when the first is “challenging” and the second one isn’t. But I was the easy one for my parents, and my younger sister was the “spirited” one. So I don’t think it’s so bad, when you know you’re talking about personalities and different needs, and not actually telling your kids you label them like this because kids have an uncanny ability to internalize stuff like that.

  • http://mother--bored.tumblr.com/ Aimee Ogden

    The twins have VERY different personalities already (see below, which sums it up pretty effectively) – it’s really hard for me not to to fall into the trap of talking about being the “easy”/”difficult” baby sometimes, plus I catch myself falling into the trap of “cute little girl”/”tough little guy” … womp womp. :( Lately I try to pick out a few adjectives in the morning to use that day for both kids – today you’re both snuggly, sweet, cute; yesterday you were both smart, strong, funny. Every day you’re bottomless milk-pits.

    http://25.media.tumblr.com/c5b34063887c4c0f8cc0d644455408fe/tumblr_n0sg687Z4y1tpamh6o1_1280.jpg

    • Bethany Ramos

      Sooooooo cute! That pic is too perfect.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      omg soooo cute

    • Natasha B

      OMG so much cute! I love their onesies!

    • Jessica

      OMG!! This picture was a great palate cleanser after getting depressed about the article with teens taking selfies with homeless people. My faith in humanity is restored!

  • Robotic Arms Dealer

    Beth, the ONLY thing parents have to worry about is avoiding that label to their daughter when she’s a teenager

  • EX

    Sometimes I think you people at mommyish are reading my mind. I have been thinking about this a lot over the last few days since I brought my newborn home who has, so far, been night-and-day different from my older daughter. I agree that a lot of it was about my own anxiety (the differences began during the pregnancy where this time I was as relaxed as last time I’d been anxious). Anyway, I was just thinking about how I have to watch how I talk about those differences in front of the kids.

    • Bethany Ramos

      CONGRATS!!!! I feel like we need a baby announcement thing here, or something. :-) Very exciting! So, is the second experience much calmer for you?

    • EX

      Thank you! And yes, so much calmer. Although I’ve probably just totally jinxed myself since it is still early!

    • Bethany Ramos

      Hahaha well, it may be all perspective, but I swore baby#2 would be easier (hence this post), and he really was. Good luck!

    • Kay_Sue

      Welcome home!!!! :)

  • Melissa

    I think “easy” and “good” are just lazy adjectives. My first daughter was definitely not what I would call an easy baby (even with no frame of reference), but I didn’t automatically call her a difficult baby (actually, I did once and the person who had asked looked at me as if I was some sort of monster). Sometimes I’ve seen non-easy babies referred to as “high needs” but that also seems to have negative connotations. I myself prefer “spirited” or “feisty” to describe her, if I have to boil it down to one word at all.

    Now with my second daughter, people ask me “is she a good baby?”. Well, what does that mean? If she’s not good, does that mean she’s bad? Nobody ever says they have a bad baby, so why should we label some babies as “good”. She’s just…a baby. She’s certainly not as “high needs” as my first daughter, but she’s also not what I would call “easy”, if those are the only words we have at our disposal. She’s colicky (although, again, what does that even mean? even doctors don’t really know), she eats a lot, she wants to be held a lot. When she’s a little older, she probably won’t be called “spirited”, because in comparison to my older daughter she won’t appear to be, even if she is in her own right. She’ll probably be labeled the “quiet one” or the “studious one” because you can never have two children in the same family with the same label, apparently.

    Labels are stupid.

    • Robotic Arms Dealer

      When you have multiple kids, it’s easier to label them “1″ “2″ “3″ “4″ etc…

    • Kay_Sue

      We got Thing 1, Thing 2, Thing 3, and Thing 4 shirts for all of ours at the beach this summer. It made it marvelously easy to keep track of them all….

    • Natasha B

      We do, actually, refer to the kids as 1,2,3, and fetus 4. But only to each other….

    • Jem

      I get what you’re saying with the “high needs” having a negative connotation. My son was not necessarily difficult, but he wasn’t easy. Spirited or feisty didn’t fit either. I finally realized it was much more like he is just very particular. That is the best way to describe it. Just really particular. I think when we fall into the black and white, good or bad, is when it starts to tread into offensive territory.

