she’s not a baby


I don’t like this post.

In fact I hate it.

Its content is raw and embarrassing.

But I’m publishing it.

Because I think it matters. 


She was right.

Of course she was right.

That’s why it hurt so much.


That’s why I got so defensive when she said it — and tried to pretend that I didn’t know what she meant.

“Mama,” she said, “you don’t have to talk to her like she’s a baby.”


The words hung in the air — thick, accusatory.

My gut reaction was denial.

“I wasn’t, honey.”

It sounded ridiculous. Like I’d just said that the sky wasn’t blue. But look, Katie, my brow is furrowed as though I’m confused, and I’ve even cocked my head to the side for good measure, so I must not know what you mean.

“Mama,” she said, going along with the game,”ask me the same question that you just asked Brooke. Listen to your voice. You would never say it to me like that. You don’t have to talk to her like she’s a baby.”


I tried to convince myself that I was only using that sing-song voice because the question was part of a script. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t know what she meant.

I knew I was full of crap.

And I knew that she was right.

Brooke is nine and a half years old.

She watches Blue’s Clues and Dora and Elmo’s World. She’d take a See The Baby board book over a chapter book any day of the week. I have to tell her not to put things in her mouth.

Just like her sister, she will always be my baby.

But she is not a baby.

She is nine and a half years old.

And she deserves better.


She was right.

Of course she was right.

That’s why it hurt so much.

34 thoughts on “she’s not a baby

  1. Katie may be right. Yes, of course, Katie is right. But please ease up on yourself because we all make mistakes and you are an absolutely incredible Mama!

    Love you,

  2. Your an.amazing mother Jess….. Katie’s words rang true for me as well …My son Elijah is 6 and autistic and the “sing songy voice” I know as well…. They may be growing up but babies in our hearts …

  3. I do it with my 12 year old. When he is struggling his voice becomes more like that of a 3 year old. You are an amazing mama. We all do it. You. Are. Not. Alone. Hugs Jess.

  4. I find myself doing the same thing with my 17 year old. Your description of Brooke could be the description of my daughter. When I catch myself doing the same thing, I get angry with myself. I should know better. I demand the school and her doctors not do the same thing. That’s when I really feel like a hyprocrite.

    All we can do is keep trying. We’re mothers, not perfect beings. Hug both your daughters and know you are a wonderful mother!

  5. I was just thinking about this. My sweet boy turned 6 yesterday and I was thinking about how much we baby him and yes I talk to him like he is his 3 year old brother at times..sigh

  6. I’m sure this hits home with all of us. After Daniel was diagnosed we brought him to U of M hospital. The autism Dr we saw there said to me, “You have to stop treating him like a baby. If you wanted to you could keep him a baby for his whole life, but you don’t want that, so just think about that” or something like that. I was FURIOUS. FOR YEARS. But I know he was correct. I was treating him like a baby. I still talk to him differently than Zachary, but I try to keep treating him like the 16 year old he deserves to be and not holding him back. It’s a tough line. It’s hard to hear isn’t it? Ugh, sorry. I know you know this, but you have a smart little girl. 🙂

  7. It’s habit…it is what has worked in the past. It’s how I can currently get my son to sometimes look at me. He’s almost 4 so, maybe she’s right but you’ve developed your skills to get her to connect.

  8. Ouch! Double ouch. That caught me off-guard a little. Nothing compared to how it caught you, I’m sure. Wow.

    I may have to look at this myself. My son is the oldest and my middle child is very mature. I wonder if I’ve been doing this. I wonder if my friends/family have noticed. Ugh. I think i may have bc just the suggestion made me realize that that’s how i think of him. He deserves more respect than that. Dammit. :-/ Thanks for posting this.

