Flirting with babies

by Miriam Katz on December 16, 2011

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As the parent of a young toddler, the idea of “flirting” has been on my mind for a while. Whenever we’re at a restaurant, my daughter – like many other young children – enjoys catching the eye of new people, and making them smile. Our society likes to call this “flirting.”

Our perceptions of babies tend to be skewed by the cultural beliefs we’ve inherited, and then reinforced by the language we’ve been taught to use, as well. This is why I’m calling out a seemingly innocent – yet omnipresent – word like “flirting.”

Google turned up the following definitions of the verb FLIRT:

1. Behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but without serious intentions: “it amused him to flirt with her”.
2. Experiment with or show a superficial interest in (an idea, activity, or movement) without committing oneself to it seriously.

I have several qualms with the “innocent” idea that babies are flirting.

First, flirting implies a romantic overture. Clearly, this is out of the realm of babies’ developmentally capabilities or interests.

Second, flirting is defined as creating a superficial interest or connection.

Adults know plenty about superficial connections. We’ve been taught to erect walls, and strategically vary the way we present ourselves to increase the likelihood of getting what we want. Some like to say babies are manipulative, but in fact, by the time we’ve reached adulthood, most adults are master manipulators.

Babies, on the other hand, are beautifully untainted. By learning from them, we can regain some of our innocence, some of our original beauty.

When babies create a connection with another person, it is intentional and inspirational. They open themselves entirely to the interaction, smiling widely to elicit joy and establish a connection with the other person. Any one of us can attest – when we’re engaged by a smiling baby, we’re flooded with appreciation and love.

Babies are our teachers. They can help us let go of the superficial layers we’ve collected in the long years of our lives. They can show us how to open up and show the love that lies at our very core. One of the ways they teach this vital lesson is by reaching out and grabbing our hearts with a dazzling smile.

I’d argue that what babies do in restaurants has nothing to do with flirting. It is an intentional act, and it reflects a sincere interest in connecting with the truest self of the person they’ve engaged.

I’d also like to propose that we rename this beautiful act that babies do. Ascribing a more accurate name is another step to reclaim babies’ value in public perception. Some of my thoughts: Connecting. Engaging. Shining. Dazzling.

Please share your thoughts and ideas!

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Miriam Katz (17 Posts)

A Boston-based WAHM who sees parenting as the most challenging career path she's ever chosen. In her spare time, Miriam is co-author of The Other Baby Book and works as a career and life coach to GenX women and moms.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

beth December 16, 2011 at 9:05 am

Yes! Thank you for this.

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T'sMommy December 16, 2011 at 9:59 am

I have never thought of “flirting” from a baby as REAL flirting. For me, it’s like a joke trying to compare a baby who is enjoying the attention being on him/her to a grownup who would enjoy the same thing for different reasons. I know there are people who might believe that a baby truly IS flirting, but I think for the most part, when people say that, it’s sort of a joke. People say that about my son all the time, but I am never offended because I know those people probably don’t REALLY think he’s flirting for real either. Most people realize that kids just like the attention I think.

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Lexie Hickey December 16, 2011 at 10:21 am

I’ve felt the same way since my daughter was born, but could never quite put my finger on why the word “flirting” bothered me. You hit the nail on the head! When my daughter is smiling and laughing with someone behind us in the line at the grocery store, I always say, “Aw, are you making friends?”

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Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health December 16, 2011 at 10:39 am

Great post- I really like “dazzling”…that’s fun and it’s easy for a parent to gently correct when someone says “flirting”. The parent can just say to the baby, in front of the other person, “Oh, are you dazzling him/her with your beautiful smile?” Thanks for sharing with us :)

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Julianne Idleman December 16, 2011 at 11:40 am

I love the idea of babies dazzling those they focus their open-hearted smiles on. Or maybe we should call in Enlivening. It always makes me feel like I’m stepping out of the crowd into a clearing, a warm, peaceful connected space a get to share, for a moment, with that dazzling new being.

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Karen December 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I guess it just shows how out touch with mainstream society I am, but it has never crossed my mind to refer to my daughter’s smiling at strangers in a restaurant as “flirting.” What an absurd idea. Do people actually say this? We’ve always used terms like “engaging” or “connecting”, or “Look, she’s found a smiling partner!”

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Carlene December 17, 2011 at 12:23 am

I vote for Dazzling! Babies sure do have a way to make everyone in the room smile.

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Make and Do Girl December 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

Really nicely put. I’ve actually never heard the term “flirting” as it relates to babies, but I love your reminder about the grace and innocence of a young child’s attention.

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Saskia Brown December 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I too have never been able to put my finger on why “flirting” rubs me the wrong way. Dazzling is such a better term!

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Mandy @ Living Peacefully with Children January 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I have also felt uncomfortable with the term flirting when used with children. I love the term “dazzling,” though, and think I will share it with others.

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Stephanie January 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Standing ovation.

I always flinch a little when someone refers to either of my little girls as a “flirt.” I’d much prefer the lovely adjectives you proposed.

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Carol January 25, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Dazzling. As my daughter got verbal, she was able to ask me why people did not respond to her. Did not say “hi” back, etc. It always made me want to pinch them but there was that socially trained part that said that these people could choose for themselves. I think maybe I have changed my mind. Maybe I should pinch them – here these darlings are trying to shine and they are like rainy clouds. Bad hats all in all.

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Amity February 10, 2012 at 11:13 am

I don’t think babies are trying to dazzle people either. Connecting is good, or making friends, or even shining. Yes, they are letting their joy shine. Sure!

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Heather Azima February 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Yes! Thank you for your insight. We somehow forget these little bundles of grace have no agenda but to shine, shine, shine!

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may February 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I have never heard the term flirting when it comes to babies, and I suspect that when and if people do use this they really dont mean it. I think we should not let things get to us so much.

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Elizabeth February 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

Yes! Hearing flirt in reference to a baby makes me twitch and I always think I’m being too sensitive. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

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momof3 February 15, 2012 at 5:57 am

I used to use that word, “flirt” when referring to babies, just because I always heard it, but when I had kids, and someone called my daughter a flirt, as she was smiling and sweetly engaging a stranger, I suddenly felt like it was just a little sinister, and I was embarrassed for her innocence and love to be looked at in that way. With my son, it was even worse. “Oh you watch out for that one, he’s going to be a heartbreaker! yesyouare…” Suddenly, everyone around sees my son as someone playing with someone’s emotions, rather than simply being wonderful. They treat him a little more coarsely as a result. Just the word, even though it is a joke, it casts a light on the children as manipulators or even sexual beings. It makes you look at them differently. I was watching a show about the mind of pedophiles, and they DO this! They pin adult actions and meanings onto little children, even little babies, and assume that their advances are welcome if the child is sweet and engaging, because the child initiated “flirting.” Just another reason to stay as FAR away from adult labels on children. Little ones are pure, innocent, loving, and engaging. That is why they shine, not because they are trying to manipulate or control.

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Brian September 16, 2013 at 11:19 am

Thank you for your feedback, it was immensely helpful to me in the situation I’m in and I agree with you completely. Babies are babies. Innocence is wonderful, celebrate it don’t make it into something sinister. I got the willies when I read what you wrote about pedophiles. Interesting point of view, my ex encourages my 11 month old to flirt and “have boyfriends” especially attractive men. It makes me sick to my stomach.

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