Flirting with Babies

by Miriam 

As mom to 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!


7 thoughts on “Flirting with Babies

  1. By your own research, you concede that the first (and therefore more generally accepted) definition is: 1. Behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone, but without serious intentions: “it amused him to flirt with her”.

    This coincides perfectly with the way babies try to attract people. Not romantically, but in a friendly manner. Nowhere in the definition is romance mentioned, simply attraction. Have you never been attracted to someone as a friend? I’ve thought, “Oh, I like ______ about that person, I want to make friends with them,” on many occasion. By definition, my approaching the person, smiling, and starting a conversation that I hope will lead to a friendship, I am flirting. Just like my baby does when she tries to draw someone to her by smiling, waving, cooing, etc.

    This is the denotation of the word. The connotation does often imply romantic attraction in our society. However, I see absolutely nothing wrong with calling it “flirting,” although I once did. I realized that I was being overly dramatic and legalistic in my religious and linguistic beliefs. So I just decided to get over it and focus on other things instead.

  2. Relax. People aren’t trying to set up a motel rendezvous with your infant.

    And YES, the contact is fleeting and superficial – but many of our interactions as a society ARE, and they don’t have to be stone-faced and detached. Are you saying no one should engage your baby with warm playfulness and fun, that they should ignore kids unless they’re willing to commit to a long-term relationship?

    1. Thanks for your comments and good one on the rendevous!
      I welcome the attention my daughter gets, and gives. My point is that we are underestimating our infants when we call their social behavior flirting. They put all of their attention, humor and love into making new friends. It’s innocent and beautiful. I wish more adults could “flirt” like babies. We’d be much more connected if we brought our whole selves into each new encounter.

  3. I agree. I am often frustrated when my child is “flirting” with a stranger or even an older family member because of the comments that it inspires. “Oh what a flirt! You better watch her when she is a teenager!” Flirting has a romantic connotation. If we cannot change the word for this innocent behavior then I would love to “take it back” from the world of romance. A “flirt” is someone who is superficial with their attention and therefore has bad intentions. A baby is never superficial and always gives you 100% of their attention. I can see your point was that we can learn from the pure intentions of babies as adults. We shouldn’t impose the word “flirt” and thus the behavior of an adult flirt on a little baby.

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