By Lori Mihalich-Levin and Noloyiso Tlali
Recently, Mindful Return’s CEO, Lori, received a question from a new mom, asking how to communicate the message, “don’t touch my baby!” Here’s what the mom wrote:
“What are some ways to kindly, but firmly set boundaries with strangers who try to touch your baby unsolicited? With the pandemic still lingering and colds and flu a concern, it would be so helpful to hear how other parents advocate to protect their kiddo’s personal space.“
This mom is certainly not alone in her experience of having strangers touch her little one. Turns out babies (and even toddlers and older children’s) delicious cuteness can be so inviting that strangers just feel compelled to reach in for some of that goodness.
In her post (which you can read here), Lori shares great insights on what parents can do in this type of situation.
Lori said: As a recovering people pleaser and perfectionist (well on most days…) this blog struck a chord.. Especially the second part on boundary setting. Not necessarily just with strangers but people who are also part of our village – and not only boundaries in relation to my child, but in relation to myself as well.
Lori wrote: ““Don’t Touch My Baby” is a Boundary and self-worth issue, and baked into this question is, it seems, is a desire not to disappoint the person who would really like some baby love. As someone who is deep into the process of recovering from people-pleasing and perfectionism, I get this 100%.
It can be hard to disappointment someone, especially if they’re well-meaning and you understand where their desire is coming from.”
I identified deeply with these words. For the longest time, insisting on boundaries was misunderstood as me choosing not to connect with my village… choosing to put up walls.
I remember as a new mom reading a post by a mother clear across the globe, where she said that she is not willing to compromise her child’s health and/or level of comfort merely to make an adult happy.
This sounds obvious enough, but I’d never thought of it that way. Those words stuck with me and have been the idea I go back to when family members cringe at me sharing that my daughter does not have to hug or kiss anyone if she’s uncomfortable or doesn’t feel like it. Yet even though I believe this deeply, I’ve heard myself strongly encouraging her to give someone a hug, even if it’s clear she doesn’t want to.
I know that as families, we are trying to reconnect and build bonds that were negatively impacted by Covid. Many of us had babies who only met their family members 2 or 3 years after they were born, which means more hugs & kisses. Another layer to this, is that a lot of cultures show love and affection through physical touch – accepting hugs and kisses (on the lips) is the norm. And when we set boundaries that go against this norm, our families can view our behaviour as us moving away from the connections that we were raised to hold dear.
Why you need to set boundaries
Remember, dear working parent, that setting boundaries is about respecting yourself and those around you. It may take time for those around you to get used to them, and that is okay. As we learn to set and hold onto boundaries when it comes to our children, let’s take time to do the same for ourselves whether with our partners, friends or colleagues.
Your opinions matter. Your values matter. And your judgment with respect to your baby and your own personal boundaries matters. Most of us are learning new ways of being – be kind to yourself mama.
If you haven’t yet listened to the episode of Glennon Doyle’s podcast in which she interviews Nedra Tawab on boundary-setting, do yourself a favor and go listen to it now. Here’s the link: How to Say No: Boundaries with Nedra Glover Tawwab.
In the episode, Nedra Tawwab defines a boundary as “what you need to feel safe and supported.” Here, it sounds like you need the stranger not to touch your baby, for you to have this feeling of safety and support. You, as a parent and as a human, are worthy of asking for what you need and expecting others to respect that request.
Our other helpful takeaway from the podcast conversation? Nedra’s statement that “it’s not our job to manage how other people react to our boundaries.” If the stranger or family member gets angry when you say, “don’t touch my baby” and storms off, fine. As Lori’s 9-year old son would declare to the frustrated stranger, “That’s a you problem, not a me problem!”
I’ll leave you today with my favorite boundary-setting mantra, which is a quote from Brené Brown: “choose discomfort over resentment.”
Yes, it might feel uncomfortable to tell people no but it’s way better than feeling resentful that you didn’t articulate your needs. And with practice, I promise that your boundary-setting muscle will grow over time.
Plus, if our intention is to raise children who know what consent means, who understand and respect boundaries (their own and those of others) modelling boundary setting for them is important and worth leaning into the discomfort. You’ve got this.