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Parental Advisory: My sister-in-law changes her baby’s diaper on my couch

Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let’s talk about changing a baby’s diaper in someone else’s home.


Hi there! I have a question about my sister-in-law. Normally, I get along pretty well with her and my brother, who had their first baby earlier this year (who is very cute and whom I adore). However, over Thanksgiving she did something that she’s done two other times since having the baby, and I’m at the point where I can’t take it anymore. Instead of getting up and taking my niece to the bathroom to change her dirty diapers (and yes, I am talking about poo here), she will just put my niece either on my rug or on the couch and change her there. I don’t understand why she does this, as I have a perfectly spacious bathroom where everyone else goes…and my other friends with babies have never changed their baby’s diaper on my couch when they come over, so I’m not used to having to deal with it.

The truth is, I think it’s disgusting and I don’t want my niece’s dirty diapers on my couch or my rug. She also changed her once on my kitchen table as we were in the middle of talking like it was no big deal. I keep waiting for her to come to her senses and realize how uncomfortable this makes me (and my husband, and our friends if they’re here), but she hasn’t. I’m wondering if you think it’s OK that I say something to her about it, and when? My husband thinks I may have missed my window to say something since I’ve already watched her do this several times and not said a word, but I’m starting to imagine her setting up a training potty in my living room two years from now and I feel nauseous just thinking about it. What is the best way to address this without upsetting her and my brother? I like seeing my niece, I just want her diapers to be changed in the bathroom! Thanks!

— M.


Dirty diapers are already the bane of any young parent’s existence, so your sister-in-law’s decision (which is apparently endorsed by your brother) to make dirty diapers the bane of other people’s existence really stinks, literally. It makes me wonder if she also changes her baby on tray tables in airplanes or on tables in restaurants since one bad behavior begets another. Nearly every week, I come across a new story about someone who’s inappropriately changed his or her baby in some public location, and the attitude generally displayed by the parent is, “Get over it. It’s no big deal. What else was I supposed to do? Mind your own business. Call me when you’re a parent,” etc., etc.

As recently as two weeks ago, a major news site in Australia published a post titled “Cafe nappy change leads to nasty review exchange” in which a parent asserted via a Google review that a café manager had been rude to her when she “said in quite a critical tone that she didn’t think it was appropriate to change my baby” on one of the café’s dining tables. The customer went on to write: “To this woman and the 2 other customers who made comments regarding this. Mothers don’t need your judgment or criticism. We have enough pressure and stress we deal with on a daily basis. We rarely get the opportunity to get out and have a coffee amidst the long list of things we are doing for our families every single day. I am sorry (not sorry) you are so terribly offended by a tiny baby’s tiny little dirty nappy and that you think it necessary to criticise.” As the story goes on to note, the woman’s message was not met with much sympathy. It turns out that many, if not most, people are actually pretty offended by a “tiny baby’s tiny little dirty nappy,” despite the mother’s insistence that she’s in the right.

Image: STFU Parents

This is similar to your sister-in-law, M., in the sense that she clearly thinks you’re not — or shouldn’t be — offended by her use of your couch, rug or kitchen counter as a changing table. It doesn’t sound like you’ve seen her change your niece’s diaper in a public place along the same lines (on a park bench, perhaps), but it wouldn’t surprise me if she does. And that’s why you definitely need to say something to her about the dirty diapers and let her know the appropriate place to change them — so she knows not do it in other people’s homes too, much less on a restaurant table. There’s only one appropriate place as it pertains to your house, so it shouldn’t be too difficult a concept for her to grasp. The issue isn’t so much the information that’s being transferred since that part is extremely straightforward if not outright obvious. (I’m wondering if you’ll even need to finish the sentence if you begin by saying, “When it comes to changing X’s diaper at our house, would you mind…”) It’s more about how to bring it up without pissing off not only your sister-in-law, but also potentially your brother and parents for “creating conflict” or some such nonsense. But I don’t think you have anything to worry about so long as you keep it short and to the point. Think of it as a polite request rather than a speech, and consider it to be the same thing as requesting that someone remove their muddy shoes (ew). I’ve had people ask me to take off my shoes at their home at least a zillion times and haven’t been offended, so the same thing should theoretically apply here.

Universal Studios
Image: STFU Parents

What’s interesting about your question, though, is that it does raise a good point about parents and sensitivity. As the mother in the Brisbane café conveyed, parents are often flustered and feel as though people are judging them, and some parents simply can’t handle that judgment. Hopefully in your sister-in-law’s case, she’ll immediately apologize for past diaper changes, say, “no problem,” and never give you a reason to bring it up again. But if not, just have a few talking points prepared that don’t include the words “repulsive,” “bacterial nightmare” or “fucking disgusting.” Those would probably be the first words to jump out of your mouth, but try to finesse them into something lighter. That being said, if she pushes back in some way or takes offense to your polite request (in your own home), you’re well within your rights to say you just want to keep things sanitary or you’re concerned about bodily waste touching the table off of which you cook and eat.

This is one of the few times that you’ll ever have complete jurisdiction over where a parent changes her baby’s dirty diaper, so you actually have an opportunity to effect real change! Maybe your breezy remark that “the bathroom is free” or quick request that she change your niece in the bathroom from now on instead will make her rethink other diaper changes in the future. Maybe she’s just comfortable with changing her daughter on your couch because she thinks you’re comfortable with it, so it’s up to you (or your husband) to let her know. Another idea is mentioning it to your brother first, even if he’s not the one who changed a dirty diaper on the couch. It’s 2016, so I’m assuming he does in fact change his kid’s diapers along with his wife, and it might be easier to approach him first and ask him to pass along the request to your sister-in-law ahead of any future hangouts. That might be mildly passive-aggressive, but it’s a painless solution, and it’s what siblings are for. Much like your brother and sister-in-law had a reasonable expectation for you to love and spend time with their new baby, you have a reasonable expectation for them to wipe the baby’s butt on a surface in a room with a toilet.

Ocean nappy
Image: STFU Parents

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