When I have to body block you, a stranger in a shop, in order to reduce the stress my child is experiencing from you repeatedly trying to take him out of my arms, it’s my more polite way of shouting JUST STOP IT.
My child is a cute, engaging little PERSON and when he is comfortable with people he knows, he will demonstrate this through smiles, baby talk and choosing to engage.
However, he is a little PERSON and is allowed to choose how he does this. When you are an UNKNOWN PERSON to my little PERSON and he chooses not to climb out of my arms into yours, this is entirely appropriate.
I baby wear (strap him to my back) my son rather than putting him in a pram in order to protect him OFTEN. On the occasions where I have had to put him in a stroller, I have been dumbstruck at the liberties that some people have taken in getting into his space. So much so, that despite his size (he is a big boy) I have had to strap him to my front so that he can choose to turn his head and hide in my shoulder when he has needed to.
The challenge in this isn’t that he is adopted and we don’t match racially.
This is a boundary thing.
We have grown accustomed to a certain level of conspicuousness –despite mixed race families becoming more common, people still are interested, curious and sometimes just rude really. I am aware too that as he gets older, and even now, that there are conversations that we choose not to have repeatedly in front of him regarding his adoption. Not because he hasn’t heard the details already, but because there is more to his world than just being adopted.
This morning, immediately after the body blocking incident we were due to go and see a friend.
I am grateful to him for letting me vent. I am grateful that we have these friends for being mirrors and for the stories and wisdom that they share from their parenting journey (and VERY grateful for the gift of a baby carrier before our son came home!)
He listened to me vent and then shared a story of how JUST STOP IT translated into asking someone, a strange person, to please delete photos that they had just taken of his daughter off of their phone.
The initial response was that the photos were just cute and that they would send them to him. He firmly repeated his request, affirming that he was sure that the photos were cute, but it wasn’t appropriate. This was done, with a bit of a huff, but it was done.
The next morning, they bumped into this same person who reflected that she had been thinking and:
‘Actually, you were right – I have been thinking. Your child needs to be protected and it’s not appropriate to allow people who are unknowns in your world to be walking around with photos of her’.
My friend went on to tell me more stories about how his daughter’s space and right to privacy required other JUST STOP IT moments. His wife and I have often spoken about JUST STOP when it comes to people offering food, trying to cuddle her or engage her when she doesn’t want to be engaged.
This isn’t about wanting to helicopter parent or creating crazy bubbles around our children. It’s not about not wishing for them to explore the world and meet different people. In fact, it’s the opposite.
It’s about teaching them that it’s okay to have boundaries.
It’s okay to not be okay with letting strangers or unknown people into your space.
It’s okay to say please stop.
My son gets given options about how he wants to greet people. He can choose to go to them (if he knows them and is in an engaging mood), he can high 5 them and sometimes simply acknowledging them by gazing at them is enough for him – he is only 10 months old. Gazing at this stage for him is acknowledging.
My son is adopted – something that he didn’t get to choose.
The day he chose to snuggle into my shoulder, rather than going to a friendly unknown person, clutching the back of my (needing some firming up) upper arm, I realised that we had grown more into family.
My son is allowed to choose. We want him to have choices that are appropriate and that he can make as he grows older. For now though, we get to make choices to protect him so that his world can expand and stretch and become an adventure of discovery.
There are lots of people who get this. Who get that babies and small children are SMALL PEOPLE with their own personalities and their own needs; who respect that though they be little, they can also make choices.
Our children need to be allowed to learn about go-ahead options and what these look like. We model and teach them what these look like.
So please, not just for my son, but for babies and toddlers and children, just stop it …unless you have the go ahead.