Raising infants in a culture of consent

My body my choice.



These are buzzwords we hear in the media constantly these days, and for good reason. We’re on the brink of social uproar as women the world over cry out against injustices against them, their body, and their free will.

Which makes me think about the “granola” parents who are often laughed at for asking their baby’s permission before changing their diaper. The parents who wait for an ok from their baby before picking them up. The parents who are touted as “a little bit crazy” for nothing more than instilling this culture of consent in their infants, right from the get-go.

It’s fascinating to me that we talk about teaching our children that they are in control of their bodies, that they get a say in what happens to them…

And then we come up from behind with a cold, wet washcloth that we smear across their face without so much as a warning or, god forbid, asking permission first.

You see, we can talk about social change, about raising our boys to be respectful and our girls to set boundaries, but the biggest impact we will ever have on raising our children this way will be how we treat them.

Yes, a poopy diaper needs to be changed. A dirty face needs to be wiped. A child holding some dangerous or breakable, like your phone or the butter knife, needs to hand it back. But there is a huge difference between asking for your child’s permission before you touch their body (learning to recognize their cues if they’re pre-verbal) and simply going ahead and grabbing or wiping or picking them up whenever you see fit.

If we don’t want to raise our daughters with the belief that they are simply objects to be taken control of, or our boys with the belief that they can treat others any way they deem appropriate, then why aren’t we extending this same courtesy to our children?

All too often we forget that our babies are human beings capable of understanding cues and giving signals, and more importantly, worthy of our respect! Imagine if someone much bigger than you came and picked you up while you were in the middle of something, and took you somewhere, with no explanation and no concern for your thoughts about it. We’ve become so used to treating our children like objects we can manipulate however we like, all the while forgetting how we would feel if we were treated in the same way. We also forget that when a newborn is staring intently at something, a baby is crawling towards a toy, or a toddler working on solving a problem, they are in the middle of something! The respectful thing to do would be to wait until they are finished (divert their eyes, put the object down, make eye contact with you, etc). If we don’t treat our children like what they say and do is important and valuable, why should we expect them to do the same to us?

So yes, I am one of those moms who asks permission before I yank my daughter’s hat off her head. I explain in detail every part of getting her dressed, so that she understands what is happening to her body. And when she objects, I wait. Not an hour, not all day, but a minute or two or three, until she is finished doing what she’s doing, or we can find a way to do it together, or she’s been able to process the request. It isn’t about not taking care of our little ones, of not doing the things that need to be done. It’s about role-modeling the respect for their body, and for the bodies of the people around them, that we hope they grow up with.

So call me crazy, but I think, more than ever, we should taking a note or ten from the pages of those “granola” parent’s handbook.