Madeline Eppert of Green Hills says she became a real mom when she stopped listening to her mother and decided to do things her way. “My husband and I were just so tired of all the advice we were getting when our baby was born. We said, forget it. People have been parents for millions of years, there’s no one way to do it.â€
Making the conscious decision to cut your own parenting path is the ultimate empowerment tool. No matter how peculiar it may be to others, deciding to follow your own lead strengthens your parenting resolve – and that’s always good for kids.
The following different trends are ones Nashville Parent has been watching. Some aren’t so new, but perhaps none is more intriguing than our first: infant potty training.
Ditching Your Infant’s Diapers
Sometimes called “elimination communication” or IPT (infant potty training), the diaper-free movement encompasses the belief that babies are born with an instinctive ability to signal when they have to relieve themselves.
Parents of diaper-free babies learn to read their baby’s body language and cues (facial expressions, a particular cry, squirming or a sudden unexplained fussiness). When the baby signals it, Mom or Dad takes him to the bathroom. Once there, the parent gives a “cue” (a “psss psss” for urinating or a grunt for a bowel movement) signaling to Baby that he can start.
Parents of very young babies first start using the cueing sound when the baby is eliminating to develop an association between the cue and the act of using the bathroom. Diapers are used at the beginning of the process, of course, but advocates of IPT claim they usually become unnecessary after a short time.
Diaper-free parents unanimously say the biggest perk to IPT is in tuning into their babies. “It’s not so much about diapers, it’s really about listening to my baby’s cues and responding. I communicate with her better now,” explains Maria Norton, mother of 1-year-old diaper-free Krista.
Diaper-free families are indeed on the rise. Yahoo currently has a 2,000 member diaper-free baby support group. And while many diaper-free parents are stay-at-home moms, there are also working mothers and even fathers who embrace the practice. It’s common in many parts of rural Africa and Asia where parents cannot afford diapers. Diaper-free parents in the United States will occasionally use diapers if they have to, like on an overnight trip or when going out for a long period of time, but when they are at home, Baby is usually bare.
Skeptics Speak Out
Some parents and toilet-training experts are skeptical of the reality of a truly diaper-free baby. Many wonder how it’s possible to worry about an infant’s signals and cues while trying to nurse and care for everything else. Experts insist that children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder or bowel movements, saying the diaper-free practice merely conditions babies to go to the bathroom at predictable times or show clear signs of when they must go.
Mark Wolraich, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and the editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Guide to Toilet Training (AAP; $14.95) says, “To be truly toilet trained, the child has to be able to have the sensation that he needs to go, be able to interpret that sensation and be able to then tell the parent to take some action. That’s different from reading the subtle signs that the child is making when he has to go to the bathroom.â€
Challenges of a Diaper-Free Lifestyle
Developmental milestones or illness can delay the process or make going diaper-free more difficult. An infant may be too distracted by illness or the efforts necessary to master a new skill to worry about communicating the need to go to the bathroom. Many diaper-free parents have a challenging time finding a supportive day-care center. Other problems include finding tiny underwear for diaper-free infants and the awkwardness of explaining the process to friends, family and strangers not familiar with it.
Louise May admits it’s awkward when helping her 12-week-old infant daughter relieve herself in a public restroom. “Sometimes it doesn’t work, and it’s a little embarrassing to see all the questioning looks we receive,” May admits.
When Kay Knight of Nashville was pregnant, a co-worker gave her a book about attachment parenting – the same name for the international organization that promotes bonding practices in families like co-sleeping. The book delves into topics like breastfeeding on demand, nighttime parenting and more. Knight and her husband immediately agreed to adopt the ideas outlined in the book even though friends and family felt they were being unreasonable.
“They thought we had naive ideas that would go away with the reality of a child,” says Knight, whose children are now 7 and 5. “All the people who know us have come full circle, though, and are now advocates of our â€˜crazy’ ways. We co-sleep and have a very close bond with our children. Many times, it is those few minutes right after we go to bed, when my daughter is rehashing her day in her head, that she will talk to me about something that’s bothering her or something great that I might not otherwise hear,” she says.
Attachment Parenting International’s (API) mission is “to promote parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents.” The goals are designed to help parents better connect with their children, hoping to decrease chances of behavioral problems or other social issues.
“Positive discipline, respect for your child and creating a close, trusting bond are the most important things for me.â€
– Kay Knight, Nashville mom
“When my children were babies, breastfeeding when they were hungry, a loving touch and nighttime parenting were the most important things to me,” Knight says. “Now that they are older, my goals are to provide positive discipline, working on my own growth as a parent and person, and finding the right balance for our family. I want to create an atmosphere where we respect and trust each other. Positive discipline, respect for your child and creating a close trusting bond are the most important things for me,” she adds.
