If 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.
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.