I’m the only one who knocks

Privacy during parenthood? What is this of which you speak?

When you have small children, personal privacy goes out the window. A young family is all up in each other’s biology. From breastfeeding to changing diapers to needing to urinate while holding a sleeping baby,1 the necessity of action gets in the way of any notion of privacy.

With our oldest child, it was not uncommon for her to sit on her stool in the bathroom while I took a shower. When the kid required more or less constant supervision, this is the only way a shower could happen if I was at home by myself. As she got older and we could leave her alone in a room for 10 minutes without worrying about her impending death,2 showers became a solo activity again–although not always without interruption. For our second daughter, this was much earlier because the sisters could “watch” each other.3

When toilet use commences for a child, it’s an exciting time for his or her parents. No more diapers is a Big Deal, and because it is a Big Deal you give it bathroom priority. I am still so happy that my three-year-old is using the toilet at all that who cares if she interrupts my shower time?4 As bladder control improves, we can start sending her to the other bathroom. But, like all habits, it’s a gradual build.

The girls are also figuring out their own privacy needs. They will often want to be alone, but not know the best way to go about it. They share a room, so you think that that would be the point of contention, but more often, they want to be alone in one of the public areas of the house. I still find myself saying, “It’s OK to want to be alone, but the living room is not a good place.” Also, both of the girls think they can set parameters on who is allowed to look at them while at the dinner table. Anyone know where I can buy some Peril Sensitive Sunglasses?

Part of reclaiming a portion of our privacy is modeling the behavior we’d like to see. Instead of yelling up the stairs to the playroom “Dinner’s ready!”, I walk up there and tell the girls in person. If the girls’ bedroom door is closed, I knock and announce myself before I come in. If my wife, Kat, has the door to our bedroom closed I make sure that I knock even though she wouldn’t care if I just came in.

We also make a conscious decision to keep the doors in the house open most of the time. A closed door means something…but so does an open one. If I’m reading on my bed and the door is open, it says “Please come cuddle with me.” Much of the time I forget that and feel grumpy that I was interrupted. It’s really hard for me to find the balance, but I think I should err on the side of being glad that my girls want to spend time with me. I want some personal space back, but I know that we are approaching the point where the privacy pendulum starts to swing back the other way. My girls want to be around me right now, but soon I will be the one learning new privacy boundaries with them.

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  1. The challenge is not so much in the urination itself but with the refastening of one’s clothing afterward. 
  2. Lexapro helps me not worry about this all the time. 
  3. The list of bad things that could happen in the house that would cause both of the girls to lose the ability to scream simultaneously is much shorter than if they were alone. Redundant systems, like NASA. 
  4. My hallmates for two years in Virginia Tech’s East Ambler Johnston referred to this as SHOWATIME (ʃawə tajm) and will forever be in my brain. 

photo by Robin Taylor

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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