My biggest priority as a new mom is to raise my baby with personal dignity and respect for others. It translates to teaching my baby morals from day one.
That probably sounds crazy – to teach a baby morals. When I verbalize it like that, it sounds like I am going to sit my baby down and lecture him about what’s right and wrong. That is not the case.
Babies are observant. They absorb everything they see and hear. Teaching my baby to have personal dignity and respect for others had to start from birth because – from day one – he has been learning about the world from his father and me.
My husband and I are far from perfect people, not that anyone is particularly perfect. We had this baby in our mid-thirties with whole life stories, complete with more baggage than you’d find on the luggage carousels at JFK airport on a Thursday night. Although we both come from functional families, we both went through turbulent twenties and didn’t come into our own until we hit our thirties. Having a child was a big step for us as a couple – we really had to trust that we were spiritually and psychologically ready for it. It took a lot of work, a lot of faith, and a lot of determination to get to the point where we knew we could be the kind of parents that we want to be.
Our baby came into our home because his Creator – the universal spiritual force way beyond my husband and me – wanted his little soul to be raised by us. Babies are extraordinary in that they don’t have layers of psychological callous covering their souls. When I look at my baby’s face, I see that his father and I are everything to him and that he’s watching every move we make. He’s an empty hard drive that we are solely responsible for filling with data.
The data is so far beyond teaching him to walk and talk. The data we are writing is instructions for how to be a person – and how to be a good person at that. Here are a few things we are doing to teach our baby to be a good person:
- We’ve committed to making our home a safe place – spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Raising a secure child, one whose personal dignity is built rather than destroyed at home, depends on the work that we put into making our home safe. We have made a safe home for our baby our biggest priority. It is the foundation that we are basing many of our personal decisions on. It is one of the principles that guides our life.
- One thing we don’t do is yell at each other. If we need to argue or are experiencing anxiety, we wait until we’ve cooled off and then sit down and talk about the issue. We went as far as to write and sign a pact together agreeing to always speak in a kind tone of voice, regardless of what is going on. It’s hard to do, but I’d rather say to my husband, “I’m really anxious right now,” and leave the room until I am calm enough to talk it out than to snap at him. Our baby will feel unsafe if his mother and father are speaking in a sharp tone of voice to each other, even if we are speaking to him
- We are trying to model personal dignity for our baby, so that it’s what he sees every day. We try to eat with dignity, dress with dignity, and keep our home tidy (though it is rarely perfectly clean – tidy is the best we can do). When we want to eat the entire container of ice cream, we say to each other, “Do we want him to grow up seeing us eat in an undignified way?”
- We don’t talk about other people in front of the baby. Even though he does not yet understand language, we still don’t want him to absorb negativity and criticism. Every day he seems to understand more and more – we don’t want him to learn language by listening to us criticize other people. It is not as if issues with other people never come up that my husband and I need to constructively discuss to find a solution, but we do so behind a closed door.
- We are being careful about the kind of media that we play in the house. We want our baby to grow in an environment of respect for others and personal dignity, and unfortunately quite a lot of video and music involve demeaning other people or oneself. We don’t have a television, but we do have WiFi and laptops which is only a small step up from television. Even though I have a pretty bad inclination to watch schmaltzy, rude, slapstick comedy (I know almost every word of Adam Sandler’s “Billy Madison” and I genuinely love Jenna Marbles), I don’t let myself watch that stuff with the baby around. I don’t want my baby to think it’s funny to throw a pie in someone’s face. I want him to create his own sense of humor that doesn’t come at anyone – including his – expense. He’s already laughing and we want to keep his sense of humor dignified.
- We sing. All the time. In my experience, and according to quite a few spiritual traditions, singing really bolsters the strength of the soul. I’ve experienced the power of song to get me through scary situations (ask me about the time I got lost in the dark hiking alone on a mountain in Colorado and sung my way down). Singing has an immense power to instil a sense of hope and dignity in a person. During the Pinochet regime in Chile, when thousands of people were imprisoned and tortured, groups of women used to stand outside prison walls and sing together so that the men inside could hear. Many men reported that hearing those songs from outside the prison walls was what kept them alive through the absolute denigration of being imprisoned and tortured. There is a lot of denigration and darkness in the world, so in our house we sing to create a feeling of joy, hope, and safety.
- We have been teaching our baby physical boundaries from birth. We want him to know that his body is his, and that its purpose is to house his soul and to do positive actions, and that nobody ever has a right to transgress boundaries of appropriate touch. We give him tons of physical affection – from wearing him in a baby carrier or baby wrap to giving him hugs and kisses – so that he will experience love and bonding with us. But we also keep him safe. If he seems to want to be alone, we don’t pick him up or bother him. We let him tell us when he wants physical touch and when he does not. We watch his cues: If we’re playing a tickle game with him and he seems to be annoyed by it and not having fun, we stop. We’re showing him – from birth – that it is OK to say no and that adults must listen to him if he says to stop touching him.
- We use the word “dignified” when talking to him. When I change his diaper, I’ll say something to him like, “Mama is changing your diaper because dignified people don’t wear stinky diapers.” Whether or not he understands the words, I still think he’s getting the message. At some point, he will understand the words. He’ll know that self-care is important for maintaining one’s sense of personal dignity.
- Every morning, we tell our baby that he has a purpose in life and that he has a big soul in his body. It is the message that we want him to instill in him deeply. He should know from as long as he can remember that he is a soul – not just a body – and that his life matters. Throughout the day, we tell him how proud we are of him for fulfilling his mission that day. Right now that sounds like, “We’re so proud of you for growing big, and eating, and learning how to crawl.” Eventually, it will evolve to more sophisticated things like learning in school and helping other people.
At this stage in life, my baby is learning morals through immersion. So much of teaching him morals involves modeling good behavior for him. We can’t do one thing, and then later tell him to do another. He has to grow up immersed in a home where the emphasis in life is on doing right, dignified, respectful things.
We’re only human. We slip up sometimes. Yet – we’re really enjoying the focus on dignity and respect that having a baby has given us. It is a gift and a blessing for his growth – and for ours.
By Chaya Kurtz