Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you had parents who used cloth diapers when you were a baby?
My parents sure did, and it wasn’t because they were concerned about the environment or that my sister and I were allergic to disposable diapers. They used cloth diapers because they were absolutely broke and couldn’t afford even the most inexpensive of disposable diapers. I grew up hearing my parents tell stories of sticking themselves with diaper pins, battling the diaper rash that the plastic pants they used as covers often incurred, and hauling the big, sloppy wet pail full of diapers to the washing machine.
Needless to say, when I became a parent, I didn’t give a single thought to using cloth diapers.
Yet when our oldest daughter was ten months old, I discovered that all but the most expensive disposable diapers caused her to break out in a rash and we were too broke to keep up with diaper costs. It was at that point that I began to give a lot of thought to cloth diapers.
My husband was supportive of the change, but he was also a little surprised. At that time, we were not the stereotypical cloth diapering parents. Believe it or not, five years ago we were what you might call a fairly “mainstream” family. Browsing cloth diapering websites, message boards, and online stores was an entirely new world for me.
Is there a stereotypical cloth diapering family?
I decided to do some informal social network polling, and I received an array of responses. @TheTraintoCrazy said, “I think cloth diapering is pretty mainstream. I don’t see a stereotypical cloth diaperer anymore” while @ELWhitney responded that she fits the stereotype because they don’t vaccinate, practiced extended breastfeeding, co-sleep, babywear, and made their own baby food.
Photo by Amy Stempkowski
As I read through the variety of responses about what stereotypes come to mind of families who choose cloth diapers, I noticed five themes reflecting what we think of when we discover that someone cloth diapers their little ones.
1. People who choose cloth diapers are really poor or really rich.
Sometimes this one is accurate, and sometimes it isn’t. The truth is that many families do use cloth diapers as a way of living frugally. However, the start-up costs for cloth diapering systems can be a financial burden, and without the assistance of a group like the Cloth Diaper Foundation or kind-hearted individuals who are willing to pass their cloth diaper stash on for free to families in need, there are quite a few families who would like to cloth diaper but simply can’t afford it.
As more celebrities are choosing to cloth diaper their children, in certain circles it may be considered the chic choice to make. Certainly there may be parents in upper socioeconomic tiers who choose to cloth diaper, but most of the families I know who use cloth diapers are just average, middle class people who have chosen cloth for a variety of reasons.
2. People who choose cloth diapers are very into crunchy/granola/green living.
Photo by Crystal Biehl
This is probably the most recognized stereotype of the cloth diapering parent. As Tsh wrote in 3 Compelling Reasons to Try Cloth Diapering, “In the U.S. alone, 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown in landfills each year, taking around 500 years to decompose. Disposable diapers make up the third largest item in landfills, after newspapers and food and beverage containers.”
I think it is an accurate assessment that many cloth diapering families feel a strong conviction to care for the planet and to make responsible choices (particularly when it comes to limiting waste).
I did, however, hear from parents who feel that their lifestyle doesn’t quite match up with the green living lifestyle. Some shared that they drive SUVs or they don’t line dry their diapers or they use disposable plates and napkins, all choices which they felt excluded them from being typical “crunchy” cloth diapering families.
@LifeWithLevi offered this insight: “I cloth diaper for the money savings, so sometimes it’s awkward when people assume I’m doing it to save the environment. Don’t get me wrong, I am a bit of a tree hugger, but that’s not the main reason we use cloth.”
3. People who choose cloth diapers just love to do laundry.
I do have to confess that I don’t hate doing laundry, but there is quite a difference between not hating something and loving to do something, don’t you think? Every cloth diapering family works out a laundry system that works for them. I chose to wash a load of diapers every other evening.
Once I found my groove, it just became a natural part of my evening routine, and I never felt that having a child in cloth diapers meant having to do an excessive amount of laundry.
4. People who choose cloth diapers have a high tolerance for the “ick factor.”
Photo by Karen McVey
I had to giggle at my friend Jen‘s insight about how people respond when they find out she cloth diapers: “I am often asked why I would want to touch poop. Ummm . . . you still deal with baby poop with disposables, last I checked!” The biggest question mark many non-cloth diapering parents have about the logistics of using cloth has to do with poop.
Technically, all human waste should be disposed of in the toilet, not just the kind that ends up in a cloth diaper. And anyone who has parented a child in diapers of any kind knows that at some point, there is going to be close encounters of the icky kind with the contents of diapers.
In my experience, cloth diapers were much more effective at containing those infamous diaper blow-outs that happen so often with new babies, and so in some ways, cloth diapering helped me escape the “ick factor” for a few months.
It’s true that once a little one starts solids that things get a little more complicated, however there are handy devices like The Diaper Sprayer to make life easier (you can also make one). Also, when the contents of those dirty diapers are dealt with immediately, your home doesn’t contain a trace of that dirty diaper smell!
5. People who chose cloth diapers have a lot of extra time on their hands.
One stereotype of the cloth diapering family is that one of the parents must be a stay-at-home parent because cloth diapering takes up extra time. I can only speak to my own experience, but other than a load of laundry every other evening, cloth diapering didn’t require any extra time from me.
Photo by Mama Oh Baby
This idea may cause those who are potentially interested to think they can’t fully commit to it. At Simple Organic this week, I shared about how cloth diapering does not have to be an all-or-nothing choice.
Part-time cloth diapering is a wonderful way to make a choice that is healthy for a child as well as for the planet, even if cloth diapering can’t be done around the clock.
“I think I used to think of cloth diapering as a endevour of the crunchy types, but now I think with the recession and more and more people trying to stretch their money, cloth diapering is also a venture of more frugal types. Me? I’m a little crunchy, a little frugal, so cloth diapering makes sense for us.“
I would love to hear your contribution to this discussion! Do you think there is a stereotypical cloth diapering family? If you cloth diaper, do you fit the mold or break the mold of the conventional view on families who cloth diaper?