Thank goodness for those occasional, special moments of deep connection and elation that punctuate our daily lives with children, because without these “bonuses,” parenting can be tedious, monotonous, and just plain hard.
We may not remember these experiences as the years pass, but our hearts will. They were our much-needed proof that we were bonding. It was working. Our efforts were actually paying off despite numerous missteps and doubts. These are the moments that kept us going, but for most parents and kids, I imagine they didn’t include diaper changes.
If there is one abiding parenting truth I have realized and can swear to, it is that every interaction with our child – no matter how seemingly inconsequential, mundane, or repetitive – presents an opportunity to connect. Diaper changes are no exception. Consider how many take place in the formative years of our parent-child relationship and the dynamics involved: trust, intimacy, cooperation, self-care.
A parent shared this story about the positive (diaper) changes she and her toddler are experiencing:
Today my son came to me and said, “Mommy, come.” So I went into the room and he had his pants off, the diaper and wipes on the floor. He lay down with a big smile and said, “Mommy, change my diaper please.”
In that moment my whole RIE parenting journey felt validated.
When I started learning about Magda Gerber’s child care approach ten months ago, I was dangling toys in his face, singing loudly, and asking Daddy to do a salsa dance over his head. Diaper changes were a challenge to say the least. There was nothing connecting or present about that chore. It was an obstacle to overcome. It was a dreadful time of the day usually ending in complete frustration for both parties. I was the version of a mother I had always imagined I would never become.
I began to read about giving full attention at caregiving times and using it as a time of connection and presence. Ritual. Ceremony. But I had developed a routine and, you know, it “worked.” I could give him a phone or a strange object from around the house or do a song and dance while changing, and he would stay still, and we would get through it many times. Giving that up seemed like suicide. But in general my parenting wasn’t working. I wasn’t feeling connected with either of my kids, and there was definitely a me-vs-them mentality most days. But mostly, I wasn’t the mother I wanted to be.
So I put the toys, the phone, and the song and dance away and tried this idea of full presence and sportscasting the event, inviting him to help by letting him know what I was going to do and giving a moment for him to cooperate, help, or acknowledge. It was sort of a disaster at first. There were chases and some very unfortunate poopy messes, but I was determined. I knew these people, these RIE people, were onto something. I could feel it in my bones. You know the truth when you hear it.
So I read some more. I asked questions on the RIE/Mindful Parenting Facebook page. At one point, I got discouraged and tried my old ways again, only to realize that once you understand what it is to see a child with the kind of respect I had learned through RIE, you really can never go back.
The diaper changes got better but for a while, but the process was unpleasant still. I thought, maybe coming so late to RIE I had missed the opportunity for this to really happen for me. I respectfully held him firmly while we changed, and that wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. Then I read some more about slowing down.
So I slowed down some more.
And then more still.
And it would take a long time to change a diaper. Still some days he would not cooperate no matter what I did. Then I read some more about connection and communication. I realized that maybe he was telling me some things. Maybe he was letting me know that he was going to push this boundary and exercise his power in the world, and he needed to see how I would respond. So I became committed to an “unruffled” response. I decided to let go of the dream of him slowly lifting each leg as I sportscasted the event, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. Instead, I decided to look at it as his time to tell me all about his new found abilities to make things happen and his curiosity about his effect on me. I wanted to make it very clear: I am ok with your pushing. Pushing is ok with me. Testing is ok with me. Showing me what you can do is ok with me. I will respond calmly to let you know that exploring your limits is ok.
Over time it just became part of our routine. Some days less present than others, and sometimes I was tempted to bring back my song and dance. But the other areas of our lives that had changed because of this type of interaction were too great. I knew there was no going back. And I knew that it would not always be easy or perfect, but that over the months things had changed in so many ways for the better that I was ok with that.
So today, when he came to me and said these things, I cried. Just a little and only for a moment, but there are these moments that are so rare where you see all your efforts and hard work pay off, and you realize how far you’ve come, and you are overwhelmed with emotion. Because it was not easy. But it was worth it.
And I write this down because so many things happened today in rapid succession that made me realize how far I’ve come, and I need to write them down and read them over again to remind myself of these things when the days aren’t so great — when things happen that make me lose sight of the journey and the progress. Who knew a diaper change could make you see all that?
“As a daily responsibility of parents and other carers of infants and toddlers, diapering is sometimes viewed as an unpleasant chore, a task of hygiene, a time separate from child’s play and learning. But in the process of diapering, we should remember that we are not only doing the cleaning, we are intimately together with the child.”
– Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
I share a complete guide to respectful care in my book,
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
I also recommend these articles:
Toddler Testing: Problem or Opportunity? by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
Changing the Change Table Relationship by Kate Russell, Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids
Walk the Line – Diaper Changing With a Toddler and Catch me if you can – Diaper Changing With a Mobile Infant by Nadine Hilmar, Mamas in the Making
(Photo by Darren Johnson on Flickr)