Dignity, Respect & Boundaries I Never Thought I Would Need to Specify
I never thought I'd need to specify boundaries or demand dignity and respect for myself and my family like I've had to in the first 12 months of my daughter's life...
Here are just some examples from my personal experience as a first time mother over the last 12 months that show how dignity and respect doesn't seem to extend to babies and children.
May my honesty inspire and encourage you to stand firm on your choices and boundaries knowing you are definitely not alone in wanting a better life for yourself and your child - it is your basic birthright.
(Sharing these experiences also helps me process the emotional component of them).
A big, sweaty, drunk man with a big bushy beard knelt down over Emma and kissed her on her face while she was laying happily on the couch when she was only a few months old causing her to get extremely upset, then he tried to justify his actions that she 'needed to be exposed to germs' and scoffed at me when I politely disagreed and left. (We don't do kissing on the face from anyone but me and John and we don't do kissing on the mouth at all - also we have just had a global PANDEMIC and she was prem!)
A person I hardly saw or kept in touch with turned up out of the blue at my home (after seeing a post I wrote on FB) while I was breastfeeding and settling my 3 month old to sleep and looked me up and down and asked when I last had a shower, judged me, projected their insecurities onto me and wouldn't leave until I basically shoved them out the door even after politely asking them to leave and telling them now wasn't a good time and to message me first. (I still look the same today as I did then because they are my comfy clothes that fit my bigger figure which I wear for messy baby life and breastfeeding and I don't 'dress up' to be at home).
When Emma was first born we said no uninvited people and some kindhearted people got our address to give us gifts and instead of leaving them in the letterbox as instructed, they came up to the house to see 'the baby'. (We had a 'welcome to the world' party when Emma was about 6 months old for the close family to meet her to try to curb their enthusiasm but with the then covid climate we weren't keen on having lots of people to the house but I felt obligated at the time... we have had 2 visitors who later tested positive for covid so we are a bit weary of visitors who've traveled or have young kids especially since I had severe PPD/PPA and could not handle being sick or having a sick baby on top of sleep deprivation and healing already).
When asked to stop calling our baby fat and chubby and constantly commenting on her weight, size and eating every time they interacted, the person chose instead to no longer have anything to do with us (we do body positivity/neutrality in our home and don't think calling a baby 'fat' or 'chubby' is appropriate - basically if you wouldn't say it to another adult, you shouldn't say it to a baby in our opinion).
Upon only the 3rd time visiting Emma when she was just 8 months this person (still a stranger to Emma) chose to invade her personal space while she was happily playing in her play gym and poke her in the stomach and touch her feet and hands as though she was an animal or toy they wanted to elicit a reaction from (we work around respect, boundaries and a safe body 'bubble' in our household and don't view babies or children as play things for our entertainment. I've never experienced, as an adult, another adult rushing up to me and poking me in the stomach and tickling my feet, let alone without even acknowledging me so why do it to a baby?).
When we wouldn't allow someone to come over while Emma was sleeping because her room is by the front door and lounge and our house is super loud with paper thin walls, they took it personally and chose not to see her at all then expected an apology and for future visits to work on their timing. (We work on our baby's timing as her wellbeing and development is one of the most important things at this age and she comes first).
Some of our family demand to see 'THEIR' family member despite forgetting they have no ownership or entitlements to OUR daughter (and her name is Emma BTW and even we, her parents, don't own her or are entitled to her, we just care for her and guide her until she can do it for herself and then we will continue to love her unconditionally amd be available if and when she needs us without judgement or obligation)
Sharing photos and videos of Emma that we have shared with them in private with other people even when we have asked them not to without our permission. (We are very specific about which photos we share and what we share privately and publicly as we value Emma's privacy and future consent + we don't want her to have a large online presence before she can even use a device herself and for safety reasons too, but also many people she has never even met have seen her and that feels a bit odd to me)
*Family have actually been the worst at respecting our boundaries and treating Emma with dignity and respect They just brush our gentle guidance off as overreacting, or say she's 'just a baby' and other old ideas and beliefs about babies. It's been the hardest and saddest part of this journey. I wrote another article here about how to treat babies and children IMO here)
Not taking "no" for an answer when we made educated and informed choices that worked better for us. We received authoritarian style medical 'opinions' right from pregnancy, through birth and early life from multiple medical personnel. (We are older parents with YEARS of experience with fertility, pregnancy and general health; we are well educated and informed. We trust God and aren't motivated by fear, so some strong traditional medical suggestions aren't for us. Emma's health and wellbeing is our #1 priority so we will always do what's best for her with informed choices and heart guided intuition).
