Diaperless Babies

Talking about mothering practices, especially for a woman who doesn’t have children, is pretty fraught. But I want to say one thing about this whole “My kid never wears a diaper” thing: It never ceases to amaze me how much easier it is for women these days to raise children than it was for, say, women of my grandmother’s era and how much more weirdly complicated these trend-pieces encourage us to make it.

I don’t give two shits (ha ha) if you want to potty-train your kid from the get-go, like these folks, though I am a little bemused/grossed out at the thought of just encouraging your kid to shit outside in an urban area. But my “bullshit” meter goes off when such child-rearing practices are framed as “rediscovering an ancient practice used in other cultures” because are they ancient or used in other cultures? Why are ancient child-rearing practices best? And are these ancient practices really practiced in a house, where food prep goes on?

But the part I find weirdest is this idea that parents do it to “be more in tune with what their kids’ needs are.”

I don’t think this is an unambiguous good. I mean, it probably doesn’t matter one way or another when the kid is a baby, if you want to be all up in its business and know the precise moment it shits (though, having had quite a few babies in my life, I’m perplexed how one could avoid knowing that a baby has shit for longer than a couple of minutes anyway), but I’m not sure that a parent’s–or let’s be honest, a mother’s–sole role is to meet her kids’ needs. Often, especially as they get older, it’s part of a parent’s job to equip his or her children to articulate and meet their own needs.

Sometimes, the Professor will tell me stories of her students piping up in class with a “Well, my mom says…” or complaining when she points out they’re not using inclusive language with a “But my dad say that’s okay because…” And these aren’t freshmen in their first couple of weeks of classes. These are ostensible grown-ups who think what Mom & Dad says should carry heavy social weight with people who don’t even know them.

I don’t think that’s good for kids. And I think they’ve been done a disservice by their parents.

But I also don’t think that it’s good for parents to feel some pressure to be so constantly paying such close attention to their children that they’re willing to follow their children around with bowls to catch their poop. I mean, yes, you’re a parent and yes, that is the most important thing in your life. But the fact of the matter is that your attention is going to slip. The kid is going to bang her head or eat the cat food out of the bowl. You can’t be there every second to make sure nothing bad or unpleasant happens.

But, in a way, this seems to me like the Alli-method of child-rearing, where you’re forced into “right” behavior for fear of otherwise having to deal with some weird, gross poop issue.

Otherwise, wouldn’t the advice be to move someplace warm where you can get an acre or so and let your kid go diaper-free outside where the whole rest of nature poops and it’s no big deal? I suspect that’s never the advice, though, because it’s not actually about what’s “best” for the child, but about a kind of performative parenthood that demonstrates that the people doing it really care about their children unlike the people who don’t/can’t.

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11 thoughts on “Diaperless Babies

  1. YESSSSSSSSS! You nailed it. I miss NY sometimes, but the stuff that surfaces in the more airless recesses of city parenting (plumbed only by intrepid Times trend piece reporters) makes me so happy we sold the overpriced stroller and high-tailed it.

  2. I sometimes think they should have Stephan on SNL doing not clubs, but baby trends from the NYTimes, because, i swear, some of the crap they claim everyone’s doing–I let my baby on purpose shit in my friend’s kitchen sink near where, ostensibly, there is food during a party!–sounds like something the SNL folks would try to make Bill Hader try to say without cracking up.

    Things happen. My nephews totally had diaper incidents where, if it happened in the kitchen, you’d be forced by circumstances to take care of it in the kitchen. And that included hosing them off in the sink. But there’s something about knowing that your baby will probably have to shit someplace in your friend’s house and just doing it in the kitchen sink just strikes me as… I mean, I honestly have a hard time believing that happened and the hosts still speak to the sink-pooper’s parents.

  3. I don’t have kids, but let me assure you: if someone brings a little darling to my house & proceeds to whip out the bowl to have Jr poo, me & that person will soon be former friends.

  4. I’m just trying to imagine the New York Times story about some Appalachian mom or rural Mississippi mom who let her kids run around without diapers and poop into bowls. Somehow, I’m just not imagining that it would be seen with the same level of “Oh, isn’t this terribly interesting?”

    In fact, I kind of suspect those moms would be seen as utterly terrible.

  5. I’ve had a longtime hunch that a lot of these labor-intensive child rearing practices are also a result of highly educated, highly intelligent, women becoming stay at home moms. Mothering has become intense and professionalized in a way that it wasn’t for our mom’s generation so that these families can feel ok about the mom opting out of the work world and mothering full time.

  6. O.C. I also wonder if there isn’t some facet of there being a deep suspicion of things that bring us pleasure. Not that being a parent is always easy, but there’s something incredibly wonderful about holding a small child while she sleeps, for instance. Or passing a baby around all his relatives and letting them all coo over him.

    This seems to me like a really effective way to make those kinds of ordinary pleasures less so. You can’t just lose yourself in the pleasure of, say, napping with your baby on the couch, because you must be vigilant at any moment for her bodily functions.

    I think it’s sometimes hard for people in our culture to believe that you can experience pleasure without “earning” it. So, this notion that you’re not being a good mother unless you’re doing all these difficult, ridiculous things, unless you’re “earning” the pleasures that come with a kid is pretty easy for some folks to buy into, at least for the length of an NYTimes story.

  7. Any babies around me had better be wearing diapers. And no changing them at the table, either. I don’t care if you breastfeed in public, but changing should be hidden away. What will we think of next?!

  8. You might do a little reading about elimination communication before dismissing it as a hipster mom thing. Blogger rixarixa has done it with her kids and her rationale is:

    “I love doing elimination communication. I don’t do it to be some kind of “super mom.” (No one’s ever said that to me, but I imagine that some people unfamiliar with EC might see it as a kind of competition to see who has the better/smarter baby or who is the better mom…) So why do I do it? Fewer diapers to wash, babies don’t have to sit in a wet or dirty diaper, and they usually are potty trained much earlier. And, most importantly, it’s fun! Babies are much smarter than we give them credit for. They can recognize and control their bodily functions from a very young age, if given the chance.”

    She cloth diapers and does your general crunchy-granola mom thing, so she sees EC as not much more work than changing/washing a lot of diapers, with the benefit of an earlier potty-training.

    Having gone through a pretty stressful period when my kid was transitioning from diapers to potty, if I had been an at-home mom this might have appealed to me as a way to get the potty training out of the way earlier and without the fun of power struggles over bathroom activities with a toddler.

    The problem I have is not so much that Some Moms do X, it’s that there’s this underlying assumption that All Moms Should do X that can occur. But that’s true of anything.

    Rixa’s blog/relevant link: http://rixarixa.blogspot.com/2009/09/elimination-communication-with-two.html

  9. Well, like I said, with the exception of purposefully letting one’s child shit in a kitchen sink at a party, I don’t really care one way or another about people doing this. It doesn’t affect me.

    I do care about it being framed as some “better” choice that’s more in touch with ancient childrearing practices that are also, somehow, better, when practiced by hipster Brooklyn moms, when it would clearly be framed as some kind of gross child-neglect if the NYTimes had learned of the practice first from, say, some poor mom in rural Mississippi.

    But otherwise, as long as you don’t purposefully let your child shit where food is being prepared and served that I might want to eat, do whatever works for you.

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