HouseholdParenting Fails

Babyproofing. . .Sort Of

My twins are officially crawling, and one is pulling to stand using whatever’s handy (furniture, our legs, the cat).  Having roving children made me research baby-proofing, which in turn made me realize that we have definitely failed as parents.

Though the decorative scrolling on what I now realize is the Coffee Table of Doom seemed innocuous before, now the therapists who come to our house to work with the boys make polite suggestions: “I hear Home Depot has baby proofing supplies,” they say with a little lift at the end of their phrases to indicate that they’re only politely suggesting, and are not crazy concerned.

I understand their confusion.  Normally, when my kids’ therapists suggest we do something, I am on top of it.  So they must be totally thrown at my complete and utter lack of motivation for fixing this death trap of a house.

Here’s the thing though, my sons crawled into the edges of the coffee table a couple of times, but quickly learned to drop to a belly crawl when approaching the table, while under it, and for a few inches as they come out.  To me, this seems like a problem that’s solved itself.

Don’t get me wrong—we’re not trying to kill our children.  We hit the basics: covered power outlets, blocked access to power cords, moved the cleaning supplies to an upper cupboard, and put a gate at the bottom and top of the stairs.

But we stopped there, and I’m starting to think my line for baby-proofing is a little more lax than it “should” be, but that it’s probably ok despite the countless lists of baby-proofing “must haves” on parenting websites that make it clear that our house  is a baby death trap., for example lists nine “must haves,” of which we have two. Here’s why:

Bath Spout cover – Nope

We don’t have a faucet cover for the bath, or even a rubber bath mat in the bath because one of us is either in the tub with them or right next to them for every bath. Sure, they wriggle, but we swoop ‘em up when they slide, and they are fine. They don’t hit the spout, and instead shove their heads under the running water for fun. When my kids are Olympic divers, I will credit this parenting fail.

Safety Door Stop  – Nope.  We might get ’em later though

I see these foam thingies at the store that you put between the door and frame, and they look nifty. . .but they prevent the door from closing, and that’s pretty key to our baby containment measures. For now, I can’t see a reason to get them, and if I only had one kid, this wouldn’t even be on my radar, but with two, I suspect I’m going to need them.

Table corner guards – Nope

The quick and dirty solution? A pool noodle sliced along its length and shoved over hard shelf corners. They pull the sucker off their low bookshelf, but it does the job. Why haven’t we covered the Coffee Table of Doom this way?  Probably because it makes the living room look like a scene from Hoarders, and within days of learning to crawl, both boys learned to avoid the corners without earning so much as a bruise in the process.

Toilet seat cover locks – Don’t have ’em, not sure if we need to

We close our toilet lids and our bathroom doors because our pets have unhealthy fixations with toilet bowls. But, I can see the twins figuring out how to lift those suckers and play in the water when they’re old enough for potty training, so if need be, I’ll get locks.

Outlet Covers – Yes

Half of our outlets are covered with these, and half by heavy furniture in front of them. I’m also obsessive about covering cords to the same degree the twins are obsessive about finding them. Fortunately, they are easily distracted, and simply placing throw rugs over the cords is enough to make them lose interest. Other than our house looking like the inside of a rug store on clearance day, it works for me.

Doorknob Locks/Covers – Nope

(pic credit Dave Herholz)
(pic credit Lynn Kelley)

These ugly doorknob covers require users to squeeze and turn instead of just turning the door.  Besides seeming unnecessarily cruel to any visitors who have arthritis, I have seen too many kids defeat them. I suspect we’ll just rely on strategically placed baby gates or a hook and eye placed out of reach and decide on these when the kids start to walk.

Cabinet and Drawer Latches – Don’t have ’em, and have NO intentions of buying them.

We eliminated the need for these by moving our stuff. First, I used baby-proofing as an excuse to get rid of the massive amounts of crap we’ve managed to hang onto. Second, I moved all the dangerous stuff to upper cabinets in the living room and bathroom. Third, I set up a baby play cabinet and drawer in the kitchen, and a play drawer in the bathroom. All the other drawers and cabinets are shut to prying fingers through the expedient use of pipe cleaners and rubber bands. The play cabinet and drawers contain old pans, plates, serving spoons and other things that we don’t use.

