Bodily Autonomy: The Free Baby’s First Right

My son owns himself.  His body is his own.  It seems like a natural concept, and one I’m sure we all like to think we honor, our children’s ownership of their own bodies.  To imagine violating that right conjures thoughts of physical and sexual abuse or invasions of privacy.  It only seems natural that anyone would own their body and have the right to say what does or doesn’t happen to it.

But here is a list of things that we do (and yes, I’ve done some of these things) which take this basic right away from them.

1.  Forcing children to eat the rest of their meal simply because we’ve prepared it, or because we think they should eat more.
2.  Prompting children to kiss or hug friends or relatives in order to be polite.
3.  Pushing children to do something for which they are unready or afraid, i.e. “use the big boy slide”
4.  Spanking, swatting, hitting, slapping, smacking, etc. as a form of punishment.
5.  Creating feeding schedules for infants, or denying food to a child who asks for food.
6.  Circumcising baby boys
7.  Piercing the ears of babies
8.  Forcing children to say “please” and “thank you” or to share, because you want them to be polite.

Some of these are obvious. Hitting a child in the name of discipline violates his personal space, his body.  It is the exertion of force against him in order to produce a desired reaction.  In the same way that we do not strike adults because they have a right to live free from the threat of violence from others, we must also respect a child’s right to the same.

Circumcision falls into the same category.  Body modification in any form is glorifiedimagesCAD69EZL mutilation if consent is not given first.  Cutting off a perfectly good piece of a boy’s body for what?  So that his penis will look like his father’s?  I want to know when the last time any man in this country who is not a sexual predator stood next to his son comparing penises.  But circumcision and spanking deserve their own posts which, I can promise you, are on their way.

So again, some are obvious.  And some are not so.  How does creating a feeding schedule for a baby violate his right to his body?  Well, first of all, it negates his ability to say, “I’m full.  I’d like to stop now.”  Instead, for countless different reasons mostly involving adult convenience and scheduling, we teach children to eat even when they’re full, consume foods they would rather leave alone, and deny them food they ask for all in the name of “creating structure” or “getting them on a schedule.”

And what about kissing relatives?  We’ve all been there.  Grandma Smoochie comes along and begs for our baby to give her a kiss.  She hovers, pleading with our little one until we acquiesce and play along, coercing him with our tone to go ahead, give her a kiss!  She’s your Grandma.  Don’t you want to give her a kiss?  Show Mommy how you kiss Grandma!

And suddenly we have stolen our baby’s rights away from him.  He no longer gets to choose who he kisses, or what goes into his mouth or when.  He doesn’t get a say in which body parts he gets to keep, or when he is ready to test his limits on the big boy slide.  Because if I do these things, I have made all those decisions for him.  I have made his choices, not him.  He learns not to trust himself. He learns that he is not in control of himself.

But what’s worse?  He learns that adults control him.  He learns that he should yield to authority and ask no questions.  He learns that other people know more about what’s good for him than he does.  He learns not to trust his instincts and that my opinion of what is good for him matters more than his own.  He learns to be…obedient.  And obedient children grown into obedient adults.  Toddlers who are forced to kiss and touch people they otherwise wouldn’t might grow into children who allow an adult with a much darker motive to touch or kiss them also.

I don’t want an obedient son.  I don’t want to raise an obedient man.  I want Little Pup to learn from me that he can trust himself.  That where necessary, I will offer gentle guidance to keep him safe, but that on the whole and even as young as he is, I will allow him to make his own decisions.

Because I trust him, too.

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One response to “Bodily Autonomy: The Free Baby’s First Right

  1. I completely agree with your post. It’s a concept that most of us weren’t raised on. This weekend, a stranger patted my 3-yo on the head. He said, “I don’t like that.” It felt good to know that he is learning to express his feelings

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