Dear ‘Friends:’ It’s Never OK to Discipline My Baby

I always imagined that I’d decide how to discipline my daughter once she became a toddler. She’s less than a year old now, way too young to be disciplined. Or so I thought. But, recently, I’ve met moms who feel that babies aren’t too young to be disciplined, and they’re even comfortable disciplining my baby. You see, my daughter is a couple months older than most of the babies in my new mom’s group, so for the last several months, she’s been disciplined, shunned, and talked about by some of the other moms for…playing like a baby.

The first time it happened, my little girl was barely 6-months-old. One of the other babies in the group was 4-months-old. My baby was starting to crawl (or scoot, really) her way across the floor. She scooted toward the 4-month-old and I said to her mom, “She’s getting pretty close to yours. Do you want me to reroute her?” She responded that no, she wanted her child to experience other babies and it was fine. Moments later, my 6-month-old’s forehead lightly grazed the nose of the younger baby in question, upon which the mom shouted, “No!” and swept up her child (who was not crying and probably didn’t even notice), leaving mine shocked and wailing on the floor. I wanted to smack the chick, but instead I just focused my attention on my sweet girl who (at 6-months-old!) had clearly not done anything malicious.

A few weeks later, we had corralled the infants once again and spread out blankets for all to scoot and roll around on. My spirited little one, cooing all the while, crawled over to her neighbor’s blanket and picked up a ball that was sitting off to the side. This other baby, mind you, was surrounded by about 15 toys, none of which interested her. Mine played contentedly with the previously untouched ball for about 30 seconds before it was swiped from her hand with, “No, no, [My Daughter’s Name], that’s not your toy.”

Jaw. Hit. Floor.

Seriously, moms? The babies have absolutely no idea what toys belong to them or even that they are toys. They see bright, colorful objects that are soft and easy to pick up and so they pick them up. My child wasn’t doing anything wrong, she was playing. Furthermore, if you really don’t want that toy shared at a meet-up for babies, don’t bring it. Or at least ask me to take it away from my girl. The pang of heated anger I felt that day only worsened the following afternoon when one of the moms in the group texted me to tell me that the ball hog was talking about us after we left: “She should bring more toys,” she allegedly said. “That way her daughter won’t steal ours.” Oh, boy.

I was tempted to ignore it as gossip, until the following meet-up when Ball Hog herself told me in a singsong voice, “Your baby is getting a reputation as a toy thief!” Her thinly veiled criticism had me gritting my teeth. Apparently these women with younger (read: not mobile) babies can’t fathom that at a certain point their little sweeties will turn into curious, crawling creatures themselves. They’ll be up, down, and all around, exploring and reaching and yes, “stealing.” I’m more than happy to distract my daughter with the toys we’ve brought along (yes, I bring plenty) and to deter her from touching the other ones, but when she is drifting around having a good time and learning, and all is well, why is someone else shouting at or grabbing things from my baby?

The last straw, and the moment I decided to stop silently seething and actually say something, came during a mommy-and-me workout class with some members of the same group. The class is open to crawlers and I keep in close touch with the instructor to ensure my baby is always at or below her comfort zone in terms of mobility. My very well-behaved girl loves the class and tends to spend most of it quietly playing at my feet, or on my tummy giggling as I get through as many of the exercises as I can while holding her. But occasionally she does wander, as do the others who are her age (mine is three months below the cutoff, mind you).

Sure enough, a third mom was the offender this time. My baby had crawled over to her area and gently placed a hand on a book that her baby had at her feet. Similarly to BallGate a few weeks prior, the other baby was not looking at or interested in the book; she had her hands full with something else. No sooner had my baby touched the edge of the book than it was fiercely swiped out of her paw followed by an exasperated sigh. This time, the other mom didn’t say anything to my baby, but the force of the action scared her and she began to cry. I hopped over to pick her up and divert her attention, at which point I was asked (with heaps of attitude), “Isn’t she a little big to be coming here?”

Never one to tattletale, I didn’t get the instructor involved. But I did say, loudly enough for all to hear, “Nope! She’s totally fine to be here. And if you think your kid won’t be touching other people’s books in a few months, think again!”

Since the third incident, I’ve been more selective about which groups we attend and have done my best to avoid those particularly rude moms. I do want my child to be socialized, but not at the expense of my stress level and her feelings. I don’t have an unruly baby at all — but she’s just that, a baby. She is gentle, well-behaved, and calm — just exploring her surroundings a bit.

So, to the moms who have disciplined my baby: If you think your 4-month-old will be lying there forever letting your days go by uneventful, I invite you to enjoy that delusive bliss. But straight-talk from the mom of one who’s almost walking at 9-months-old: They grow up faster than you’re prepared for and with more energy and passion than you know, so get ready for lots of changes ahead. When those changes come, I sincerely hope you handle your child more gently than you did mine.

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