Before I was even pregnant I knew I would have a child I would want to pass around. She would be happy with everyone and never play strange. Oh how naive, not only as a first time mother, but as my daughter’s protector.
When my daughter was 10 weeks old, we had a large family event. Our baby was having a particularly fussy day and I wore her in a ring sling. Another mother was there with her 3rd child approximately Novee’s age and the comments flew about me being a “new over-protective mom” and how “I was coddling her.”
Those comments made me laugh — and stung a little — because we don’t really coddle but practice parenting with a very gentle and calm approach. At the time, I just wanted to be out with my baby who was only content to be against my chest. I figured baby-wearing her would be for the best so we could enjoy our time and maybe have a bite of a hot meal.
But I had this nagging feeling of mom guilt, that I was being a “bad mom,” selfish even, for not letting a large group pass around my baby. So I did something I wasn’t comfortable with and caved: I passed off my baby even though it wasn’t what she or I wanted.
When she turned 5 months, she started playing strange. Like “don’t look me in the eye” strange… and again I would push it. I would try to let others hold her and she would cry immediately. We would take her back and calm her down, but the moment she was calm, the dreaded “can I hold her?” question came.
I didn’t want to withhold her from loved ones, but I wanted to give the poor girl a break. The people pleaser in me wanted to say yes, but I slowly grew into a place where I didn’t care what type of mom I would get labeled as — my child’s sense of security meant more to me than hurting people’s feelings. It has been so important to me to learn from my mistakes as an new mom and to ensure we grow from them.
There was something I had to accept: my child is shy by nature. She takes a while to warm up to family even if she sees them regularly. Sometimes she only wants Mom and Dad to hold her, and some people get too close and she becomes uncomfortable, and my husband and I are left picking up the pieces of an upset child. This is all okay to me, but sometimes I think others fail to understand that and take it personally. They seem to think we don’t trust them, that we want to withhold her, or some even blamed it on my postpartum depression. None of those things were or are true. We just realized her comfort level in public and didn’t want to violate those boundaries she clearly has.
I’m done trying to force my child to be a “social baby.” We have never stopped trying to gently socialize her, but we no longer fear what others think. I’m done apologizing that she cries when people hold her. I’m done apologizing for baby-wearing her when she is tired while we are out, and I’m done allowing people that she only sees on brief occasion to stress her out by invading her space. All that pushiness from me as a mom in the past had only just prolonged the phase and that phase is exhausting.
Now that she is a 18 months, the main thing she needs to know is that she is in control of her own body. She has every right to say no (verbally or not) to any kinds of hug or touch, she has the right to tell her Mommy or Daddy if someone has made her uncomfortable.
This does not mean I will encourage my daughter to be impolite and not acknowledge people, especially family. It doesn’t mean we don’t encourage others to interact with her in a comfortable way, which is usually from Mommy or Daddy’s lap, and it doesn’t mean we don’t want to raise a socially graceful child.
What this means is, as parents, we want to teach our daughter that her body is her body. She doesn’t have to kiss or hug you if that’s her choice; she can give high fives. She doesn’t have to sit on your lap if it makes her uncomfortable; you can interact with her as she sits on our lap.
I honestly laugh at my pre-baby self and how simple I thought it would be. Truth is: it’s not simple. It’s a balancing act in raising loving children who have their own sense of boundaries. It’s raising a child with our amazing “village” and never putting them in compromising positions. We will never teach her fear of family and friends, but that she is aware that she never has to do anything she is uncomfortable with and she can tell her parents everything.
My wish for her is that she can walk through this life as a smart and confident woman who knows her worth and knows it’s her body, her choice.