Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Dare to Bare - New York Times

Most babies and toddlers around the world, and throughout human history, have never worn diapers. For instance, in places like China, India and Kenya, children wear split pants or run around naked from the waist down. When it's clear that they have to go, they can squat or be held over the right hole in a matter of seconds. Parents and caretakers in these cultures see diapers as not the best, but the worst alternative. Why bind bulky cloth around a small child? Why use a disposable diaper that keeps buckets of urine next to tender skin? The trick is that infants in these cultures are always physically entwined with a parent or someone else, and "elimination communication" is the norm. With bare bottoms, they ride on the hip or back and it's easy to feel when they need to go... I was against the Western ideology of making my child independent and self-reliant. I rejected the crib, stroller and jump seat, all devices intended to teach babies to be on their own. Instead I embraced the ideology of non-Western cultures and opted for the closest kind of attachment I could get.

Why use diapers? Because we don't want to carry babies on our hips or be "physically entwined" with toddlers for most of the day. It's a matter of adult convenience not a cultural psychological bathroom fixations or the value we place on making our children independent. It's a matter of the value we place on our own independence, our own legitimately selfish desire not to be bothered by little kids.

Throughout human history and in places like China, India and Kenya women haven't been valued--our time wasn't worth anything. Our only job was to drudge for our husbands, children and extended families--carrying babies on our hips all day, making sure to put them on the pot before they pooped, carrying jugs of water on our heads, grinding meal, cooking whole grains from scratch and all the other labor-intensive fruits-and-nuts-approved activities that impose drudge work on women and eat up our time.

I didn't embrace the stroller and jump seat because I wanted to teach my babies to be independent: I used these labor-saving devices because I wanted to make things easier for myself. I slept in the same bed with my babies because it was easier for me, not because it was better for them. I never made any attempt to toilet train them because I didn't want to bother. When they got sick of wearing dirty diapers they started using the toilet of their own accord.

Let's get real here: running around with a bare bottom is probably more pleasant for little kids than wearing dirty diapers. But it's less convenient for adults. There is a conflict of interests and there is no reason why the child's interests should trump the adult's.

Articles like the one linked here set my teeth on edge. When my kids were babies the preaching was about using cloth diapers rather than paper and grinding your own baby food. And no one ever dared to say, "I don't make my own baby food because it's a hassle to grind vegetables and wash up the grinder--if there's some marginal advantage to the baby to get freshly ground food that's outweighed by the major hassle to me." No one dared say either "I use paper diapers because it's easier and I care more about my convenience than I do about the environment or my baby's comfort.

No one--that is no women--dared to say such things because no woman dared say "I count: my time and convenience matter as much as my kids' well-being so I will not sacrifice for them. Everyone, including me, counts as one, no one counts as more or less than one, and in case of a tie I come first."


Anonymous said...

OK, I'll say it. In case of a tie, I come first. Especially when there is no real harm in my coming first. Being a mom is hard. Mothers are caregivers, and the experts continually say that caregivers have to take care of themselves and not always put themselves last. So there is no shame in a mom not always putting others first. Ask any psychiatrist which is healthier.

Anonymous said...

animal mothers will abandon their young to ensure their own survival (when resources are scarce). because an adult organism can always make more babies, and its much harder for a baby to become an adult mom. so as far as the cost to an organism goes, the case for being a more independant mother makes perfect sense.

thanks for making this point, i hadn't thought of the tradeoff to parenting in this way before.

Anonymous said...

I did make my children's babyfood. Somehow we made ends meet on little income so I could stay home with the first child. But you have to draw the line. Not all couples can support a family on one income.
All I can say to the author is, like, so what is your point????

I sure hope you don't drive an SUV!

Anonymous said...

In rushing so quickly to proclaim individual independence, you have completely glossed over the more important and relevant issue: the extended family. The rejection by grandparents and parents of the shared community of parenting has more to do with the pathologies of child-rearing that are being perpetrated today. I simply do not understand the cognitive dissonance of individuals who have children only to constantly rant about their own independence issues.

Also, I do not see that this is an all or nothing issue.

I do disagree with the point regarding a child's independence being foisted on them as a means of establishing the parent's independence. The real problem is that the independence being foisted on the child is not actual but a false front composed of letting the child make all of his/her choices and providing no-fault self esteem cheerleading. Some choices are simply not to be made by children and it is important that the child no they have made a mistake. And enought with schools and sports being about the group succeeding but no won ever being singled out for actual excellence (or for remedial training). These techniques lead to rude awakenings in young adulthood when suddenly many decisions are made by others and one is actually judged on an objective scale of success or failure.

I think the Times article went to far and most of today's parents constantly go a bit to far in trying to discover something new or create some truths out of some simple tasks that have gone on forever. [Any statistics about this new trend or do the writers (and their immediate friends) at the Times represent trend setters?]

Potty training is simply that--training a child to do something that does not come naturally. Yes it takes time; yes it is inconvenient. But the crisis in our families and with kids today is that parents (either out of necessity or vanity) simply do not spend direct and engaged time with their offspring, especially as the education and careers of such parents goes up on the "success" scale.

I will utter the more important truth that I am sure will rain down fire and brimstone from habituees of this blog: You can have it all. There is always compromise and sacrifice to be made.

