Baby-proof vs baby-friendly: Making your entire home a “yes” space

Baby-proof vs baby-friendly: Making your entire home a “yes” space

There’s something about the term “baby-proof” that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s the pro-lifer in me, saying that babies aren’t dangers that we need to defend ourselves against. Maybe it’s just that I wouldn’t want something to be Hannah-proofed, because that would imply I couldn’t develop a healthy relationship with that object and treat it respectfully and appropriately, that the standard was set so low because not much was expected of me. I know that this is not what people intend when they use the term and that people love their children and simply want to keep them safe, but I believe these inferences are still fair.

This is why something clicked in me when I first discovered RIE, a philosophy of respectfully interacting with infants and toddlers that treats them as capable persons, rather than dolls that need everything done for them (no finger-pointing here; I use such an extreme comparison merely to emphasize what RIE values). RIE teaches that in our homes we ought to have a “yes” space, where our youngest ones are free to examine and touch, to explore, learn, and grow, without being told, “No!”. “No” can take many forms:

  • Get down!
  • Don’t touch that!
  • Be careful!
  • That’s not for you.
  • That’s not for babies.
  • That’s sharp!
  • Be careful not to break it!

You get the idea. 

Babies put things in their mouths. It’s a fact of life. But I think we too often buy into our modern consumerist and “expert”-led culture that implies only products created and purchased for teething can go in their mouth, and they have to by sanitized anytime they touch anything ever. Every family parents differently, so please don’t take anything I say as a criticism of your lifestyle. Some people value germ-free environments more than others. Some people have health problems where they need a more sanitary environment. I don’t fall into either of those categories, and I grew up with 8 siblings, so in our house, we ask two questions when the baby wants to mouth an object:

  1. Will it harm the baby? 
  2. Will it harm the object?

And we have to answer honestly. Will junior really suffer physical or psychological harm from chewing on that ball/pan/hat? No? Then, will it damage the object itself? Because we do want our children to treat their belongings well, to be good stewards of what God has given us. That means no eating books, or sister’s artwork. But that also gives freedom to play with objects in an unexpected manner. Blocks don’t have to be stacked one on top of the other; they can be stacked on top of Daddy while he is reading. Crayons don’t have to be used for coloring; they can be separated into different jars for fun! And things can go in baby’s mouths, whether that’s what they were designed for or not.

RIE, from what I have read, usually creates one (or more) rooms/fenced off areas in the house where the child can explore freely. Our house is fairly small and adding fences wouldn’t help that situation. So while our house isn’t entirely a yes space, our toddler is allowed everywhere in it, and often unsupervised. For us, this means that no dangerous chemicals or sharp objects are within reasonable reach ever. Parents of toddlers know what I mean by reasonable. My almost two-year-old daughter can slide a chair from the dining area to the kitchen counter, climb it, open the overhead cupboard door, and reach the knife block contained therein. She can physically do that. But we talk to her about safety in an open, respectful, and consistent way, and we know her pretty well, so we trust her not to do that. We do have areas that are more easily accessible to her that we still do not want her making a mess of. Under our bathroom sinks, we store toilet paper, and if she wanted, she could unspool all the Costco-quantity TP until our apartment was ready for Halloween in February. But we have asked her not to, we have shown her other areas that are more appropriate for her, and we have not shamed her for getting into messy things so that she sees them like some forbidden fruit that she can only play with when mom and dad aren’t looking.

When friends come over, they see all the spots that our daughter now generally ignores, and messes happen. But I want to give my daughter as much freedom as possible and appropriate, and I want her to know that we trust her. Even and especially from this young age.

We cover outlets, hide cords, and secure furniture to walls. Her bedroom, where she sleeps on a floor bed and has unsupervised access to everything therein every night, contains nothing sharp, poisonous, or otherwise dangerous. I love plants and they are within her reach scattered throughout the house, but not in her bedroom, because if they aren’t poisonous, their fertilized soil might be.

