I probably sound like a crazy overprotective mama, but here it goes: I don’t want anyone touching my child.
That is, unless she is OK with it.
Most adults seem to think that playing “pass the parcel” with babies is absolutely fine—hand a baby around any gathering and let anyone hold the baby in any which way. From one person to the next, everyone seems to want their turn with the little one. If we tried this with an older child or with an adult, that wouldn’t work; the person would likely protest, and we’d find the whole thing rather weird.
But people often act as though babies don’t have any views on who handles them or how. A baby may look uncomfortable, and may even cry or push unwanted hands away, but lots of adults simply don’t take any notice. They just keep cooing over the kid and chattering to their friends, not really considering how the child might feel.
If a mother tries to take her baby back, people roll their eyes and say she’s too clingy. Often they don’t seem to accept that, actually, the mother knows her child best and can tell if the baby has had enough, not to mention the fact that a woman may simply not be OK with loads of random people with all their germs clutching a tiny, delicate being. Evolution has created a system where mothers want and need to keep their babies close to them.
Recently, I was particularly upset when someone visiting our house stroked my daughter’s bottom. Yes, she was wearing a diaper, and had trousers over the diaper, but it was still shockingly intimate. Unless you’re the parent and you change the baby’s diaper and give the child baths, then I think you shouldn’t be touching the baby like that. Babies have a right to bodily integrity, just like any other person.
I don’t get the idea that babies are public property. (And, yes, this seems to start before the baby is even born, when the pregnant woman has to protect her bump from all the curious folks who think they have the right to embrace it.) I’ve been chastised for not wanting an array of relatives and acquaintances holding my baby, but just because “everyone loves a baby” doesn’t mean I should ignore what feels right for me and what seems to feel right for her.
I doubt there’s a single adult who will happily be stroked or embraced by just anyone; we all have boundaries and there are some people we feel more or less comfortable with. So why wouldn’t babies be picky, too? Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they aren’t sensitive and don’t have feelings.
When my daughter is a little older, I’ll teach her that she has options whenever she sees someone. She can wave hello, shake hands, or give a hug (and maybe she’ll come up with some other form of friendly interaction herself). If she doesn’t want to touch someone, even if that person is a friend or relative who thinks a hug is appropriate, then she won’t be forced to. If she wants to hug someone who doesn’t want to be hugged, my daughter will learn about respecting the other person’s boundaries.
It’s essential to start teaching our children early that their bodies are their own, and that their wishes will be respected. If we don’t help them learn that, how will they later be able to say no to any unwanted contact? How will they feel confident coming to us to discuss issues about their bodies? I want to give my daughter the message that she is in control of her body and that she decides what happens to it. This is important for all children, but I think it’s especially vital for girls, who are often socialized to be docilely accepting of whatever happens to them. All people need autonomy and sovereignty over their bodies, and that starts from infancy.
My daughter will never be pressured into being held by anyone, and certainly not by one person after another, just because that’s what the adults want and expect. If she rejects a touch from me or her other mother, we will accept her feelings on that, too.
So, hands off my kid.