  9. Sometimes, it takes someone a little bit more removed from the emotion (I refer only to the dynamic between you and Brooke, not to say that Katie has less emotion investment) to point out things that we do unconsciously. While Katie was right, this is to be celebrated – what a bond between them! You are the mama; cut yourself some slack, change what needs changing and jump back in. You haven’t done anything wrong, per se, you just need to adjust things a bit. 🙂 We could all use a Katie to call us on these things once in a while.

  10. Oof. This one hurt mainly because I found myself doing this the other day with a friend’s child.
    I think Katie and you have such a special relationship that she can tell you these things straight out and while it hurts, you know the source is loving and honest.

  11. Oh Jess I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I don’t think you did anything wrong. I see what you did as akin to me letting my E blow off steam at me, sometimes inappropriately (I can just hear the therapist scolding him in my head) because he is in the safety of his home. It’s not like you’re babying her in other ways. You work hard every day to give her the tools so that she can function independently. Your singsong tone comes from a place of love and tenderness. Heck I talk to my 11 year old NT son that way because he is still my baby in my eyes. And with my kids heading into their teens, nine years old feels closer to babyhood than adulthood anyway. Don’t beat yourself up.

  12. I’m asking this as a way of offering a different perspective. How is your tone of voice different than any of the other things I’ve read you defend as *what works for her*, regardless of the age of anyone else for whom those things are more common? Maybe you just talk to her like she’s Brooke, not like she’s a baby.

  13. Good for Katie, right? And good for you for listening. I know exactly what you’re talking about here and my brow is furrowed and my head is cocked as I think about how *I* talk to my kiddo.

  14. Thanks for sharing this. One of the struggles of being a special needs mom is that we don’t always share the common experiences that bring us closer, we hide them.

    What I do know for sure is that God doesn’t just pick a momma for a child, He picks a whole family. When our daughter was a year, I had to teach her how to eat. She had been on a ng-tube and we were battling to not put in a G-tube. I was stressed beyond stressed, and developed what I thought was a coping method…swearing nursery rhymes. I talked like a sailor in a sing-song voice and used them to release my complete frustration with the situation while still apearing to be a cheerful, happy support person who could crack herself up. Yep, not one of my better times. My then 9 year old son caught me one morning. I didn’t hear him walk into the room, until he said,”Mom…..Mom, I don’t think you should talk like that to Erin. It is very disrespectful.” He was right, of course. Despite my warrior mommy talk, I was interacting with Erin’s disability only, and not seeing her as a person. It is a lesson I never forgot and became one of the defining moments in shaping me as a parent. We learn. We do better. No shame. Just growth.

  15. Don’t be so hard on yourself…any of us who have had to work hard at engaging our children get into the same habit. My son, now that he is verbal, is also using a sing-songy falsetto voice much of the time because it is how he was spoken to for so long! It takes a constant awareness to break the pattern and I applaud Katie for helping you!

  16. Sometimes I also struggle with this, although I don’t know that I have the strength to be so honest and share it with the world. Congrats to you for being brave enough to admit your faults and congrats to Katie for being a strong sister. Thank you for sharing this.

  17. Oy – it *must* be the age for this! I feel you; Brandon himself has told me several times lately “I’m growing up.” Which is at odds with his love of the Octonauts on TV and “My Personal Penguin” as his favorite book. And which is still true, and I’m still grappling with that. Hugs….

  18. My daughter, who is 8, and was just diagnosed with Asperger’s is certainly being treated differently since we now understand that she isn’t just being “difficult”, she actually having difficulty. So I speak with patience and understanding, and some might consider me to be speaking in a “sing song, baby type” voice. It’s what helps me to stay cool, to remind myself that she isn’t trying to enrage me, she’s just working through her frustrations. And then that voice spills over into other moments, so I stay soft and caring, so I’m constantly reminded these days that I still don’t know all the triggers she has that set her off. But also, and this may surprise you, to offer her respect. The flip side is that my 15 year old daughter’s looks of embarrassment and even disgust at the way I am speaking can be felt burning into the back of my head. I can see her feeling not only embarrassed for me, but for my 8 year old. And I know that there is a balance somewhere in the middle. Yes, I should speak to my daughter the way I would speak to any other 8 year old, most of the time. But the other part of that is that sometimes I do need to speak in that sing song voice, because I need to stay soft, because my 8 year old sometimes needs it so she can stay calm. Sometimes she just likes it. You are a good mama, and Katie isn’t wrong, but neither are you. There is a truth for both of you somewhere in the middle. The fact that Katie feels comfortable challenging you with that, the fact that you listen to her and respect her opinion is proof enough for me that you ain’t doing anything wrong.

