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Dealing with Stranger Danger

Last week, we discussed how to discipline your children while still showing motherly love. This week Moms Councilmember Helena Hewlett discusses an uncomfortable situation with strangers.

From the moment my cute baby bump appeared when I was pregnant with my first son, it seemed unwanted strangers were approaching me everywhere I went.  I had both ladies and gentlemen (although I associate the term "gentlemen" with polite, so maybe we’ll just say, “men”) come up to my belly and talk to it, rub it, and during one incredibly uncomfortable encounter, one lady even tried to kiss it!

I dealt with the uneasiness of trying to figure out how to respond to people who were being kind or doting upon me, but making me very uncomfortable or uneasy. I needed to know how to do so in a firm way, politely, but also so that I got my point across. 

Now that I have two boys, I run into this problem even more, and consequently,
have to figure out new ways to address it frequently. Caleb is almost 3.
Although I’m biased as his mother, I'd say he is one of the cutest little blonde-haired, blue-eyed flirty boys ever. He grins at everyone in the supermarket, he bats his long eyelashes at bank tellers, and he chatters at sales clerks.

Jacob is 8 months old, and probably the plumpest, baldest little Buddha baby you will ever meet. He has chubby cheeks that are irresistibly pinchable, two bottom teeth with a huge gummy grin, and big, chunky thighs. So really it’s pretty unrealistic to expect people not to approach either of my children, but sometimes it makes me uncomfortable. And those situations are what I need to be prepared for.

The other day, I was shopping at Schnucks with both boys. I had Jake in the front 
section of my cart and Caleb walking next to the cart holding the side. Often 
the kids will get smiles and “hellos” from passersby in the store, and that is 
completely normal. But on this particular occasion, a woman came up and started interacting with them. She inquired as to how old each of them were, and I told her. Then she started making faces at Jake to see if she could get him to smile. He burst into little baby giggles, and she was pleased with herself, but wanted more. So she started tickling him. This was when I became a bit uncomfortable.

I do not personally like strangers touching my children, and this is a personal preference of mine. Others may be comfortable with it. After a few seconds of tickling him, I kindly said that we were in a hurry and needed to finish up our shopping. At the time it was the only excuse I could think of to get out of the situation. 

Not long after that, in the same store, I was standing in the checkout line. 
The man behind me was an older gentleman, and was playfully making gestures with Caleb, making him giggle and hide behind my leg. Upon seeing Jake, much to my surprise, the man asked if he could hold the baby.

I had not been in a situation like this before, so was not sure how to handle it. We were standing idle in line, so I was trapped, and could not make an excuse about needing to leave. As visions of my baby falling and cracking his little head on the floor danced through my head, I decided I needed to be honest. I told the man that I just did not feel comfortable with that. But I tried to compromise. I just 
changed the subject after that and said, “He is cute, isn’t he?” and pointed out 
some of Jake’s features so we could look at him (without touching) from afar. 

This leads to my question: How do you draw the boundary line with strangers and your children?

Candace Jarrett March 21, 2011 at 01:59 PM
I get stopped a lot with oohs and ahhs with my son and usually I go with the flow smile, and thank them for the compliments. This weekend was the first time I had to actually tell someone to back off. I was at an indoor play area with my son and a friend with her daughter. There were a bunch of children playing including a woman who appeared with two young children not much older than my son. I noticed her but didn't think anything of it until my son fell out in a mini tantrum and she said, "aw poor thing here, come here let me hold you." Mind you I don't know this woman and she just got up to run and pick up my son when her own child who is very close in age to mine is yelling for her. So I picked my son up and told her he was fine and continued following him as he played. I wouldn't have thought much of it, but this same woman attempted to hold my child two more times before I finally told her that I don't allow strangers to touch my son, yet alone hold them. The scary part was later on I saw her enter two stores that I went into, right after me. It could have very well been a coincidence but she was a bit creepy for me.
Helena Hewlett March 21, 2011 at 02:43 PM
Oh, Candace! That is really creepy, I agree. Some people are just being nice, and in a perfect world, we would probably trust people and be okay with it. We might not be freaked out when strangers touched our kids. I think most of the time it's probably harmless, but we have to be careful, and we do have to protect our kids. Better to be safe than sorry, as they say. It's sad that it has to be that way. I'm one that looks up registered sex offenders too...that's the extreme I go to. But I'm a protective mama bear! :) I'm sorry you had that experience with the lady following you into the two stores with your son...hopefully it was just coincidence, like you said. I would have felt very uncomfortable with that too. I probably would have just left and come back another time. Now, I have to confess that once I was at a playground once and did pick up another person's child after the little girl had fallen and hurt herself and no one was coming to her rescue. I kept saying, "Where's your mommy or daddy?" and she was looking all over but we couldn't see anyone. So finally I felt so bad for the poor little thing that I scooped her up and tried to comfort her. Later her mom did show up. She'd been off in the parking lot getting something from the car. But anyway, that was sort of an exception to the rule, and hopefully the lady did not think I was creepy :)
Candace Jarrett March 21, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Yeah...I was actually standing right beside my son when he fell. I'm like you. I will assume the intentions were pure, but that was a strange situation.

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