Medicine Safe (I kid you not:  here’s proof) – awww hell no.

We don’t have a lot of medicine, even if you include things like diaper rash creme or Neosporin in that category (which, you probably should). The medicine is located on the top shelf of our bathroom closet, and vitamins are on the top shelf of the spice cupboard. That seems safe enough to me. Again, my kids are easily distracted, so out of reach and out of sight equals out of mind.

Baby Gates – Yep

My small one year old can knock down a tension-rod baby gate with only a few minutes of determined effort, and this kid is the king of determination. So, we have a baby gate at the top and bottom of the stairs (not tension mounted), and a pet gate between the kitchen and back room where the pet stuff is kept (since kitty litter and dry pet food apparently emit a siren song). The pet gate specifically says that it’s not for use with children; but unfortunately Amazon did not, so we didn’t know that until we got it open. Ironically, it is the only tension gate that withstands my sons’ assaults.

Tethering The Big Stuff

I was surprised not to see anything on the list about securing heavy furniture to the wall. We’re fortunate that we don’t have a ton of heavy furniture, and for the most part, a trip to home depot’s S&M section took care of the few things we’re tethering.  The only exception are these cheap tethers for flat screen TVs that prevent them from falling on and killing my curious kids.

So that’s it. In addition to tethering, we have only two of the nine “must have” baby proofing items. We joke that it’s a parenting fail, but it works for us for a couple of reasons.

hmmm. . .what will I get into today? (credit Dave Herholz on Flickr)
hmmm. . .what will I get into today? (credit Dave Herholz)

First, kids learning to navigate the house and explore is immensely rewarding, and adapting to an environment that has the occasional hard surface, “no zone” or pointy edge is part of their exploration and understanding of the world. Allowing them to experiment and learn that one cabinet holds play opportunities while another is boring and difficult to open is part of providing them with puzzles and a rich and interesting learning environment.

Second, the world is not baby proofed. Learning some measure of caution (falling down hurts! I need to look a this surface before running at it!) is good for helping them survive out there.

Ultimately, for me the problem is not baby-proofing itself. It is that baby-proofing isn’t the black-and-white you’re-a-good-parent-or-not issue that websites and magazines make it out to be. It’s highly individualised, and based on personality and the home you live in. It’s also not a once in a life time decision. What doesn’t need proofing now may later and vice versa.

So, for now minimal baby-proofing works for me, and whatever works for you may be something different. And the Coffee Table of Doom is just going to have to stay.


Deek lives with her husband, twin sons and two cats in the northwest. She teaches and writes about parenting in the NICU, her experiences as a parent of micro-preemies and skeptical parenting.

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  1. Gosh, what a radical notion – teaching kids to learn and make decisions about whether or not something could be dangerous, and instilling them a sense of cautious exploration, rather than teaching them to assume that everything is deadly. Bubble-wrapping the world seems, to me, to take decision-making away from them, and teach them to be fearful of everydamnthing. This makes sense to me, at least – but I suspect I’m am an outlier, or so it seems in my family. When the first grandkids showed up, FIL covered every sharp angle or potentially dangerous object in every room in every family location with a hodgepodge of pipe-insulation (cheaper than pool noodles) and duck (not duct) tape. Dad’s motto was “you can’t be TOO safe…and if you’re only trying to be ‘safe enough’, you are not taking sufficient care of MY grandchild”. As the negligent AuntiE who did irresponsible things like leave the foam-wrapped cocoon of the living room to go hike with the kid (despite poison ivy! cliffs! dirt! Nature!), I got into a lot of trouble. Today, I’m amused that Dad’s safety measures are still in place, though “the baby” will turn 18 this year. Too safe, indeed.

    And, I had nothing to do with the fact that by the time “the baby” was 10, he had learned to ask “is this really dangerous, or are you telling me it’s dangerous because you don’t want me to do something?” (Teaching him that was Uncle’s job.)

