The words we use matter. They, and the way in which they are interpreted by others, affect people. With our words, we create an atmosphere where certain things are valued over others. It may not be our intention to do so, but it happens every day.
As such, I have been really annoyed lately by the use of the phrases "good baby" and "bad / naughty baby", by others and by myself. Babies cannot be good or bad; they have needs, and they express the desire for those needs to be met through the only way they know how, such as crying and fussing, among other cues. It is our job as parents to be able to respond to their cues, or anticipate their needs, and provide for them. Obviously, we are not going to get it right all the time (don't I know it!). But it does not make a baby bad if they continue crying until their needs are met.
Often people will say something like, "Is Gus a good sleeper?" They get surprised if I say, "Yes, he is. He wakes up a 2 or 3 times during the night because he has a tiny tummy and needs some food or isn't used to being by himself and needs to make sure we are nearby. But I attend to his needs, he goes back to sleep, and all are happy." This doesn't fit into the questioner's definition of good. So I usually just say, "Yes, thanks, we are all happy" and continue on with the conversation.
To most of us (i.e. me before Gus was born and I started thinking about these things more in depth), a good baby is one that fits in well with the way adults live our lives. Babies become good when they don't cry too much, sleep through the night, and have a generally happy temperament. This doesn't leave room for all the variety of feelings and emotions that we as adults are allowed to express. It doesn't allow children to have their own personalities. A baby that needs a lot of physical closeness with a parent isn't bad; it may be inconvenient to accommodate the child's needs in our adult-centric world, but that is not the child's fault. I read a phrase a few months ago (not sue where, maybe at Raising My Boychick?): the radical idea that children are people. This really struck me, that babies are not just blobs waiting to become, they are real people with a personality and a full range of emotions, needs, and desires. It seems stupid that I had never realised that before, but it has really affected the way I relate to Gus. He is not just a set of behaviours to be molded the way I want; he is a person that is trying to communicate his needs to me. (I just started reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and he talks a lot about this as well.)
All of that leads me back to the beginning: if I don't think that Gus is expressing bad behaviours, but rather needs to be met, then I don't want to use words that are coded with moral undertones. I don't want him to grow up thinking he is a bad person for expressing his emotions (i.e. crying). Right now, the words I use probably don't have a lasting impact on him, but start as you mean to go on, they say. So I am trying to cut out the use of the words good and bad. For instance, when he is finally falling asleep in the middle of the night, I try not to say good boy. If he doesn't know the difference between night and day, it is my job to teach him that. I am not very adept at this yet, but with time, I think I will improve. What do you think?