Wash Up

Yes, I Bathe My Kids Every Day. What Of It?

It’s ritual, it’s routine, it’s an essential part of our day.

Photo taken in Chemnitz, Germany
Olga Guiskaja / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Look, I know bathing isn’t cool right now. Mila and Ashton taught us that. It’s better for the planet to skip the shower, better for your skin and hair not to overdo it on the sulfates, to go a little more natural. All that is fine.

But in my house, especially when it comes to my young children, we are hard-core bathers. For us, bathing is a lot of things: it’s social (our favorite place for knock-knock jokes), athletic (is that a kickboard my youngest has?), competitive (whose Santa beard of bubbles is most convincing?), and therapeutic (we may turn on a song and soak). Let’s just say that my family would have fit in very well in ancient Rome.

Sometimes the children will slosh around in there for half an hour with goggles and miniature dinosaurs; other times, it’s a one-minute scrub and rinse. But it always happens. The red dirt and humidity of North Carolina mean that my kids, who play outside every day, also bathe every day (to be clear, the luxury of both of those things is not lost on me). I’ve got an avid artist, a worm-lover, a sweater, and a baby girl who tips back her cereal bowl and downs the milk like a Viking drinking mead. Come bedtime, these people need a bath.

Plus, can we all agree that getting into pajamas clean just hits different?

If you’re a fellow bathtime enthusiast – or you’re just trying to institute a more regular washing schedule – here are some of my favorite bath time hacks:

  • Sylvia Plath was onto something when she wrote, “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them.” The famed popsicle bath from Busy Toddler has softened many an aching ear or sour mood – that sensory explosion of the frozen pop and warm water makes it a winner.
  • Sometimes we turn off the lights and give everyone a glow stick. What a delight it is to see them glow under water! This is on heavy rotation in the winter when it’s totally dark at bath time. Just be sure no one bites the glow stick too hard (been there, wish I hadn’t).
  • What is it with those suction cups that stick to the wall? They are SO fun. But mine are also cool with a Solo cup. If it pours, it plays.
  • Speaking of pouring, one of their favorite activities is to dump out the contents of little hotel-sized shampoos and create “concoctions,” faces shrewd as scientists in a lab, as they dip and shake and pour.
  • You know what they say about leading a horse to water… there is this bath paint/soap in the Target Dollar Spot that will have my kids running to the tub. Forget not wanting to get in – I’m dragging them out.

For us, it’s all in the routine. Once the bedtime bath happens, we aren’t headed back outside, we aren’t finishing a Play Doh pizza, and for heaven’s sake we are not starting a 200-piece puzzle. Even when the bath is raucous – which it mostly is – it’s part of the wind-down. Maybe for you, a bath is a dip in a lake or pool or ocean. Maybe it’s running through sprinklers or a rainstorm at the end of the day. I think it’s all fair game.

But as far as I’m concerned, the old writers knew what was up: “Where the waters do agree,” Jane Austen wrote, “it is quite wonderful the relief they give.” I’ll take all the bath bombs and tiny squirting penguins. I’ll wipe that river off the bathroom floor night after night in the name of hygiene and a better night’s sleep for the children (and thus, me). Also, I am yet to find a finer smell than that of a baby freshly soaped and combed, a better feeling than the warm weight of a towel-wrapped toddler in my arms.

How many more nights will I lather their hair into unicorn horns, will I watch them marvel at the wrinkles on the pads of their fingers and toes? How many more nights until they’re arguing over who gets the first shower, until this tub sits empty of foam letters and popsicle sticks? Too few.

Hampton Williams Hofer lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and raises babies. Her work has appeared in Flying South, Walter Magazine, Architectural Digest, and Food 52, among others. Family aside, her great loves are a South Carolina beach, a Roger Federer backhand, a Charlottesville lawn, and—most of all—a good story.