There’s a great moment in The Royle Family when lovable but lazy new mum Denise is asked why she’s not changing her son’s nappies, leaving the job to dopey husband Dave. ‘No way! Smells of sh*te,’ is her wonderfully succinct reply.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, it was generally assumed that the average father would have taken a similar line, and never, or hardly ever, change a nappy. But today, in my experience, most fathers are not only perfectly happy to deal with nappies, but actually seem to relish doing so. The one man I know who refuses to change a nappy is regarded by his fellow dads as a bit of a twit.
Maybe I spend too much time with a lot of ‘new man’ dads? Or maybe we shouldn’t be that surprised if men do actually quite like changing nappies. It can be a tiresome task – undeniably messy and unpleasant – but it also gives the new dad an opportunity to hone a technique, to develop a craft, if you will. You exert yourself over the changing mat, and can then take pride in the perfection of the end result: clean new nappy, clean bottom, sore patches neatly attended to, soiled nappy disposed of, necessary tools for the job neatly stashed away for next time, smiling child gazing up at you in justifiable awe. In our mostly safe and sanitised world, here is one little obstacle that any man can overcome.
Of course, it’s also one of the few useful things a dad can do in the early days. The first time I changed a nappy was in hospital, the day after my eldest child was born, when I was given a mini-tutorial by a rather bossy, but well-meaning, nurse. I tried to show willing, even though I had an uneasy sensation at the back of my mind, vaguely reminiscent of the first day someone got me to trace my name at nursery school (‘They’re getting me to learn to do something that isn’t entirely for my own pleasure… It’s a trap!’), and although she told me off for being rubbish at it, I knew immediately that this was a job I could actually do.
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- Dad’s story – having baby number two
However, newly born babies don’t usually produce nasty nappies – the job soon starts to get worse. One unwelcome surprise is the sheer variety of truly vile nappies. Another is the delightful occasion when your nappy changing performance is hampered by a super-wriggly baby who is determined to fling his or her limbs about. Can someone tell me why this always seems to happen in a neat, clean room at someone else’s house? One of my favourites is when you’re distracted at a crucial moment, giving the nappy change free reign to make a dirty protest on the carpet, the bed, or over their clothes – or, all over you.
‘What do you want, a medal?’ say the mums. ‘You’re talking about changing nappies as a craft? This is as bad as when you spent all day telling everyone that you’d cleaned the bath. Who changes the most nappies, eh? Eh?’ Hmm. Point taken. Can I have my medal for the bath first, though?
- 82% of men in full-time work say they would like to spend more time with their family
- 31% of UK dads work flexitime to spend time with their babies
- 25% of a family’s weekly child care related activities are carried out by dads (rising to a third at weekends)