  19. Oh my… Bless you sweetheart…. I think we all live there at some point. I am working on respect of my little one and not getting so bent-out-of-shape with her when she can’t do something I think she should be able to do.

    But, since you are so wise and we are on the subject…..
    YES, I think you are wise!!! I use the following verbiage with my little one… “G.. that is not appropriate behavior. Please stop acting like a baby. Do you want your friends to see you acting that way?” I am trying to make her see how others view her behavior. But, is the “baby verbiage” specifically appropriate for me to use? I will say that she can “relate” to her “baby” behavior when I use the verbiage. But, I don’t want to hurt her already low self-esteen. I am open to opinions on this.

    Blessings. 🙂

  20. Wow, it sure seems like you and Katie have been inside many of our heads/homes/hearts with this one. I was just catching myself doing this the other day and wondering…

    Sorry for the sting, though. xo

  21. I hear you. I also think we probably use several different voices with our kids, regardless of their neurotypicality (word?), depending on the situation and what will get us heard. My regular voice with Andrew (7-ASD) sometimes will come across to him as mad, as he is more used to my playful voice. When he is acting grown-up, I tend to talk more grown-up to him.

  22. This one is so something I am struggling with at home. I know I do the same thing. I need to work on that. Like your mom and others have said, don’t be too hard on yourself…you are an amazing mom.

  23. How is it that your experiences as a family are always so timely? Is Katie a fly on my wall too?! (Please let her know that I would be delighted to have such an awesome “fly” as she on my wall…and I would promise not to swat at said fly.) I’ve been hearing that little voice in my head too…suggesting gently that I might consider adjusting my tone or rephrasing my sentence with my son. I appreciate everyone’s comments above; we really are a community here, aren’t we?

  24. Don’t beat yourself up! You gave Katie a moment to shine and be smarter than Mom, and all kids need that occasionally! And Brooke got to see her sister sticking up for her, which is important too.

  25. While our kids tend to see things as black or white with no shades of grey in between, this is indeed a grey area. We have children who have scattered abilities- great strengths, great weaknesses, and lots of skills in between. Brooke’s weaknesses are not what identify her as a whole person. Because you may have simplified your language and exaggerated your voice intonation, this does not mean that you have an infantile perspective of your daugher. It does not mean that you are treating her like a baby. It means that you no longer give it a second thought when you alter the way that you speak to better improve your precious girl’s ability to understand your message. None of your posts have provided the slightest inkling that you treat Brooke like a baby. On the contrary, you seem to go out of your way each and every day to respect her differences while helping her to learn and grow. A child like your daughter Katie, who God love her, is trying to advocate for her sister, could easily interpret this as ‘baby talk’ or babyish treatment. Because, at this age (and also like lots of adults), she puts things into compartments and categories. I think that most would probably agree that our children on the spectrum do not fit into these categories. How could our parenting of these children possibly be compartmentalized as well?

  26. Ouch……My daughter tells me all the time that I let my son get away with saying and doing things that I’d never let her get away with. I had gotten into the habit of just thinking it was sibling rivalry or something. You see, my son is 16 (autistic) and my daughter is 12. A while back I started taking on board her comments, instead of denying them. And she was right. Not all the time, but often enough to make me realize that I needed to hold my son to a higher standard of behavior. Don’t you just love/hate it when the truth comes at you like a bullet out of the mouths of babes?

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