I don’t plan on bathing my kids this summer. Summer is a time for getting dirty. It’s for grass-stained knees, dirt behind ears, and pasty-white sunscreen streaked over red cheeks. Summer is when sweaty hair clings to the back of the neck, popsicles drip down shirts, and berries stain lips. There’s nothing clean about summer, and I don’t see any use in pretending there is. My kids can wallow in their own filth this summer and enjoy every minute of it. There is scientific evidence to back up my bath-less approach to the season. The
American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that newborns do not need regular bathing – other than their diaper area – until they are crawling, eating foods, and actually getting dirty. In fact, frequent bathing of babies can even lead to dry skin and eczema, some researchers caution. Likewise, the American Academy of Dermatology says that children between ages six and 11 only need baths once or twice a week, unless they are sweaty, dirty, or went swimming in a lake or river. Michael Welch, M.D., the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on allergy and immunology, argues that exposing children to a dirt may actually protect them. As children’s immune systems develop, they benefit from exposure to viruses, bacteria, and yes – dirt. Granted, these experts don’t say never bathe your children, which is what my ideal summer would entail. But don’t worry – we do have a blow-up pool and a garden hose. I think that should suffice.
Really, is there anything better than a parenting method that lets you be lazy and feel superior to other mothers at the neighborhood cookout? Just picture it: “Oh you bathe your child every day? Well, I’m sure that’s fine for you. I’ve done my research and the experts say that’s actually terrible for children. But we each have to make our own choices, and of course I respect your terrible one to endanger your children’s health and well-being just so you can snuggle a sweet smelling child every night. To each their own.” Of course, I would never actually say that to another mother. Unless she were to ask if my kid was really sneaking his fifth Oreo from the potluck dessert table. To which I would have to reply, “I don’t know, probably. Why? Wait, where is my kid?” That’s when I would have to bring up the bath thing.
Whenever my mom visits, she grimaces a little every time I lay my still slightly-sticky children down for the night. “You aren’t going to do a bath tonight? You girls had one every night. It was part of your bedtime routine – it helped calm you down,” she says, in that but-I’m-not-judging-you tone of voice grandparents often slip into. The fact that she gave us baths every night confirms a suspicion that I’ve had for a long time – that she was either a much better mother than I can ever hope to be (likely), or I really was the perfect child (also likely). Because giving my children a bath before bed does not wind them down. In our house, wrestling pajamas onto two boys at bedtime is the equivalent of putting a Halloween costume on a wild beast. But after a bath, those wild animals turn into wet, slippery seals who are now even better able to slide through my grasp.
There will come days this summer when I actually do need to give my children baths – ones that aren’t of the “strip down and run through the sprinkler a few more times” variety. When they come inside so muddy that I can’t put them in bed without getting their sheets dirty, it’s time to acquiesce. Because if there is one parenting task I find more tedious than making sure children don’t splash all of the water out of a bathtub, it’s doing laundry. Besides, there is something delightful about taking a nice cool bath at the end of a long day of summer play and slipping on clean pajamas...then sneaking back outside to catch fireflies. In our house this summer, bathing will be kept to a minimum. But the dirt won’t. We plan on spending every moment we can outside – catching frogs, wading through creeks, and letting watermelon drip down our chins. It’s hard to find joy without getting a little messy on the way. And I have no plan on squashing that fun with an exhortation to "please stay clean." If last summer is any indication, they’ll probably run fast enough that most of that dirt will fly right back off anyway. If it doesn’t, I’ll be waiting there with the garden hose.