  2. I see it as my job to get them to adulthood in a fairly good state and the to give them the ability to carry on by themselves from that point onwards.
    Which means I’ll try my best to prevent them from breaking their necks, but not necessarily from breacking their arms (health care privilege here).
    We had:
    -power sockets covered
    – á safety rim around the cooker
    -lockable windows (13th floor, they don’t learn from falling out of the window)
    -a safety latch for the cupboard with the cleaning supplies
    -Oh, and you wear a helmet when riding a bicicle, with the result that #1 will call out to strangers “hey, why aren’t you wearing a helmet!???”
    and yes, the furniture tethered. When the little one was just a year old she demonstrated why, as she clung to a shelf in about 1,5m.height. She’d used the drawers as stairs until she could move to the shelf and continued from that point onward.

    1. I understand the need for a helmet. The logical side of me uses one every single time, and when I commuted via bicycle to work I found helmet hair preferable to getting hurt. That said, I grew up in a pre-helmet time, and I wish my children could experience the feeling of riding down a hill with the wind whipping through helmet-free hair. But they can’t and be safe, so I write it off as being similar to my older friends who talk about how fun it was to ride in the front seat and play with a pretend steering wheel as a child–fun, but just not safe.

    2. Oh, and our stove scares me. It is unsafe even for adults–the knobs turn on the gas so easily that brushing by the stove sometimes is enough. Fortunately, we won’t be here too much longer, and the result has been that I’m hyper aware of having a safe oven/stove in our next home.

  3. My son is 6 and we still use the foam things that keep the doors from closing all the way. It is not because of finger pinches, it is because he often gets very excited and slams the basement door so hard the walls shake and I feel like my eardrums have started to bleed. We put the stop on for a few days, take if off for a while and if the slamming resumes, we put it back on. It annoys him to no end, which is a side benefit. Telling him no works in normal circumstances (he does not slam all doors all the time), but for some reason slamming the basement door is a huge lure when running upstairs for bath time. His little mental circuits don’t connect on that point.

    1. That makes sense–it’s funny how children’s brains work. I see this strange attraction to specific things in my boys. One child is loves the sound of the speaker stand in our living room when it hits the floor while the other gives it a wide berth.

  4. Most of those baby safety things don’t work, either. We splurged on fancy spring-loaded wall socket covers to prevent having to remove the simpler plastic plug ones every time we wanted to use it – and the springs are such poor quality that they wouldn’t spring back to provide the protection needed. The plastic corner covers came off far too easily unless you used your own strong adhesive (thus possibly destroying your furniture). The doorknob covers were irritating, and, as I ended up deciding I’d rather my kid learned what doorknobs are supposed to do. The cupboard door fasteners worked, but my kid was never actually in to opening forbidden containers, so it was more about preventing the contents of cupboards from being pulled out for fun.

    1. Ugh, and don’t get me started on the useless pain-in-the-assery of drawer pulls. I helped a friend outfit her entire kitchen and bath with those suckers, and they all broke with a few good yanks on behalf of a particularly interested toddler.

  5. I refused to put a bike helmet on my kid when he was learning to ride on his Strider. Kids are as bad as adults in thinking that they should be able to get away with reckless behaviour if they’re wearing a magic safety device (fine, of course, if it really does work like magic, but bike helmets have very limited safety uses). My kid needed to worry that if he fell, he’d hurt himself. And he is a great, careful cyclist now.
    I don’t, of course, judge other parents for wanting their kid to wear a helmet (and in some places it’s legally required). But I must confess that I wouldn’t appreciate your kid telling me to wear a helmet. If he/she did, I’d feel compelled to give an impromptu lecture on the dangers of relying blindly on “safety” devices that have such a dubious record of providing safety. Which would go over like a lead balloon, I’m sure! 🙂

    1. I personally think that bleeding knes and elbows are enough of a deterrent and good enough to teach about pain. Potentially fatal headwounds, not so much. It’s like saying that we should refuse seatbelts because they make people risky drivers.

