Parenting: Diaper Therapy
By Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT
One dad* I was working with was struggling to improve his relationship with his wife and children. He loved his family but had difficulty expressing appreciation to his wife and had little patience for his children. During the course of our discussion it came up that as part of his involvement with his children he rarely, if ever, changed their diapers. I shared with him that I once saw a bumper sticker that proclaimed, "Fathers change the world one diaper at a time." I told him that I had that bumper sticker a lot of thought for the message it implied. I flippantly suggested to him that if he was willing I had a radical new therapy for him to try. Thus was born the tongue-in-cheek name of Diaper Therapy. While the name is silly the relationship work is profound.
The task was simple. From that day out he was to change every single diaper while he was at home. Further, he was to do it without informing anyone of what he was dong. He was just to simply implement it as prescribed and report back.
This dad returned to my office a few weeks later and reported that he had been on Diaper Patrol. While it had been hard he stated it had been good. We explored what had happened and what he had learned from the experience. He did it as prescribed without her knowing he was doing it on purpose and just started doing it. He started to notice subtle, yet profound changes in how he was approaching this diaper-changing task. At first his wife was surprised by this change and after a several times she began expressing appreciation for it. He stated, Ive changed more diapers in two weeks than in our whole marriage. He began seeing changing his childrens diaper as an act of service instead of simply a mere chore. This was something he could do for them as well as for his wife. He noticed that it pulled him out of what he was doing and got him more involved into the natural flow of the family. He stated that such a simple thing as changing diapers has helped put a perspective on his priorities. We discussed how task mentality is on a timeline. This is fine and good for work-related tasks. Changing diapers (and child-rearing in general) is not on a clear time-line. Instead it ebbs and flows with many distractions. He explained, I used to see it more as an inconvenience. Now Im feeling more involved with my kids and Im acting differently. He had been finding that through changing diapers he was also being more mindful and consistent in his relationship with his wife. He further noticed that his baby was becoming more responsive to him than to his wife when he was there. This really, and pleasantly, surprised him. Interestingly enough, he also noticed that as he focused on this task he began focusing less on the original problems that brought him to therapy. Not that they were less important, but that he was putting his time into relationship building. He decided that he would be on Diaper Patrol permanently.
The Underlying Principles
So what happened? Did this really have anything to do with diapers? Only partly. The diapers were only the task. What was really happening was relationship building using the principles of sacrifice, service, commitment and patience to communicate appreciation and connection. Both children and wife responded. I was not surprised. The principle we learn from a Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe is: Follow the formula and get the results. The same works in relationships. The relationship principle he followed here applies to any task. The principle is, as Dr Kathleen Bahr first taught me, The purpose of the task is not the task. The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship. Thus any task, such as doing the dishes, going to work, paying the bills, etc. can transcend their mundane status into the realm of the sacred: relationship building. This is the secret that no one tells us. Relationships are not built on fancy romantic dates. Sacred relationship work is carried out in the midst of the mundane.
Another principle that was brought to bear is that of service. Service that is simple, uncomplicated, given without thought of recognition, and that is done in secret. It has been said that we love whom we serve. This man found this to be true via stinky diapers.
Another principle he discovered was that he could address his individual problems through relationship work. He found that by working on his primary relationships he was crowding out the negative. This is different from ignoring the problem. This is about giving energy to what we want in our lives and weeding out what we no longer want.
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*Note: Any identifying details have been modified to protect confidentiality. Story used with clients permission.
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This article provided courtesy of Bardos Relationship Consulting 801.787.8014 bardos.net