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Saturday, May 28, 2022

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Dads and Diapers

I’m walking into the men’s room at the Hilton Doubletree in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. I’m on a work trip, and my kids are hundreds of miles away back in Fredericksburg. But even without kids, the first thing I notice when I walk in is the bright shiny changing table mounted on the wall. Koala Kare all the way, baby! Any new place I go, with or without kids in tow, I usually check out the baby care situation in the men’s bathroom.

Most of the time, a women’s room will have a changing table in it. Why not? Women traditionally are the caregivers for their children. But men’s rooms won’t always have one. Traditionally, fathers are less expected to take a hand in the everyday dealings of child care. In this case, specifically, diaper changing. But I’ve been to a lot of different places, and I’m happy to report that more times than not, I’ll find a changing table in the men’s room. I think that this abundance of changing tables in men’s rooms isn’t just a chance happening, but in fact, reflects society increasingly seeing fathers as equals in taking care of children.

These days, the image of the father as an equal partner in child raising is one that’s becoming more accepted than in previous decades. Between 1965 and 2011, dads’ time spent on child care increased from 2.5 hours a week to 7 (source). It’s still less than moms’ time spent on child care, but it is a big increase. And it has gone up even more since that 2011 study. Especially during the pandemic, where widespread adoption of teleworking has allowed fathers and mothers to spend more time with their children. Much of the burden of child care during the pandemic fell to mothers, to be sure. But fathers’ involvement increased a lot—a study in April 2020 reported an 11 percent increase in American couples who reported equally sharing child care (source).

Some places don’t have changing tables at all. At a dive bar, say, I wouldn’t expect one. I haven’t been to the Bourbon Room downtown for years, but I don’t expect them to have crammed any diaper stations into either tiny cramped bathroom. They don’t cater to people with kids. But in most places that I usually go to, I can expect there to be a changing table somewhere in the establishment.

One nice trend is places having unisex bathrooms. Then you’ll usually have at least one with a changing table that anyone can access. Bigger places will sometimes even have family bathrooms, where you can take multiple kids in and change a diaper. This is especially nice if you have a big stroller like we do and are at an amusement park like Busch Gardens, so we can just push the whole thing in. Places like Wegmans and Target also have them.

So the next time you’re out at a restaurant and see a dad trekking to the bathroom with a baby in one hand and a diaper bag in the other, wish him luck in finding a changing table. And hope, for his sake, that the diaper is an easy one.

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