But I do not think it is necessary to prove that diapers are somehow inherently evil to prove this. More theoretical crap of those who think too much. Spend a little real time with infants, toddlers and children. Really relate to them as an adult and not as a nanny or teacher or pal. Common sense and instinct will be better guides that the myriad of "scholarly" works on child-rearing. It simply takes time and actual engagement.

I think the theorizing and navel gazing is the only "modern" trend discoverable here.

Anonymous said...

If you value your independence so highly, perhaps you should've had an abortion.

Anonymous said...

You sound like one of those mothers who is going to say to her toddler, "Bring Mommy another martini sweetie."
Obviously, your own needs are so much more important.

H. E. said...

Actually I drive a 1996 Nissan Sentra with 165,000+ miles on it and if I ever get another car it will be a hybrid--providing they're available used by the time my Nissan poops out conclusively. I've never owned a new car.

I didn't go back to work when my kids were babies because we couldn't afford to lose my income--I went back because I didn't want to spend my days taking care of babies or be a "primary parent." I would have gone back to work even if I had to spend my entire paycheck on child care. My aim was to be a female father--I was, and am. We don't suggest that men who aren't willing to be "primary parents" shouldn't be parents at all and I see no reason why we should suggest that women who aren't willing to take on the major burden of child care (rather than pay others to do it) shouldn't have children.

Ranting aside, my point in this post was to suggest that politically correct fruits-and-nuts types who romanticize non-Western cultures and suggest we emulate them overlook the fact that in all such cultures sex rules are entrenched and women are usually badly off. If someone is carrying around a bare-bottomed baby all day it's a woman; if someone is doing time-consuming, labor-intensive household chores, it's a woman. Or maybe they don't overlook it but buy into the idea that men and women should play different roles, regardless of personal preferences.

The very idea that men and women should have the same options, that gender shouldn't matter when it comes to the jobs people do or the lives they live, is utterly alien to all "traditional" societies.

Anonymous said...

How do you define traditional societies? About how many of them are you knowledgeable? Go back beyond the so-called agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago and find humans existing for millions of years. How much do we know of those societies? Practically nothing. Let's stop assuming that human life began and thrived in societies that we recognize today.

pdf23ds said...

Wow, two positive comments and then a whole string of abuse (with some negative comments thrown in)!

Anyway, thanks for this post. I had never realized the sexism inherent in social pressures to spend more time doing this and that for your children that you mention.

Mnemosyne said...

If you value your independence so highly, perhaps you should've had an abortion.

Yes, because there's absolutely no middle ground between "I never want kids ever" and "I must sacrifice every iota of my health and sanity for what everyone else needs."

Parenthood is full of sacrifices, and you can drive yourself insane trying to do what everyone else thinks you "should" do instead of -- here's a crazy idea! -- choosing what's best for your family instead of what outside people think "should" be best.

Anonymous said...

I read your comments with interest. I have a very dear friend who shunned diapers in favor of what she calls, "potty training from birth." At first when I heard her talk about it I thought it was a crock--could never work; you'd be chasing around after the kid all the time and cleaning up poo." But, then I witnessed her do it with her two youngest kids.

It really works, and face it, you're pretty much going to be around the baby constantly anyway for a month or two. By the time her kids were 6 mos. they could easily communicate to her that they needed to go. By the time they were one and could walk, they'd walk right over to their little potty chair. She took one of the kids to France on a long flight, and carried no diapers with her when he was under two. No schlepping around bulky diapers, no stinky pants. No need for fold down diaper changing tables in public restrooms; just hold baby over toilet.

My friend says that the babies are born with the ability to "hold" but when you put them in diapers they lose that, and you have to retrain them at 2/3. So actually by putting in a few months of diligence with this issue, you can save yourself years of dealing with yukky diapers and all that come with them.

Now, I will say that she is an earthmother breastfeeding, hippy type, however, she does have her own life outside the kids; but also she did stay pretty close to the kids til they were 6 or 7 years old. Also had extended family for free babysitting. Helped also that they spent a lot of time outdoors; she was able to get them to understand by the time they were two that they could pee anywhere outside, but when in the house, you had to go #1 and 2 in the toilet or potty chair. She dressed them in long teeshirts and when they were little those one-piece suits with the snaps undone.

Oh, one problem was when the son was about three, he enjoyed peeing on the sleeping cat to see the cat jump up and run away.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at independence/individualism from a class perspective.
Why? The individual is the weekest form of humanity. By myself I do little of nothing. Some one else makes my cloths builds my automobile house
etc. Toss me into the woods I would be at the mercy of the next strongest animal and with out the knowlege of how to survive. But give me a rifle and then it is a different matter. But the rifle is other people in "ghost labor" (other people) some one had to make that rifle. The knowledge of how to use it came from some one else.
We are totally dependent on our communities. Should our community decide that I should not exist it would be destroy me. To ignore my child and put my self first is a claim that am most important or ignorant of the community.
Remember that is absolutly impossible and individualism has the same root as idiot.

spencer said...

To ignore my child and put my self first is a claim that am most important or ignorant of the community.

I don't see H.E. advocating ignoring her (or anyone else's) children anywhere in her comments.

Doesn't building and knocking down strawmen take away from time you could be spending with your children?

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