Diapers, Pt. 2: Everything You Need to Know About Parenting Happens on the Change Table

imageIf you think about it hard enough (and, unfortunately, I have), changing diapers is a microcosm of good parenting. Within this one, simple, necessary, incredibly stinky act, is everything you need to know about the difference between a good parent and a truly bad one.

Good Parent: Changes the child’s diaper.

Bad Parent: Does not change child’s diaper. Lets child sit in her own filth.

I’m a friggin’ diaper expert with a combined twelve years of experience across three children. We added the third child, Violet, just because we’re diaper-changing masochists. Credentials.

The dirty, not-so-secret fact about changing diapers is that the kid hates it just about as much as the parent. Violet arches her back and lets out a mighty scream when we strip her down and bust out the wipes. In that moment, she is unhappy. Why do I do that to her? I, her parent, am most concerned about her happiness above all else. I want her to have a joyful, full life in which she spends more time smiling than crying. But I make her cry everyday.

Why? Because I’m her parent. I really don’t care one bit about her happiness in the moment. I’m way more concerned about the kind of a happiness that lasts quite a bit longer.

If I gave in and did what she wanted and left the diaper on her otherwise cute little bum, the whole house would soon stink like wet dog and she’d develop a terrible rash. She either hasn’t figured that out yet or doesn’t care. Kids are myopic like that. All she knows is I’m about to stick a wet rag up her backside and she’d really, really, really rather I didn’t.

Tough.

You stink, kid. Way it’s gotta be.

I understand in a way Violet does not and cannot (yet) that there are some serious, long term consequences to giving in and letting her sit in her own filth. That’s diapers, but there’s lots of things kids want to do that end with them sitting in their own  proverbial filth. Playing video games too much. Not doing their homework. Eating nothing but junk. Watching nothing but junk. Becoming friends with junk.

A good parent steers their kid away from these things, despite their wishes. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always necessary. What’s tricky is that most of the non-diaper filth doesn’t come with it’s own smell. It would be easier if my kid started to stink when she didn’t do her homework, but it doesn’t work that way. So, as a parent, I have to be vigilant. I can’t be lazy. I can’t abdicate responsibility. I’m on duty, 24/7. Always watching, never sniffing. Because that won’t work.

None of this is pleasant. Even after thousands of diapers, I still get a case of I-didn’t-make-this-mess-so-why-do-I-have-to-clean-it-up every time I have to dig in there and play janitor to my kids’ nether regions. I don’t let it stop me though. I’d  never say, no, that diaper stinks too bad, I’m not changing it. No decent parent would.

But in our weaker moments–when we’re letting things slide or don’t want that fight–that’s what we’re doing. We’re leaving the diaper on. We’re letting the rash develop.

This is the job, then: to parent despite unpleasantness. To make unhappy now so that happiness may reign later. This is what makes parenting the hardest job in the world. But only if you’re doing it right.

This post functions as a mostly unintentional sequel to “Why Changing Diapers is a Privilege.” Seriously, I never thought I’d have so much to say about diapers.

Why Changing Diapers is a Privilege

The diaper fiends, watching Wall-E on Sunday afternoon.
The diaper fiends, watching Wall-E on Sunday afternoon.

Erin has been sick this weekend, which leaves me in charge. I don’t mind being in charge, of course, because I love my kids and I’d rather they didn’t die for want of a competent adult. Also, Erin works hard and deserves a break. I suppose she thinks so too and could be feigning illness to achieve said break, but I’d rather believe the scented bubble baths and long, middle-of-the-day naps are for recuperative purposes than some other treacherous reason.

My mom tells me Dad never changed a diaper once. Four boys, not one diaper. On the one hand, that sounds like pleasantly scented heaven. On the other, that’s kind of messed up. Changing diapers is an awful task. Just look at any character in a movie ever who changes a diaper. It’s always presented as the very worst thing a person could be asked to do. It reduces high-powered professionals into all-thumbs morons (see: The Family Man, Jersey Girl, countless others I’m sure).

The truth is changing diapers really isn’t that big a deal. Very few things you do hundreds of times are. Where’s the movie where the parent undresses the kid halfway, removes the old smelly diaper, wipes her clean, applies the new diaper and puts the clothes back on without missing a step on the way up the Lincoln Monument to defuse the bomb? Because that’s how it goes down in my house. More or less.

So, I’ve changed a lot of diapers this weekend. Honestly, besides the foul odor and (forgive me for this) the sludge, I see it as a privilege. There’s very few things in my kids’ lives I can just fix with ease and confidence. Sometimes, they cry and I don’t know why. Cami, my middle daughter with special needs, has a host of problems I don’t know anything about and she has no way to tell me. But her diaper? Yeah, I can fix that. Every time. My success rate? 100%.

It’s only going to get worse as they get older. Crud, with my oldest daughter (long out of diapers), it already has. Every day she has a problem at school or with the new emotions that go along with growing up that I just can’t do a thing about. I’m there for her, I listen to her, but my ability to correct the negative situations in her life is diminishing.

It’s been a good weekend. I like spending time with my girls. Cami isn’t feeling too great either so there’s probably been a bit more movie watching than should be allowed, but that’s okay. Movies make her happy and calm. They’re like a more entertaining version of a clean diaper. I’ll put on a genuine smile and give my kids clean diapers all day long if I have to, for as long as I can.