My mother was very happy as a young bride in Israel. She and my Dad had a wide circle of friends and were making a relatively good living. My Dad, who was a bit of a malcontent, was less happy and kept thinking that America would be a greener pasture. He nagged my mother to go and she resisted — until the tipping point. The tipping point began with the fact that, even though she and my Dad were earning good money, Tel Aviv had such a severe housing shortage that they were sharing a one bedroom apartment with another couple, and this other couple had an infant. The end of the tipping point was that the infant’s mother used the large kitchen sink to wash out the baby’s diapers, and everyone in the house ended up with worms. My fastidious mother, who had endured every parasite known to man during her years interned in a Japanese concentration camp, gave in to my Dad’s importuning, packed up, and came to America.
I tell the above story for a reason. Today I read about the “growing ‘Diaper-Free’ movement” (great pun there), which has parents closely observe their babies for signals that they’re getting ready to eliminate. If you get the signal right, you rush your child over to a potty or tree or whatever (more about that later), without the need for diapers:
Thirteen-month-old Dominic Klatt stopped banging the furniture in the verandah, looked at his mother and clasped his right hand around his left wrist to signal that he needed to go to the bathroom.
His mother took the diaper-less tot to a tree in the yard, held him in a squatting position and made a gentle hissing sound — prompting the infant to relieve himself on cue before he rushed back to play.
Dominic is a product of a growing “diaper-free” movement founded on the belief that babies are born with an instinctive ability to signal when they have to answer nature’s call. Parents who practice the so-called “elimination communication” learn to read their children’s body language to help them recognize the need, and they mimic the sounds that a child associates with the bathroom.
Experts at the Child Study Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center say children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder or bowel movements and little control for 6 months after that.
But some parents begin going diaper-free at birth, and the infants can initiate bowel movements on cue as young as 3 to 4 months, said Elizabeth Parise, spokeswoman of DiaperFreeBaby.org, a network of free support groups promoting the practice.
And unlike some methods of toilet training, there are no rewards or punishment associated with it.
Dr. Mark Wolraich, professor of pediatrics and director of the Child Study Center, said the practice essentially conditions young children to go to the bathroom at predictable times or show clear signs when they must go.
“To be truly toilet-trained, the child has to be able to have the sensation that they need to go, be able to interpret that sensation and be able to then tell the parent and take some action,” said Wolraich, who is also editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ book on toilet training.
“And that’s different from reading the subtle signs that the child is making when they have to go to the bathroom.”
Perhaps it’s a fine system if you have the time, energy, inclination and skill to monitor your child’s very itch and twitch. I do see some problems with this “movement,” speaking from the perspective of a member of the public. Aside from the fact that I’m no more thrilled about kids soiling a park or sidewalk than I am about dogs doing the same, some of these parents are engaging in behavior reminiscent of my Mom’s long-ago apartment-mate, only worse:
Isis Arnesen, 33, of Boston, has a 14-week-old daughter, Lucia, who is diaper-free. She said it can be awkward to explain the process to people, such as when she helped Lucia relieve herself in a sink at a public restroom.
“Sometimes I don’t know what’s gonna happen and it doesn’t work, and sometimes I feel a little embarrassed,” Arnesen said. “It makes her happy though, right? She smiles, she’s happy.” (Emphasis mine.)
Yeah, I’m sure her baby’s happy, but what about all the other women in the restroom, not to mention the ones blindsided by a sink they didn’t even know was used as a potty?