Still, whether critics and other parents agree, the diaper-free trend appears to be one that is here to stay. Like breast or bottle and working or staying home, going diaper-free is an individual decision based on a family’s unique situation. It’s highly likely that the growing number of diaper-free families will be noticed by corporate America, who might just begin producing underwear sized by months instead of years!
Although screentime.org, a center for TV awareness, is promoting a TV turnoff week from April 21 – 27, parents like Matt Smith of East Nashville believe in limiting TV viewing as much as possible on a regular basis. Smith and his wife, Brenda, the parents of three girls, do own a TV, but it is not a central part of the layout of their home and stays hidden behind cabinet doors until used. The Smiths watch movies together about twice a week and otherwise use the TV scarcely.
“My wife grew up in a family with three TVs on all day and night,” Smith says. “We decided that when we sit down to watch TV, we want it to be intentional. We saw it as an intrusion more than something that was helpful.â€
Smith points to research that states “no TV” is the best option to aid cognitive development in children through age 4. When his older daughters, ages 12 and 9, attend school, Smith stays home with his 2-year-old, who finds ways other than TV to entertain herself.
“When we sit down to watch TV, we want it to be intentional.” – Matt Smith, East Nashville dad
“We have her play area set up and all of her toys are very accessible,” Smith says. “She has her own room and it is neat and organized. She’s gotten into the habit of just going in there and playing. We also sit down and read throughout the course of the day. We have established a routine where the TV is just not part of it,” he says.
As a family, the Smiths find themselves busy with school activities during the week. They spend weekends hiking, biking and doing other family and church activities. On some weekend nights, they will watch a movie together.
“I think some people live too vicariously through TV characters, and I think that can diminish quality of life,” Smith notes.
Choosing Cloth Diapers
With many parents attempting to keep chemicals away from their children, the idea of cloth diapering is popular again. Because disposable diapers contain cancer-related chemicals, parents like Amy Hamiter of Bellevue use cloth diapers. A year ago, Hamiter noticed her 5-month-old son had a constant rash around his thighs and waistline. The rash disappeared after switching to cloth diapers.
“I knew nothing about cloth diapering at first and pictured myself slaving away over a toilet dunking diapers all day,” Hamiter says. “It is so much easier than I thought it would be. Come to find out, there’s no need to dunk in the toilet, thank goodness.â€
Cloth-diapering parents point to many reasons for their decision. One reason is often the fact that cloth is reusable and recyclable, making it better for the environment.
“It’s so much easier than I thought it would be. There’s no need to dunk in the toilet, thank goodness!â€
– Amy Hamiter, Bellevue mom
“I couldn’t believe it when I read that it takes anywhere from 100 – 500 years for a disposable diaper to biodegrade in a landfill,” Hamiter states. “I believe that our society has gotten so used to the convenience of disposable items, we don’t give a thought to where this stuff ends up. I want to do my part, however small it may be, in lessening the amount of trash in our landfills.â€
Parents short on time often consider disposable diapers a necessity. However, cloth-diapering parents find they save money doing extra loads of laundry. Many diapers and accompanying covers are now part of outfits. Numerous cloth-diapering parents make their own diapers and many sell or trade online. In this respect, it has actually become a hobby for some of the parents.
“We save money and make an otherwise tedious job more fun,” Hamiter says.
Many parents are adopting the ideas of holistic living, which essentially is realizing the connections between choices we make and their impact on our health and environment. These same ideas are applied to holistic parenting, keeping the overall health of the family in mind. Some of these ideas include taking responsibility for health decisions and making educated and informed health and parenting decisions.
One of these decisions, for many, is to use as many organic foods and products as possible. The title “organic” does not refer to the product, but rather to the product’s production. For example, organic food production occurs without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives. There is currently no evidence proving that organic foods are better for health, though many believe artificial substances cannot be healthy and claim organic products taste better.
“We eat as much organic dairy and produce as possible,” Hamiter says. “Since organic is more expensive, I’ve just learned to cut back in other areas, like making my own granola bars and bread, for instance.â€
Other principles of holistic living include stress management, spirituality and alternative therapies.
Shannon M. Dean is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about families. Mike Patton is a local teacher and parent.
Different Strokes’ Resources
Learn more about attachment parenting at attachmentparenting.org.
Visit screentime.org for ideas on how to limit TV in your home.
Choosing Cloth Diapers
Discover Middle Tennessee’s newest diaper service at smilemommy.com.
To read more about holistic living, visit holisticmoms.org.