  6. This pretty well mirrors what I’ve done with my now two-and-a-half year old. Yes to outlet covers and a baby gate or two until he mastered the stairs, but no to everything else including covering the pointy furniture or the stone hearth. I live on a little farm, and my kid does all sorts of things that the baby-proofers of the world would be alarmed by, like climbing ladders and playing with mallets. But he’s really sure of himself, exploratory, brave, and loves being involved in the daily tasks of the big people around him, and I wouldn’t take that away to prevent a few scrapes and bruises. Also, lol at “home depot’s S&M section”… that’s what we call it, too! 🙂

  7. One of the things that always make me shake my head is the “no toys with small parts” panic for kids between 1 and 3. I always wonder if those kids are ever allowed outside and whether people then look that every stone they find is labelled as appropriate for that age….
    This especially falls apart when there’s an older kid in the h

    1. Sorry, my computer does weird things.
      This especially falls apart when there’s an older kid in the house, unless you force that kid to play only with things deemed safe for the younger sibling

      1. Indeed. There’s 7 years between my kids and we got lucky – the older one was the one who would but anything in his mouth, whereas his sister is much less mouthy for that particular value. Since we do live in a house with a finished basement, most of his stuff is down there and most of her stuff is in the living room but she’s been stealing his Lego since she was 2.

    2. I have always wondered about how on earth manufacturers expected parents to deal with that, and ended up siding on the theory that those warning are mostly to cover themselves in case something happened, since by the second time around parents are probably aware of what constitutes a choking hazard.

  8. We bought all the things with our first. Then promptly never used the vast majority. As it happens, our coffee table is a mosaic with copper piping and curved corners, so we didn’t have to worry about that. But anchoring the bookshelves and high dressers was one of our top priorities. We also haven’t bothered with a bottom-of-the-stairs gate. Instead of cabinet locks, we centralize the dangerous stuff and tie the doors shut with twine or just keep it on very high shelves out of reach. Thankfully our little one will be 4 this year, so our negligence has clearly worked out okay so far. I think the biggest thing is to recognize that kids are little people who not only will come up with their own strategies, be it for safety or non-safety, but also that they will have their own “interests” in terms of pushing the boundaries.

    1. Em, this comment “I think the biggest thing is to recognize that kids are little people who not only will come up with their own strategies, be it for safety or non-safety, but also that they will have their own “interests” in terms of pushing the boundaries.” seems like a great argument for minimalist babyproofing–providing them with safe/intentional places to push boundaries acknowledges that they’re going to do so, and gives them chances to think and problem Solve. The point that each child does so in his/her own way seems to make it even more important not to blanket-baby-proof a house in a general one-size-fits all way.

  9. We’ve gone the minimalist route for our 3.5 year old; outlet plugs and cupboard locks. Finally got a baby gate when we moved him out of the crib because his bedroom is at the top of the steps. We only really locked him in there a short while, so that he could get used to the room and now he gets up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. He wants the gate in front of his door to keep the cat out, but we just lean it up there.

    1. Our cats are still not certain the baby gates are a good idea. They love being able to access entire floors of the house that the babies cannot, but they seem a bit put out at having to leap the gates.

  10. Outlet covers, yes, but we also had the fancy spring-loaded ones that are supposed to swivel to cover the outlets when not in use, and, well, they don’t do that. They get stuck in either one position or the other so half the outlets are exposed and the other half are unusable.

    Safety padding around the coffee table, yes but only because our coffee table at the time was an antique steamer trunk and the corners were covered in deadly sharp metal detailing. (Didn’t matter. Kid #1 pulled all the padding off as soon as he learned to toddle.)

    Toilet lock, no. Drawer/cabinet locks, no (though we did secure the kitchen cleaning supply cabinet with rubber bands). Baby gates, no (our apartment has no stairs).

    For kid #2, we did nothing. I think we may have had a conversation about “Hey should we re-babyproof before she’s born?” but it never went anywhere. And by that time kid #1 had graduated to real Legos so even if we’d put padding and locks everywhere the toy chest still would have been full of little choking hazards.

    We do have child safety bars on all the windows since it’s the law in NYC and we live on the 4th floor. Mostly they get in the way when I try to water the plants on the windowsill.

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