I recently received a question from a new mom, asking how to communicate the message, “don’t touch my baby!” Here’s what she 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 quickly approaching cold and flu season, 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.
And in some cultures, there’s even a belief that not touching a baby when you see one can make them sick.
So what should a parent do, particularly in the early newborn days and during cold and flu season?
The Technicalities – What Words You Can Use
I’ve recently learned the concept that “clear is kind,” and that principle applies well here.
I don’t think there’s a need to overthink this one. You can simply say the words “Please don’t touch my baby.” Yes, you can use a kind, firm, and clear voice, when you deliver the message. And if you’re in the mood for more pleasantries, you can smile and say, “I know how tempting it is when they’re so cute!” And then change the subject with the stranger.
The Mindful Return working parent hive mind also provided the following wonderful suggestions:
- “We have a very friendly neighborhood with lots of kids. And when people reach in, I say, “feet only, please.” As soon as I get home, I wash her feet. Baby wearing and blankets do help.”
- “Gee whiz. I always tell my kids to ask first before petting a dog. I think it might be good to ask people to do the same!”
- For strangers, it’s simply “please don’t touch my kid!”
- “This article has some great suggestions: Ways to Say, ‘Don’t Freaking Touch My Baby’.”
Less is more here. You don’t need to over-explain yourself or spend time justifying your position.
“Don’t Touch My Baby” is a Boundary and Self-Worth Issue
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.
And yet. Your opinions matter. Your values matter. And your judgment with respect to your baby matters.
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.
My 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 gets angry when you say “don’t touch my baby” and storms off, fine. As my 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. You got this.
For more boundary-setting ideas, also check out my blog post, A Working Parent’s Boundary-Setting Tutorial.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave