I recently wrote about how much I love babywearing, and I mentioned that one of the reasons I love it is because strangers keep their hands to themselves when I'm wearing my baby. This is something I've been struggling with for a long time now: how to let people know when it is and isn't ok to touch me. Since I've given birth, this struggle now includes my child.
I have to preface this by saying that I love to be touched. I really enjoy getting massages, cuddling, hugging, etc. I believe in the power of touch, and that we need to be mindful that it is powerful, and because of that, we need to be careful about how, when, and why we touch.
I had a boss once who would hug me without being invited to—and we were not particularly friendly otherwise. This was the first time in my life that I remember feeling like I was unable to let someone know that the way they were touching me felt inappropriate. Maybe it was because she was in a "position of power" over me; I felt like if I complained, there would be repercussions. (It turns out I was right—as soon as I submitted a complaint about her various breeches of professional conduct, my work environment rapidly deteriorated.)
When I became pregnant, I realized that all of a sudden I had become a target for strangers' wandering hands. For some reason people think that a woman sporting a pregnant belly means "Please, come over here and touch/rub/caress my abdomen (and while you're at it, please give me unsolicited advice about my unborn child)!" I never figured out how to communicate to people when it was and wasn't alright for someone to touch my belly.
Now, I have an amazing little child in my life who people want to admire and touch. I really appreciate the intentions behind this touching. I need to figure out a way to encourage people to share the emotion they're feeling while also discouraging them from putting their hands on my baby without asking me first. Babywearing has been a good solution for me so far, but it doesn't always work.
The main problem I have with being able to set this boundary is that I have this idea about who I feel is ok for me to touch and have touch me, but I'm also aware that others don't necessarily share my same level of comfort. So when my boundaries are crossed, I don't know what to do. I try to prepare myself ahead of time, by thinking of clever things to say to get my point across, or equally inappropriate things to do to the other person, like rubbing their belly in return, for example. But when someone touches me I'm just so surprised that I don't know what to do...so I do nothing.
I feel a renewed motivation to find a method that works for these situations because now I am caring for someone who doesn't yet have the ability to tell others when they are making him uncomfortable. He can't discern between family and strangers, between someone with clean hands and someone with dirty hands, between someone who is safe and someone who might hurt him. Since I have the responsibility to protect him, I have to set boundaries for others on his behalf.
I have to do it, but I don't know how. The only way I've found to make myself feel better about these situations is to be mindful of and intentional about respecting others' boundaries when it comes to touch. But this doesn't address the problem: things are happening that make me uncomfortable and I don't know how to make it stop.
All I really want is for people (people who are not close family or friends, in particular) to ask before they put their hands on me or Daniel. Do you have any ideas for me? Have you ever felt this way? Please share.
(I'm not claiming to be perfect at this, or that I've never touched another person without asking first. I hope I haven't made others feel uncomfortable the way I have felt in the past, but I also know that I very well may have done so. This is also not a passive-aggressive way for me to tell everyone not to touch me. It's just something I'm struggling with and wanted to try to process here. Thanks for understanding.)