Canadian babies cry because they can

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My take on Canadian baby whiners is that, in a single generation, we have turned children into the centre of our universe, instead of encouraging them to become a part of ours.


First published in The Hill Times on Monday, April 24, 2017.

OTTAWA—‘Boo hoo: Canadian babies cry more.’

That intriguing headline in The Globe and Mail caught my eye the other day, and necessitated a more in-depth review.

The article by Wency Leung published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics. examined a British study of world meta-data comparing 8,700 babies in the first month of life.

It claimed that 34 per cent of Canadian babies cried more than three hours a day at least three days a week.

That level of discomfort, medically characterized as colic, puts Canada on the top of the heap when it comes to baby whiners.

Even other northern countries were not close, with only 5.5 per of Danish babies and 6.7 per cent of German newborns suffering the same discomfort.

What followed was a compelling analysis of some potential, and inconclusive scientific reasons behind the high level of colic amongst Canuck babies.

I am no scientist, but after a quarter century in active politics, I consider myself a student of the social sciences. So what follows, is a political take on why Canadian babies cry.

Because they can.

From the moment they are born, modern Canadian babies become the centre of their parents’ universe.

In many instances, that means the condition for getting kids to sleep involves the selfless rocking of upset babies until they finally collapse exhausted into their parents’ arms.

Sleep issues continue for many Canadian children well into adolescence. The self-help sections of most bookstores are replete with tomes on how to conquer the sleep problem when children simply won’t.
My take on Canadian baby whiners is that, in a single generation, we have turned children into the centre of our universe, instead of encouraging them to become a part of ours.

How many times have you visited the home of a frazzled new parent, hoping to congratulate them on this wonderful time in their lives, only to be told you must speak in a whisper because the baby is sleeping.

So well-meaning adults put the whole socializing aspect of family life on hold in an effort to create the perfect peaceful environment for their offspring.

I say, bring on a little chaos. I believe it is good for children to have to adapt to the world and not the other way around.

Anyone who has spent a lifetime in politics, will understand exactly what I mean. My daughter, Danelle, was the first child born to a sitting Canadian parliamentarian thirty years ago last month.

Some of her earliest photos involve sleeping in a box in the corner of a political campaign office. She was born in March of 1987 and three months later, we were in the throes of an important byelection in the neighbouring riding of Hamilton Mountain. She was still breast-feeding, so wherever I went, she followed along.

But we decided not put her in a quiet room.

Danelle is 30 now and she can easily sleep through a hurricane or thunderstorm.

Some of the qualities that make Canadians popular on the international stage, including our concern for the collective, and our obsession with peace, order, and good government, tend to make us hypersensitive to noise.

Just last week, I was travelling to Ottawa by train, chatting with a friend on Facetime, which meant the discussion on both ends was audible to fellow travellers.

A woman across the aisle snapped at me, angrily observing that she could hear the whole conversation, and it was distracting her from the book she was trying to read.

I apologized profusely, the Canadian way, and muted the sound while I tried to whisper my way through ensuing phone calls.

The rail car was like a tomb, with people happily buried in their business, and certainly not talking to each other.

Compare that to an early morning bus trip I took in Mexico last January. It was 6 a.m. and I stumbled aboard in the dark, only to be rudely awaken by a blast of populist mariachi music coming from the boom box perched behind the seat of the driver.

It was his box, and his collection of music, designed to shake any early morning commuter out of a sleepy stupor in a single decibel.

No other passenger on the bus took any notice of the noise. In fact, some were singing along and tapping their feet to the rhythm of the music.

Mexicans do not require their children to be raised in a cone of silence. Nor do they suffer much from colic.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.