Today I read an article online that talked about when to stop kissing your kids on the mouth. In my opinion it was completely ridiculous and I found myself becoming infuriated by how humans find a way to make everything dirty.
For starters, I come from an affectionate family. We always kissed our parents on the mouth and, in fact, I still do. I have also always kissed aunts and uncles and close family friends on the mouth as well. My parents never forced me to do this, it’s just something we did.
My husband and I kiss our daughter on the mouth and I hope she never feels ashamed to do so.
Reading that article prompted me to think of how many people bath with their children in the western world. Because if kissing your kids on the mouth is taboo, then bathing together most certainly would be too.
Here in Japan, people bath together. Public baths are common and popular. In fact onsens, as they are called in Japanese, are one if my most favorite things about Japan. A traditional onsen has water from a natural hot spring and the waters are claimed to have healing benefits.
I went to my first onsen a month after moving here. It was winter and this bath was outside and surrounded by snow. It was one of the most beautiful baths I have ever seen. I’ll admit, I was extremely nervous and self conscious about disrobing in front of the other women. But by the time I walked to the bath and got to soaking in the milky white water and felt the snow falling on my head all my self consciousness melted away. I was hooked.
In the last ten years that I have lived in Japan I have learned many things, one of them is that my body is nothing to be ashamed of. In western culture we are often taught at an early age to feel shame about being nude. This is a cycle we are hoping to break with our daughter. Of course, modesty is still important to us and we don’t want her to dress in a risqué fashion but we don’t want her to feel shame about her body in any way.
In Japan, it may surprise you to hear, bath time is typically the responsibility of the father. When you take a bath here you first shower up and then soak in the tub. Often times, the same water is used by all family members and it is kept heated until the last person has their soak. This might sound strange but if you’re not washing in the tub, then it’s no different than a hot tub or swimming pool.
Back to my point, fathers are typically the ones that do the bathing with the children. Fathers and sons and fathers and daughters. Sometimes fathers, sons and daughters all together when they are small enough to fit in the tub together. A female usually bathes with her dad until she enters Jr. High School. Then she might bathe with her mother or sister. I can imagine all the thoughts that might be going through your head while reading this, but there is nothing untoward about this practice. As my friend put it, “Here in Japan we are used to bathing together because of the onsens. Public bathing is common and we undress around each other so there is no worry about undressing around your family. When we hide our bodies from each other we begin to think of our differences in a different way. It changes the way we think about our sexuality.”
In our house, we both share bathing duties. When Violet was a newborn she bathed in the small baby tub a few times and in the sink as well. But I soon figured out that just getting in the bath with her was the easiest way to do it. Japanese bathtubs are very deep, you can’t just lean over the edge and give a bath to a child. Getting in together is definitely easier.
As an infant, often times she would nurse to sleep in the bathtub and I would transition her to Daddies arms and we would carefully dress her and lay her in our family bed. It was calm and peaceful and an easy way to get to down for the night.
In the last couple of years bath time has become Daddy/daughter time. Violet loves her bath with her Daddy. The laugh and splash and giggle and play for at least half an hour. It’s a great way for them to get some time together one on one and for stay at home moms it also gives mama a short break.
Dad’s of exclusively breastfed babies are often looking for ways to bond with their children. When mothers breastfeed we get that skin to skin contact that is so important between parent and baby. It’s important for Dads to have this opportunity as well. Co-bathing is a great way for Dads to do that.
There is no reason to be afraid or ashamed of being nude around your baby or young child. We have always taught our daughter the proper terms for our body parts and she knows that Daddy’s body is a little different than hers and mommy’s but it is not something that she focuses on. She asked about her Daddy’s body each time at first and we answered very honestly and openly. Now, it’s not an issue at all.
Violet knows that no one is allowed to touch her body and that we don’t take off our clothes around people we don’t know (except at the onsen when we are all together). We teach boundaries and awareness and always try to foster openness.