    • ChickenKira

      Someone asked me if mine was “an easy baby” once, this was back when we were having some digestive issues with her (turns out she was lactose intolerant) and I replied with “Oh, at the moment it’s a little tricky because we are having some minor medical issues and we’re in and out of the doctor a lot” to which I was told “Well, my neighbour has a cousin whose child was stillborn, so be grateful that you have your little one”.

      Okay then.

      Apparently the only answer you can give to the good bay/easy baby question is “yes”.

    • Lackadaisical

      Oh yes, so much yes. How can a baby be good or bad? They are babies and by assigning things like that we are projecting our own grown up ideas onto them, like anthropomorphising a pet. A small baby has no concept of good or bad behaviour and yet there are people who will interpret the ethics and personality of a day old baby. A cholicy baby cries more and needs more comfort but that doesn’t mean that’s who they are when they grow out of cholic, but it can earn them a label that a lazy person will cling to rather than bother to know and understand them as they develop.

  • apricotjam

    Ok, this is interesting. I have a middle child who is the poster boy for “difficult.” I want to sugarcoat it but “spirited” makes is sound like a good thing. I wonder if constantly trying to be positive about everything is doing as much harm as being negative. I think about my sister in law for whom everything was unicorns and rainbows and ended up a barrel of nerves, confused that the world (and her) wasn’t as super as she had been led to believe. I’m not for name calling and making kids feel bad. That’s not my argument. I’d never tell my kid he was a pain in the ass (I’d do it privately…maybe) But the author of this post admits that her upbringing (while not ideal to her liking) definitely gave her traits she appreciates. And it sounds like being constantly conscientious of every. single. word. that comes out of her mouth is probably going to make the stress worse, especially if she ever falls short (Which we all do!) So how is that better than letting go and doing your best? It sounds to me if she’s worried about this at all, she’s probably already a good mother.

    • Jessica

      I think using “spirited” is ok. I think the problem comes when people treat their kids differently because of the expectations that they have associated with the label- like letting a “rambunctious” kid run wild at a play date because they are that “type.” Not that I am saying you do that! :-) I just mean that people who are married to the labels may excuse their kids for the aligned behaviors.

  • Trish

    Totally true! One of the (MANY) factors that went into us deciding to have a 3rd child. We were all getting too entrenched in the narratives of our “easygoing/mellow child” and our “spirited/active/intense” child. Hoping #3 will blow up the dynamic and help us all to see each child as a unique person rather than a constellation of traits that are more or less convenient for us parents.

  • kdk

    Kind of a misleading title, and the article itself doesn’t really seem to make a point about “easy” children, but about the dangers of labelling “challenging” children. I think it’s just as damaging to label a child “easy”, and makes their needs (perhaps expressed more quietly and in a different way) easier to overlook.

  • Justme

    I was still in the hospital after my daughter was born when my MIL labeled my newborn as “stubborn” because she cried when you moved her from a comfy position.

    People aren’t labels. People have traits. I don’t teach “bad” kids…I teach children who haven’t been set up for success and who therefore make very poor decisions. When you negatively label a kid, you pigeonhole them and are effectively telling them, “I’ve given up on you.” On the other hand, when you assign a positive label to a kid, you tell them that they aren’t allowed to ever be human and make a mistake or screw up.

    You don’t win, either way.

  • Lackadaisical

    My father in law labelled my eldest as the grandkid with a temper when he was tiny. He is a lovely, gentle boy and a peacemaker who never really had a temper tantrum as a toddler and certainly never got ratty in front of his grandfather. I can only assume that my first is judged for being the son of his father as my husband and brothers are very, very pigeonholed (and inaccurately). My husband spent his childhood on hard core epilepsy medication that made him unpredictable and his parents view of him hasn’t changed since he came off the medication and grew up. My in laws also labelled another grandchild as a naughty and demanding madam for a while despite her being lovely and a toddler whose parents were angry at each other and splitting up. I dislike the pigeonholing of small kids, it’s often lazily relying on stereotypes rather than getting to know a kid and children change who they are as they grow up and discover the world and themselves but the labels stay and don’t get updated.