The first time I’d left my daughter alone in the tub for the entire duration of her splash-time was a month after her 7th birthday. Three months later it has only happened two more times, all with growing confidence. She even selects the tempered water and remembers to shut off the hot first. 

My partner and I had been working our way up to this spectacular moment of independence, which we accounted as “filling heights, washing, playing (including watching mom’s special over-the-tub TV), draining, and self-toweling”. We weren’t ready sooner than that. Also, while there has only been 3 instances total, that number should have been higher. However, our daughter still calls to us for the occasional soap in the eye removal-assistance, and she loves when I wrap her up in one of our huge towels and turn her into a blonde burrito. 

I’m confident in three more moths I’m going to gain a full time independent showering, bathing blondie, and lose a tiny piece of her childhood where she depended on us completely. That’s okay. I cherish her request for burrito wraps now, when before I was indifferent. 

The bigger picture here is knowing when you can just trust them enough to be safe and use the time well, and that they have found their own confidence to manage the situation. The answer is found in incrementalism. 

First and always from the time she could comprehend, it was bath safety. Sitting up alone, which knob is hot, no jumping in the tub. She’d memorized the ideal positions of the water valves. Water heigh is always so important. As a baby, it was about 2 inches. Now it’s enough to cover oneself for comfort. Then we started to leave her alone for 30 seconds. Then a minute. The after a while, two and three and five minutes. Then letting the water out. 

The harder part for us was not the bath safety, but actually getting her to wash with soap and condition her hair. That took about six months. I was getting frustrated. It worked when we were there like helicopters. She just was having too much fun, and I realized finally what was happening when we were gone. Toys. So out went the distractions like bubbles and mermaids for a short while, and the progress happened quickly. 

Rinsing came next. Shampoo in the eye took a few tries and a simple game of “guess what’s in the sky” sorted it out. We’d pick an imaginary silly object that was flying on the ceiling and give simple clues unless she figured it out, while rinsing her hair. They she rinsed her own hair while we guessed what she was thinking of, and finally, on her own there too. The last part was getting her to hang the towel back on the hook to dry. That one was a struggle. 

Bath time can be exhausting for a parent. Even two parents. But now every few times she’s not using the shower, my partner and I can have a nearby conversation alone, catching up. Safety, drowning of course, is always the number one fear. But so is slip and fall. We have to assemble our children’s minds for independent success in a way we see fit, usually education and career, but also self-care. And when you do, it feels great. 

I’ll always walk over when she calls me to wrap her in our giant towels to be turned into a burrito because as much as I want her to be fully independent, giggles and laughter are a greater treasure.