There’s a huge emphasis on raising good kids. Polite kids. Respectful kids. We’d like our youngsters to be hyper-aware of social nuances and considerate not to hurt the feelings of others. I’d like this too. Up to a point…
Here’s where I often put noses out of joint:
I will actively prevent other people from touching my babies.
Well-meaning people, who just want to pinch their cheeks or squidge their little tummies, or stroke their hair, or scoop them up into a cuddle.
Usually, if the boys are in my arms, a carrier or my buggy, I will move them away. Other times, I have had to physically interpose myself between strangers and the twins.
There have also been times when I am too slow or not expecting it, when I have actually said to people “Can you not touch them please?” Oh the looks of horror! Seriously, you’d think there was no worse faux pas I could possibly make!
But here’s the thing: I am passionate about protecting Sausage & Bean’s body autonomy. Each is the boss of his own body. That means no one gets to touch/stroke/pick my children up without their consent. No matter how kindly/curious/friendly/related that person may be.
But they’re just babies. What would consent even look like?
For one thing, babies can quite clearly indicate whether they want to be touched by somebody new. At 11 months, my twins will reach out, or crawl up and initiate the touch themselves – once they are comfortable in their own minds that this is what they want. And they aren’t shy! As far as I am concerned, as long as I don’t have any qualms about the individual, and am supervising, then my sons are very welcome to invite physical contact from new acquaintances of their choosing – that’s part of being the boss of their body!
But what about tiny babies, surely they can’t communicate a preference?
Well maybe not verbally, but they can certainly let you know when they aren’t happy being held by someone else. And in the meantime, their parents have the responsibility to choose wisely, and closely watch for their babies’ cues.
This leaves some room for interpretation, of course. For us, this meant we chose not to pass the twins around unless absolutely necessary – especially when they were newborn and just forming their attachments to their primary caregivers.
But surely it’s important to pass them around, to get them used to other people!
Why? If I have chosen not to pass them around, why would they need to get used to being passed around? I get met with this nonsensical retort more often than you’d think!
(There were, of course, some times early on when I had to break this rule – when you have newborn twins there are times you have to throw yourself on the mercy of a fellow mum with regards to holding a baby so you can change the other/go to the loo etc.)
But the point is that, as the guardian, you are judging whether the person is trustworthy, and whether the touch is appropriate.
What is NOT appropriate is initiating physical contact with a child without consent from both themselves and their parents.
Oh come on, it’s the norm to cuddle/tickle/fuss babies. You are just finding things to be offended about!
Well let me put it to you this way:
Would it be okay for a stranger to reach out and to touch a five year old child?
What about a teenager?
If it’s not okay with a child who can express their preference and/or move away, why is it okay with a baby, who is powerless to prevent it?
Aren’t you being a bit stand-offish? Won’t your kids get a reputation for being rude/unfriendly?
a) It turns out that,
in spite of because of our attachment parenting, our babies are super-confident and gregarious with new people.
b) There are plenty of ways to interact in a friendly manner that don’t include touching. I have good friends whose children I have never touched. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t formed a friendship.
It boils down to the fact that babies are neither pets to be stroked, nor possessions to be passed around. They aren’t half-formed, humans-in-waiting. They are people in their own right, from birth, and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
The fact that this is such an alien concept to most people just shows how endemic Childism is in our society!
Why is this such a hot-button topic with you?
(Trigger warning: reference to childhood assault coming up…)
When I was 12 years old, I was molested by an adult friend of the family. Luckily, not a close friend, not one we saw more than once a year, nor did I ever cross paths with him again.
Why do I mention this now, publicly, after so many years, when to this day I have only told my husband and a couple of close friends?
Because I vividly remember at the time not wanting to hurt his feelings. I felt obliged to be polite.
Whilst I refused his proposition that we start a relationship, I made excuses – blamed it on having a crush on someone else, instead of telling him I didn’t want to. And when he asked about future prospects, I said “Oh, you never know what will happen in the future”.
Because I didn’t want to offend him.
I didn’t know that what he was doing was morally and legally wrong, only that it made me feel sick. I remember the phrase “There’s such as thing as personal space” on loop in my head, but I had always been taught not to be rude, so I didn’t speak out.
I didn’t really recognise that he was a paedophile (after all, you *feel* very grown-up at 12 years old), only that the memory made me shake and feel uneasy long afterwards. And I didn’t tell anyone for fear of getting into trouble.
In fact, I still have never revealed who it was, for fear of upsetting his family, or (worse) it being denied, or dismissed as an overreaction. I have no proof, and for the most part it is done with. And it could have been much worse, gone further or been repeated. I never saw him again.
But it certainly affected me. Affected the way I felt about my body and my self-worth.
It set the tone that I was only desirable for my body, and other people had rights over it.
Growing up, I became very emotionally needy, but got the impression that I had to almost bribe guys into staying with me, by allowing them access to my body. Although I knew I wanted to wait until marriage due to my faith, I felt pressured by various boyfriends, and feared they would leave me if I didn’t put-out (completely accurate, as it turns out).
I used to make excuses, but the longer we were together, the more I felt obliged to engage in activities that I wasn’t enjoying – and yet somehow felt like I owed them. And even when they hurt me due to their inexperience, I still didn’t speak out, for fear that they’d be offended and leave me.
**In case any ex-boyfriends read this: not all of you were awful. But another sad ramification was that I was so accustomed to being treated badly, that I didn’t really know how to respond to a nice guy – I usually ended things quickly! Essentially, if I was the one who ended it, you probably didn’t deserve it and were one of the nice guys!
Totally nonsensical, but abuse screws you up.
I had learned that I was not worth waiting for. That I was a prude or a weirdo, or stuck-up or fridgid, for wanting some say over my body. Thank goodness that when I eventually met my loving, devoted husband, I had managed to avoid going all the way, and I got my wish to save myself for him. But make no mistake, there were a lot of hang-ups and baggage that needed repairing – and it still causes inhibitions to this day.
Now I’m not talking about whether people decide to wait for marriage or not – if it’s not your faith, then why would you?
I am talking about being taken advantage of or coerced into sexual contact before you are physically or emotionally ready for it – whatever the reason.
What has this got to do with touching babies? Clearly well-wishing elderly folks you meet in the street aren’t initiating sexual contact with their coochie-cooing…
Granted, the average person you meet isn’t a paedophile. But what lesson are we teaching our kids in allowing unsolicited touch?
That adults get to touch children if they want?
That those who are bigger and stronger get to call the shots over your body?
That you are only kind/friendly/polite if you allow people to touch you?
That it’s more important to avoid offending people than to speak your mind?
I certainly don’t blame my parents for raising me to be polite. But I do wish that schools, churches, society as a whole had taught me that I am the boss of my body.
That refusing physical contact is never rude.
That rudeness, in the context of unwanted advances, is 100% justifiable.
I plan to raise my children with absolute body confidence. I plan to raise my kids to know their boundaries and stick to their guns.
It doesn’t matter if unwanted touch is well-meant.
It doesn’t matter if refusal hurts your feelings.
It doesn’t matter if it’s socially acceptable.
If it will prevent them being sexually abused,
I’ll raise them rude.
This post is not meant to shame other parenting decisions, but to raise awareness of sexual abuse prevention and change the conversation surrounding forced affection. If this post has triggered some uncomfortable reactions, you can find more information/support here: