One of the best memories I have of early parenthood is bathing my infant daughter in the kitchen sink of our small apartment. Water splashed everywhere as she giggled and grasped for the bath toys we dangled over her head to keep her distracted while we got her squeaky clean.
Six years later, while we’ve traded up to a bigger bathtub in a bigger house, bath time is still a key part of our daughter’s bedtime routine and is one of the best parts of mine and my wife’s day. My kid loves the water, and bath time is much less about getting clean than it is a chance to put her goggles on, practice her front crawl (well, as much as she can in a tub) and show us how long she can hold her breath. It's a fun way to bond, get some one-on-one time, and talk about her day.
So when I heard about a recent story that went viral about an Australian mom who has banned her husband from bathing their two daughters, I had a bit of a spit-my-coffee-out moment. Through a Facebook post reported via the UK’s Daily Mirror, the unnamed mom explained that she doesn’t feel comfortable with a man washing girls because she believes that “girls should be getting washed by their mothers and boys get the same from their fathers,” and that “it's just got to do with the fact that mum and daughters have the same parts, same goes for men and their sons.” And if that logic isn’t daft enough, in the next sentence, after acknowledging that her husband “thinks I think ill of him,” she goes on to basically say that the ban is so her daughter’s can’t play the “I was molested” card later, which people play “so very often these days.” “I just don’t want in (any) way (to) give my kids the chance to even think about that.”
The article has obviously stirred up some heated and varied viewpoints online, with some supporting the mother’s position and others, well, not. Far be it for me to tell people how to raise their kids, but as a parent—period—and not just as one with a young girl, I think that this kind of thinking is irrational, alarmist and displays a dangerous lack of trust from within a family unit.
First, the gender of my offspring has nothing to do with my ability as a parent to apply soap to her body. And until my daughter is dexterous enough to do so thoroughly on her own (any day now), my wife and/or I will help her, or at least supervise her as she does so. It makes no difference if it’s me or my wife.
But more frightening are the messages this Aussie mom is sending to her family. What are the girls supposed to think as they get older? Will they grow up questioning whether mommy didn’t let daddy give them a bath because she was afraid he was going to do something inappropriate? What kind of example of trust is that setting for them? Does it send a signal that they should be afraid of their dad? All terrifying and damaging notions. Not to mention the fierce lack of trust the mere suggestion that her husband could do such a thing shows would be enough to drive a wedge in any marriage.
That said, of course there will come a day when neither my wife nor I will be spending bath or shower time with our daughter. When that day is remains to be seen—most experts say kids should bathe alone whenever they start showing interest in having privacy and when you’re confident that they can clean themselves adequately and safely on their own. And when that day comes I’ll be sad, like all parents, that another milestone in my child’s life has been met and they need me less and less. But until that day comes, I’ll be tub-side with my stopwatch as my daughter beats her personal best time underwater, while making sure she scrubs behind her ears.