You might have read the article that’s going round lately. You know, that one about babies and consent.
This is a nice, even-handed view of it, but many papers and websites aren’t quite being so nice. I’m finding a lot of the comments about it to be quite upsetting.
Maybe you saw it when someone shared it on Facebook, along with a witty comment like “PC gone mad, I’m glad all this crazy stuff wasn’t a thing when I had my children!” Or maybe it was the punchline on your local news, or you heard someone laughing about it in the shop.
Well, it’s not funny.
My daughter is six months old. And yes, I ask for her “consent” before doing anything to or with her. No “expert” told me to. I just do it because she’s a human being and she deserves that level of dignity.
Let’s make this clear.
How it does not look
“Baby, it’s time for a nappy change. Do you consent?”
“Okay then, we’ll leave you in your dirty nappy.”
“Thank you, Mummy. Now let us continue destroying society with our crazy liberal ways!”
How it actually looks
“Nappy change time! Want a nice clean nappy-noo?”
“Yaaaaabahhhh! Aieeeee! Flurg.”
“Okay then, let’s get this old nappy off. And iiiiin the nappy bin it goes! Now we’ll give you a little wipe. And now a nice clean nappy!”
“All done! Here’s Sophie the Giraffe!”
I’ll let you work out which person is which!
I usually do the sign for “nappy” as well, which we’ve learned in our Sing and Sign class.
So that’s how our “consent” looks. Does anyone object to that?
I narrate and explain everything we do throughout the day. She gets to hear my thought process as I choose her outfit for the day, as I dress her, as I put her in the car seat… It goes on.
And it’s not just the things that pertain to her. I keep up a running commentary of unloading the dishwasher, hanging the washing on the line, the traffic we see on our walks, everything. She’ll probably learn to speak early just to tell me to be quiet!
Just to be clear on this: baby Yaya does not have the option of refusing a nappy change, but I want her to understand what’s happening.
Consent in the future
I might be unusual (I know some people think I am) in that I refuse to change her nappy in front of a group of people. She is a person and deserves dignity. I wouldn’t take my pants off in front of a large group of grandparents, uncles, etc., so why do people expect me to remove Yaya’s?
It all comes down to her bodily autonomy and dignity. People who are mocking the idea of consent, I assume, believe that their babies don’t have that or deserve it. (Let that sink in for a moment. Ouch.)
But at what point does it develop? Teenagers and adults, everyone agrees, can and should say no when they feel uncomfortable. But small children can be abused too, and have the right to speak up and understand when things are wrong.
I want Yaya to be able to refuse touch from anyone. It’s one reason that we’re learning signing. I want her to be able to communicate NO to hugs and kisses, even from family and friends.
(I’m not saying that I’d let her be rude about refusing a hug or a kiss. I don’t want her to run from Nice Safe Family Member, but if she doesn’t want to hug him, it’s fine for her just to say hi. There’s a middle ground.)
Because the moment you force a child to be touched and accept physical affection they don’t want, you’re teaching them a costly lesson. You’re teaching your child that sometimes, you have to be quiet and let someone touch you. That people who are older/in a position of power/your relatives (delete as appropriate) have the right to touch you. And there’s nothing you can say or do about it.
Is that really what you want?