Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the archives. "My MIL won't babyproof!"

Dear Goodjoan.

My mother-in-law's house is not baby proofed at all. My 1 year old son is her fourth grandchild and she has never bothered. I keep a close eye on him when we are there to make sure he doesn't hurt himself or wreck anything but she leaves things on the coffee table and end tables, like candles, vases of flowers and knickknacks, etc. Is it my responsibility to clean up after messes he makes, or if he breaks something? Should I run around and put stuff up out of his reach as soon as we get there, or is that her responsibility?

I know this is a difficult position because you don't want your son to get hurt, nor do you want any of the bric-a-brac getting broken but you'd also like to sit down for a moment during your visit! My advice here is different than if you were just popping over to a childless friends house because I am assuming your MIL's house is someplace you go often and someplace your son's needs should be met to some degree. If your MIL hasn't changed anything yet, she probably feels like it's your responsibility to teach your son to not touch things, rather than her job to protect him from things that are dangerous or fragile. Unfortunately, kids don't start developing what we'd call self-control until they are 2.5 or older! He is incapable right now of NOT touching those things!

 First, start with a phone call before you visit. "Mom, we are coming over tomorrow and I wanted to ask you ahead of time to maybe pickup or put away any fragile things from where Baby can reach them. We are trying to teach him to be respectful and gentle with things but he's still so little that he doesn't really understand that not everything is a baby toy. You have such beautiful things in your home that I would be heartbroken if he accidentally broke something. He's also gotten very curious since he started walking and I know you wouldn't want him to pull a flower vase onto his head or anything like that, that might hurt him. Gosh, I had no idea babies were so fast! You know what? The other day I was at a friends house and I ended up leaving early and not getting to visit very long because her house wasn't baby proofed and the baby was into Everything and I just couldn't keep up!"

Then, when you do arrive, start redecorating. Bring adjustable gates with you and block off hallways or stairs, or trap Baby in one room with you. If necessary for you in-laws, bring the swinging style gates that they can open and walk through. Bring a hand full of outlet covers, they are cheap, and stick them in the outlets as you see them or as your son discovers them. Leave them there when you leave. If there are cabinets he likes, bring some kitchen cabinet locks that go around the door handles. When you have a safe area staked out for him, walk around yourself and pick up anything you KNOW is going to get manhandled by the baby. Flower vases, ceramic birds, and remote controls, whatever and move them to higher shelves or to another room. If your MIL is uncomfortable with you moving things, or asks you to stop, leave them there but FREAK OUT every time he touches one. I don't mean just lean over and take it away, I mean Yelp like someone poked you with a stick, jump up in a flurry of waving arms, gently take the item from the baby (don't yell at the baby or make him think he's doing anything wrong if he's not!) and run with wide eyes to your MIL, hand the item to her and proclaim horrifically "This almost got BROKEN!!" She'll probably start picking up before your visits just so you won't act like such a nutcase anymore!

If she continues to leave breakables around you can do one of two things, let him go wild and break anything he can get his hands on, being careful that he doesn't hurt himself and she doesn't scold him for what is really her own error, or you can remove him from a few things and then just say "I'm sorry, but he's getting into everything and I can't even sit down. We're going to need to go now because he's only going to get more frustrated and frustrating or something's going to get broken." Then pack up and go home. If it's important to your MIL that you come and have fun and stay for a while, she will start being more of a partner in caring for your son's safety and less of a liability. Certainly, as Baby gets older it's important to teach him that the rules are different in Grandma's house and some things aren't for touching. Kids do understand that and will act accordingly, but they have to be old enough to grasp the concept of personal safety and being gentle first and you're not there yet! 

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