Men change diapers! Yes, they do. And they need a safe and clean place to change those diapers when they are out with their babies. Agreed?! But why is no one talking about how the lack of changing tables in men’s room affects women?
The Friday night my husband and I were out to dinner with both kids and another family and their two kids. With three kids at the table in diapers, it was inevitable that at some point someone would need to be changed. My daughter was first up, and my husband, who was the closest adult to her at the time, was tagged in to change her. He got the diaper bag and headed in the direction of the restroom. It barely seemed like he had left the table when he was on his way back.
This was a visual I was becoming all too familiar with. It is not that my husband is breaking world records for how quickly he can change a diaper. As it happens time and time again, there was no changing table in the men’s room. It was on me to take her to the women’s room to be changed.
On January 1, 2019, a law went into effect in New York City requiring all new and renovated buildings with public men’s restrooms to have a changing table in them. Many other cities and states have either already passed similar laws or are actively working on them. This is amazing (and should have happened long before 2019, but that is a whole separate issue).
After the law was passed in NYC, articles circulated the internet praising this action. These articles all stated that fathers deserve to have a safe and clean place to change their children because dirty diapers are their responsibility too. I could not agree with this more. But while this is absolutely true, this is unfortunately not the only issue. It is not just about men or their needs. It is not even about babies or their needs. It is about women. It is about mothers.
I was shocked that none of the articles focused on the impact not having a changing table in men’s rooms has on women. Women are constantly put in the primary parenting role, whether they want to be or not. Having changing tables solely in women’s restrooms perpetuates this. This sends the message that it is the mothers who need to be responsible for changing their child’s diapers. It is women who are the ones who should leave their friends and family at mealtime to go into a public restroom and change their baby. It is women who need to deal with the wiggling and screaming child who just wants off of that table.
A couple of weeks ago, a photo went viral of a mother separated from her family during a birthday celebration because her baby needed entertaining (as babies often do). According to the onlooker who captured the photo, “No one stepped in to let HER enjoy being part of the group….Either no one noticed the subtle work she was doing, or no one wanted to give up their enjoyment to let her have a taste of it too.” She went on to talk about society’s response to postpartum depression. “We don’t just need better diagnosis and doctors to help new moms – we need our families and friends to notice us, and help bring us back to the table.”
People wonder why mothers struggle with postpartum depression. Why they have a hard time with self-care and reveling in all the joys of motherhood. Perhaps it is because society is telling them that they, as mothers, are the only ones who need to deal with all the shit (pun intended!) involved in parenting.
So while I appreciate that change is happening because men have realized what is required to change a baby in public, I hate that it is once again men’s needs that are driving change. What about women’s needs? What about a mother’s need to be supported? Aren’t these concerns that warrant change?
What about a mother’s need to know that when it feels like too much, someone will (and can) step in? What about a mother’s need for a society that views men and women as equals, especially in their abilities as parents?
We are making great strides at treating postpartum depression, but what about trying to prevent it? What about trying to work with women to take some of the burden of child care off their shoulders?
When I got home from dinner that night, I wrote an email to the restaurant manager asking if there were plans to install a changing table in the men’s room. I am eagerly awaiting a response. Moving forward, I plan to do this each time this situation comes up. Change happens when we ask for it. When we realize that the status quo no longer works for us. Men have raised their voice for a change, and it is time that women do it too. And you better believe this mother’s voice will be heard.
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