Parenting debate: Is there anything wrong with dads bathing their daughters?

Eve Dugdale
Eve Dugdale - Special to Al Arabiya English
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After a long day in the office, I must admit I love getting home to find my partner and toddler daughter in the bath together.

It still amuses me to see this 6”1’ bearded man hunched over in a tub filled with grapefruit-scented bubbles while a three-year-old tyrant splashes him or plays some game that inevitably involves him wincing as she clutches his hairy chest.

The last few times I’ve walked in during bath time, he’s been teaching her phonics with rubber bath letters. Of course this makes me extra happy – not only am I off bathing duties that night, there’s vital father and daughter bonding going on and education as well; win all round!

So I was baffled when I read a story recently about a woman who’d told her husband he couldn’t bathe their two daughters anymore because they had “different body parts”.

Apparently the Australian mum was happy with her husband to continue bathing their son but not their two daughters in case the children grew up to think their dad was a paedophile.

Explaining her reasons on Facebook, the mother said her husband was “upset” and thought she was “ill” for placing the bath time ban but she said it’s “always been this way for me”.

While most people shared my disbelief at this story, there were those who could understand the mother’s point of view.

UAE-based mum of three boys and a girl, Saher Shaikh says there could be many reasons for the mother’s decision - from past trauma in her childhood to different cultural norms.

She says: “Whilst I understand and applaud those who think it’s completely natural, I would have felt awkward with anyone other than myself bathing our kids from the ages of three upwards. My husband is an absolutely fantastic, doting father and has been amazing with diaper changes, helping to bathe the kids when they were little and is still involved with bedtime. As our kids got older, he wouldn’t want them walking in on him in the bathroom though.

“Bath time isn’t sexualised in my mind at all but I was raised with the idea that our bodies are extremely beautiful, precious and private and I try to maintain my children’s personal privacy. They don’t have to hug uncles and aunties they don’t know or are comfortable with, they have the right to refuse to be in pictures, they can wear what they want, their bodies are theirs alone, not for me or anybody else to decide what they should feel comfortable with.

“Maybe the parent’s decision in this case isn’t anything to do with sexualising bath time or not trusting the father, maybe it’s just cultural conditioning about raising their kids with a sense of how precious their bodies are and respecting their privacy. I was raised that way and I guess I’ve been passing that on. My husband was raised similarly so it’s not been an issue for us.”

Yousuf Saifuddin says: “Kids are more perceptive today because of evolution. Their understanding of the world develops faster in today’s internet age so I agree with the wife here.”

Offering up a different perspective is British mum-of-one Kate Wright. She fears the mother in this case may have become unnecessarily paranoid because of things she may have seen in the news.

She says: “My husband sometimes gets in the bath with our daughter and I think it's great for them to have some time together splashing about. The fact that their genitals are different means nothing. At four years old, Phoebe's understanding of genitals is that they allow people to go to the toilet. My dad used to get in the bath with me when I was little but then no one even understood what paedophilia was and would never jump to a conclusion of anything other than innocent bonding time.

“The sexualisation of pretty much everything in society has led to people viewing innocent acts as deviant behaviour. Child abuse is not an everyday occurrence for most people, despite the media portrayal. Openness within families about private parts is more likely to prevent potentially inappropriate behaviour being kept a secret.”

Doctor Tara Wyne, a Clinical Psychologist at mental health and wellbeing centre, Lighthouse Arabia echoes Kate’s sentiments. She believes fathers performing similar duties to mothers has a beneficial effect on the children rather than a negative one.

She says: “Research actually suggests that parents, especially fathers, who engage in a variety of acts of child care such as bathing, changing diapers and cleaning up sick kids, protects them in the long run from sexualising their children. When you have engaged in intimate acts of care as a parent it can actually be protective of appropriate boundaries rather than encouraging crossing them.”

There will come a time when dads and daughters want things to change and that’s only natural, says Dr Wyne.

She adds: “I think that parents should provide intimate care to their children for as long as it is developmentally appropriate. We should take our cues from how conscious the children are of their bodies and privacy. We should be aware of a child’s sense of dignity and privacy and their ability to independently bathe or do other personal self-care tasks.

“There are cultures which discourage parents of the opposite sex from engaging in acts of intimate care. Clearly we have to respect that their traditions are more conservative and cautious. It’s important to have sensitivity in judging people’s motivations.

“In general distrust between spouses and rules regarding who may do what with the children can be corrosive to marriage and also send undermining messages within the family about safety and security.”

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