There's nothing quite like bathing your child: When they're a newborn, it's super cute. As children get older, it's fun to start adding all kinds of bath toys and games. And then there are those days when, for the sake of everyone's sanity, it just makes sense for everyone to hop into the shower, parents and kids alike. And yet, this British mom was shamed for bathing with her son. 27-year-old mom and British singer Stacey Solomon was criticized for posting an Instagram of herself in the bath with her two sons, 9-year-old Zachary and 5-year-old Leighton.
On a recent episode of a U.K. talk show, Solomon had to defend the photo after 92 percent of the studio audience thought she shouldn't be bathing with her kids, according to Us Weekly. "I’m not horrified at all," Solomon said, adding, "Anyone who’s horrified at the thought of parents sharing a bath with their children I think has issues. It’s each to their own."
Teaching kids about bodily autonomy while still introducing issues of modesty is a complicated set of topics for any parent. Just head to any parenting forum and you'll see that "what age to stop bathing with your kids" is a hot topic with some pretty fervent opinions on all sides of the debate. But what does science have to say about it? As it turns out, showering or bathing with your kid isn't going to irreparably harm them for the rest of their lives — and much of that has to do with how the concepts of nudity, modesty, and bodily autonomy are treated within the home.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Child Sex Abuse found that only 23.8 percent of more than 700 parents surveyed believed that children and parents should never bathe together, at any age. The vast majority of respondents felt that children bathing or showering with their parents was "suitable" for children at some ages. The researchers broke their study down further and found that on average, most parents felt that bathing and showering with their kids was appropriate up until around ages 3 to 4. Father-daughter bathing age appropriateness was found to be slightly lower, at age 2, but showering together seemed fine up until age 4.
Of course, this 2013 study only surveys what parents think is appropriate: Psychologists have offered their take as well. In Sexuality: A Developmental Approach to Problems, first published in 1995 and updated in 2013, researchers Betty N. Gordon and Carolyn S. Schroeder note that children "naturally develop a sense of modesty" by ages 5 or 6. Gordon and Schroeder recommend that parents "sensitive to their children's cues" should limit nudity around their children at that age. But what about in Solomon's case, where one son is right on the cusp of what science deems "appropriate" and another who is well above that age range? There's no hard and fast answer, and like so many aspects of parenting, is unique to every individual family.
Cultural notions about nudity can make the concept of bathing and showering with kids something fraught with anxiety, or a non-issue entirely: The two times I've been to Japan, I've gone to an onsen, a public mineral bath. While segregated by sex, I was in a massive bathing room with dozens of older women, women my age, and even a few girls who couldn't have been more than 10 years old. It was a spiritually refreshing and emotionally liberating experience for me, being able to see women and girls of all shapes, sizes, and ages be so in the moment and dropping all notions of body shame. For the girls who were present, it was just the norm.
Does science say that children are harmed by bathing with their parents? Not really: As children grow and develop, they'll typically let their parents know if they don't want to hop in with mom or dad in the shower. Is Solomon wrong for bathing with her sons? Honestly, that's not my — or anyone else's — place to judge. If it works for her family, then why should we care?