it is extremely important to sj ad i that we are always respectful of arty’s body.
how we do this will change as he grows, and his needs and abilities change. right now, as a baby, he has little capacity nor opportunity to express his preferences and boundaries. so how do we show respect to him, and begin to give him a sense of physical autonomy?
first and foremost is keeping his body safe, warm, and nourished. these are his rights, and it is our privilege and responsibility to make sure they are always met.
part of this, to us, means immunizing him, to protect him from disease. it also means refraining from circumcising him, or doing anything else to physically alter his body before he is old enough to choose it for himself.
but i think our job goes further than that.
part of the carer/baby relationship means that the adult is largely doing stuff to the baby. we have to physically carry him around from place to place, dress and undress him, make decisions about what food and medicine goes into his body. there isn’t much we can do about that power imbalance, but we can control our approach, the attitude we take to being so responsible for this small person.
if we are going to do something surprising, out of the ordinary, or uncomfortable to him, we always warn him verbally.
for example, if i am about to wipe his bottom with a cold wipe i say “cold on your bits!” and put it on his hand first, so he knows what’s coming. that way he is not so startled. likewise, when we are about to put him in the bath, we always tell him so.
we do our best to respond to the cues that he gives us about physical closeness. while we love to kiss and snuggle him, and he loves to kiss and snuggle with us, he’s not always in the mood for it. sometimes when we’re playing he’ll push us away, and we have to respect that he doesn’t want us to keep doing whatever we’re doing (poking his nose, tickling his tummy, squishing his cheeks). when we go to kiss him and he turns away, we never force him. he is allowed to have boundaries with physical affection, just like an older child or adult, and we don’t ever want to violate them.
finally, while i put plenty of pictures here on the blog for his family and friends to coo over, i will never post naked baby pictures of him on the internet. while every mum has a couple of those, and we are no exception, putting them online is that’s a line that i’m not comfortable crossing.
as an overarching principle, i always try to exercise empathy with arty, and ask myself how i would feel in his position.
what is it like to be picked up and carried around all the time? how does it feel to be tickled so you laugh that hard? would i like it? would it make me uncomfortable?
it’s so important to us that he feels safe in his body, and confident in his ability to create boundaries with people. we want to model the kind of behaviour we’ll expect from him once he’s old enough to take responsibility for his own actions, and it’s difficult to know how to be respectful of others, when you haven’t been shown that respect yourself.