Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?

Our daughter Lydia is 21 months old.  Since she was born, almost all of her diaper changes at home (rather than childcare) have been my job.  I also launder the cloth diapers myself.  Unfair, right?  Daniel is just as responsible as I am for the existence of this messy little human, so he should take charge of 50% of her sanitation needs, right?

Well, that’s the way I saw it 11 years ago when our first child was born.  I spelled out to Daniel what sounded like a perfectly reasonable plan: Whenever we were both home, we would split diaper-changing 50/50; when one of us was alone with the baby, of course that parent would change diapers; when we were together in public, Daniel would take him to the men’s room for changes (because a male should use the males’ restroom, when feasible) unless it was a place with a nice changing table in the ladies’ room and no suitable area in the men’s.  Daniel agreed that this was fair.

We had our first shouting argument about diaper changing before Nicholas was a month old, and it was often a touchy topic thereafter.  Why?  Well, the trouble with a 50/50 split is that you’re tempted to police the situation to make sure it’s really 50/50–especially if it’s supposed to be 50/50 when you’re both there but you are the parent who’s alone with the kid more often.  (I worked part-time when Nicholas was little, while Daniel worked full-time, so I solo-parented a lot more.)  Because I knew I was changing more diapers that Daniel was overall, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing more than my share when he was around.  Too often, it sounded like I was trying to get him to change a diaper when it didn’t make much sense: “You’ve been mopping floors while I’ve been reading bedtime stories, but the kid pooped and I changed him last time, so get up here!”

Shortly before Lydia was born, Daniel and I made a list of all the parenting and household tasks that would need to be done routinely and discussed who would do them.  We knew we’d be dividing things differently than when Nicholas was a baby because this time I had to return to work full-time, while Daniel was (still is) working from home on a freelance basis, which gives him a lot more flexibility to do home stuff and errands.

As we listed the baby-related tasks, Daniel told me that diapers were the thing he was dreading most.  His memories of the early years with Nicholas were heavily loaded with disgust and resentment over “scraping shit off terrycloth.”  I was kind of surprised.  I remembered the yucky parts, but I also remembered many sweet moments of taking care of my baby with nice fluffy diapers; I remembered that enduring the brief ordeal of emptying a bag of smelly diapers into the washing machine was well worth it for the joy of coming back to a bunch of clean diapers to arrange on the clothesline.  I’d already ordered cloth diapers for Lydia (because of the big age gap, we’d sold Nick’s diapers to another family years earlier) and I’d had fun doing that, planning for another season of hanging diapers and folding diapers and changing diapers and–could it be that I was looking forward to this task he dreaded?!

I suggested that, if Daniel would take another major responsibility off my shoulders, I could be the default diaper changer.  I would still expect him to change Lydia’s diaper promptly when he was the Parent On Duty, even if I was home–but when we were both with her, at home or away, I would do it.  I would also do all the diaper laundry and take charge of emptying and restocking diaper bags.

Daniel eagerly agreed to wash all the dishes, cook dinner every weeknight, take charge of the household laundry (sheets, towels, etc.), and do more of the grocery shopping and gardening than before.  That seemed fair.

It’s turned out to be a huge improvement over our previous approach!  I don’t really mind diaper changes so much.  It was the feeling of, “I have to do this because he’s not doing his share!”, not the actual chore, that used to get me down.  Feeling that this is my responsibility, while Daniel has other responsibilities, makes it easier to do it graciously.  I realized, too, soon after Lydia was born, that Daniel was not handing her off to me when he noticed her diaper was yucky; he was calmly doing the occasional change without complaint.

Last month, I had surgery to repair a hernia caused by pregnancy.  (It seemed to disappear as soon as Lydia was born, but then it started bothering me again last fall.)  I’m not allowed to lift Lydia or engage in other torso-stressing activities for three weeks while healing.  Although her changing area is a mat on the floor rather than a table, she sometimes wiggles during a change and has to be held still, so I felt that changing diapers was a task I would not be able to do during recovery.  I also can’t lift a laundry basket, so we decided to switch to disposable diapers during this time.

So now Daniel is changing all the diapers.  You might think he’d be grouchy about having to do this chore he dislikes so much.  You might think he’d take advantage of the disposables’ super-absorbency by changing as infrequently as he possibly could.  You might think he’d be blundering around, doing it all wrong, and I’d have to jump in to rescue my little pookums from improper diapering.

Nothing like that has happened!  Daniel is managing diapering so well that I simply don’t have to think about it, leaving more time for taking care of myself.  He’s been really good at remembering to check her diaper at appropriate times and change if necessary.  He’s been using her usual cloth wipes (both of us hate the slimy feeling of disposable wipes) and he decided when it was time to wash them; he merely asked my opinion about whether they truly needed the complete washing procedure I use when they’re mixed into a load of diapers or could just have a hot wash and go into the dryer.  When Lydia developed a rash, Daniel promptly began trying the various creams and then put her back in cloth diapers part-time to see if that would help–and the first I knew of it was when I noticed she was wearing cloth again, because he was just handling it without troubling me.  Who will wash those cloth diapers?  He will.  He is on the job!

It’s a huge relief to be able to hand off this job (and several others) while I’m in pain and just getting dressed and going to and from work consumes most of my energy!  Daniel isn’t resenting it because it’s only temporary.  Okay, sometimes there’s a particularly horrible diaper, and he’s making faces and re-washing his hands for a few minutes, and he’d like me to entertain Lydia while he recovers–well, I don’t need to roll my eyes at his “drama” over something I’ve been enduring routinely all her life; I can feel empathy instead and give him the “thank you” that I like to hear at those moments.

In the past few days, Lydia has been taking Daddy’s hand and announcing, “Time for change.”  That awareness is a good sign.  When I can lift her again, we’ll get serious about toilet training!

Being the primary diaper changer, and having some time off from diaper changing, have both worked for me!

3 thoughts on “Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?

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