A lady just walked past Emma and touched her arm while she was sitting in her pram at a shop and continued walking... not even acknowledging me or John standing there. (Her partner saw our look of shock and applogised, but she was oblivious).
MANY people (lots of older ladies) come up really close to Emma when we are out and about and get into her personal space and talk very loudly to her and prevent us from continuing on with our outing... (It almost feels like Emma is famous and she is constantly getting stopped and admired by her fans lol).
That's not even all of the wild and odd experiences we've had in the last 12 months but they are the ones that stick out in my mind and still affect me emotionally today.
Don't get me wrong, there have been some really nice interactions that have been truly beautiful but mostly it's been having to tell people to "step back, no, don't touch, respect our boundaries and give us space"... exhausting to say the least... on top of an already exhausting and overwhelming time.
It never, ever crossed my mind that I would have to manage all these other people and their expectations and deal with all their fragile egos instead of just being surrounded by loving, patient, understanding, kind and considerate people - because I know that exists... (in hindsight no part of this journey has been what I hoped for or expected except Emma herself, she is perfect).
It's been a HUGE learning curve for me and a BIG opportunity to really evaluate my relationships, boundaries and choices, and I've definitely found my voice through these experiences and it's ignited a fiery passion of mine I never knew existed - to speak up for my daughter and share my truth in whichever way feels good. (Which has led to more people getting triggered... keep an eye out for my next article about that 'Love, Fear & Boundaries').
I've fully grounded the knowledge that we don't need to justify ANY of our choices to anyone when it comes to our lives, way of living and self-expression... people can definitely ask from a place of curiosity and I'll happily answer their questions as I am a curious creature myself and very intrigued into the reasons people do things (no judgement here).
However even with my awareness, boundaries and better understanding I still have days where I wonder if moving to a more remote location will reduce these regular occurrences... but maybe not, maybe God wants me to get my boundaries right, to shine my light with my truth and express it like this so I keep getting opportunities to deepen my love for myself (and use that light to inspire others) ... ? ... hopefully not for much longer!!
These experiences do strengthen my will and provide ample knowledge to teach and empower Emma to have healthy boundaries, to say "no" and to know her worth is not determined or defined by anyone other than her and God, but in the meantime I am her voice and I will not be pushed around, made to feel bad or have to justify myself to satisfy the unhealed places of the people closest to me.
One of the many ways I've started setting firm boundaries (which I never thought I'd have to do) is a sign I've put up downstairs and on our front door telling people to 'stop, no visitors' because of the MANY unwanted door knockers and other such people who kept turning up just as I was settling Emma to sleep or breastfeeding... I mean some people don't mind the 'pop in', but we are definitely not that type of people, we like our privacy and space.
In all of that though, I am grateful to all of these unique souls who have played their roles perfectly in my life and have given me these opportunities to love myself more. Thank you. I have learned a lot about myself and those around me... especially about dignity and respect.
EVERYONE deserves dignity and respect and just basic common courtesy but all of that seems to go out the window once you have a baby and I know we are not the only ones to experience this as there are hundreds of posts on social media with hundreds of thousands of comments and likes about this topic, not to mention all the articles online.
Here is some really good info I found about dignity:
"Human dignity is the most fundamental of all ethical principles. We can sum it up with the famous formula of Enlightenment philosopher Emmanuel Kant: 'Every person exists as an end in itself, and not simply as a means that one can control and use'.
Human dignity involves reverence, respect and protection towards each person, as a free being with a unique history.
Human dignity is therefore not relative to social status, nor to physical or intellectual performance. Among the most ancient laws of mankind, this principle was already recognized, as the Laws of Manu in India testify: “The children, the old, the poor and the sick must be regarded as lords of the atmosphere”. The Universal Charter of Human Rights also recognizes this principle by stating that everyone has rights just because of his or her own humanity. This is what we call intrinsic dignity, which does not depend on any external (extrinsic) factors."
I think we forget about dignity a lot when it comes to babies and kids and I know that in years gone by babies were thought to be empty vessels for us to fill... but they certainly are not and dignity is a basic human right for all, just because they cannot speak or defend themselves (in a physical way) does not make them a lesser human
Let's model the behaviour we want for our children, let's BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.
IT STARTS WITH US & IT STARTS WITH LOVE, DIGNITY & RESPECT.
*If you are reading this and recognize one of the examples, it's not designed to offend you, but if it does please don't feel the need to talk to me about it and try to justify why it's ok that you do any of these things to our daughter who is a sovereign human being just like you and deserves the utmost respect and dignity. But thank you for helping me learn to set healthy boundaries, you might enjoy my next article 'Love, Fear & Boundaries' .