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

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.

The Change

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, “I’ve changed more diapers in two weeks than in our whole marriage.” He began seeing changing his children’s 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 I’m feeling more involved with my kids and I’m 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.
While this was by no means the main thrust of our therapy together, it did contain many of the key elements of successful relationship work and illustrated well the power of what these principles can do for people. He learned the importance of “being there,” being present-focused with his children by allowing himself to be interrupted, being open to shifting gears from one task to another, of using family life as the greatest medium for learning patience, tolerance and for expanding ourselves beyond what we currently are.
Personally, I have been on Diaper Patrol for over nine years now and have found the same to be true for me. I have no love for diapers themselves. But the subtle connections I, like my client, have developed with my wife and children over such a small and simple task I would not trade for something more glamorous. When I’m home, it’s my job. I’m their dad.

Have you tried this or other suggestions in the Greatness in Relationships column? Let me know how it worked at jonathan@bardos.net. You can find more articles and tips at bardos.net/resources

Watch future columns for more strategies for creating greatness in your relationships. The “Great Relationships” eZine has been launched. This eZine contains further articles, ideas and strategies for creating great relationships as well as announcements for free community workshops in The Relationship Wellness Series. To subscribe to this eZine simply email GreatRelationships@bardos.net with “subscribe” in the subject line.

*Note: Any identifying details have been modified to protect confidentiality. Story used with client’s permission.

Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of Bardos Relationship Consulting. He is married to a skillled husband trainer who has truly earned her keep. They live in eternal bliss (okay, fairly peaceably) with their four children in American Fork, UT. You may reach him at 801.787.8014, jonathan@bardos.net or at www.bardos.net.
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This article provided courtesy of Bardos Relationship Consulting• 801.787.8014 • bardos.net