Yes, sometimes she gets into somewhere I wouldn’t necessarily want her to be, but she is not in danger. Things break, but so do people. I want her to know that broken things can be fixed or replaced, and that I trust her, and that she is capable of doing things well. Not to sound all hippie-dippie (although I could argue this concept as very Christian), but I would much rather things break, than break her spirit. And, honestly? We’ve used glass cups and plates with her since she began to wean and she has maybe broken four things in our whole house in two years. So while our entire apartment isn’t exactly a yes space, it is our daughter’s home as much as it is ours, and she is learning responsibility, self-awareness, and self-confidence day by day.

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Montessori Floor Bed

Montessori Floor Bed

When we moved to our two bedroom apartment, our daughter had just celebrated her first birthday and I had been sleeping in our living room for the past 6 months. I had also recently gotten my hands on some books about Dr. Maria Montessori and her philosophy of raising and educating children. Needless to say, I was hooked. It is, however, always easier to do external activities than make internal changes so instead of sitting quietly and observing my daughter to learn of her current interests and skills, I dismantled her newly set up crib. My ever-supportive husband with one raised eyebrow looked on as I put our little girl down to nap on the crib mattress which lay directly on the carpet of her bedroom floor. And guess what? She slept!

Our daughter has for the most part always been a sleeper that parents hope for, and if she stays awake, she has access to her toys and books and goes to bed when she’s ready. Her room is safe for her to explore, but we did eventually get a video baby monitor from a friend only because often she would be awake and playing, but quietly, so I would be waiting for her to wake up so we could go run errands, not knowing that she had been up for an hour playing independently!

I don’t like going to bed when I’m not ready to sleep yet, and as I read more about RIE, which coincides so much with what I believe from my Catholic faith about the dignity of the human person, I don’t want to make her go to bed when she’s not ready either. For my own sanity, for the sake of our marriage, and for our daughter to learn to adjust to the routines of our family, we do lead her to her bed around the same times every day. We tell her beforehand that it is time to rest. A few minutes later we tell her it’s time to tidy her room, because if it is at all disorganized, she won’t sleep, but will want to play! If it’s nighttime, we help get her pajamas on her, say a prayer and/or sing a song, bless each other with holy water, and then it’s time to lie down. If she is tired, she will lie down on her own, usually. We simply then tuck her in and give her a kiss. If she is not tired or tired, but cranky, we let her know that it’s time to rest and she can read or play with her toys, but that we are going to leave her alone and shut the door and that her “bebé” is going to sleep now and when she’s ready she can join her in bed. Sometimes there are brief tears, but more often than not is painless.

If we can hear/see her staying up for an extended period of time playing or sitting by the door, knocking and saying, “Mamá! Mommy! Mamá! Meemah!”, it generally means she has soiled her diaper with a number two so we change it and she then goes right down on her own.

When her little brother is born, he will stay in our room as long as that works for all of us, and then he will be in a crib, sharing a room with his sister. We will get her a twin at that time, so we don’t have to upgrade anymore as she grows. I’m glad I didn’t just toss the crib when I first read about floor beds, because the room would not be safe for both children if they were unsupervised all night without barriers between them (my toddler already smothers her doll with love, blankets, and sometimes her own body, so I’m going to keep my eye on her when her baby brother is around!). From what I’ve read, we will probably take down the crib and move our son to a floor bed when he is 18 months old, because by that age he will be able to defend himself against his older sister! But we will take it one day at a time, making sure to keep them safe, and trying to be present in every moment!

Who has room for a nursery? Sleeping 3 people in a one bedroom apartment

Who has room for a nursery? Sleeping 3 people in a one bedroom apartment

When our first was born, we lived in a one bedroom apartment and pictured (safely) co-sleeping as one happy, cozy family. The first night home we had her sleep in the car seat right next to our bed because the crib looked way to big and scary. A friend lent us a co-sleeper which we used gratefully for almost six months. For almost six months, I would wake up when she did, bring her into bed with us and place her between myself and the co-sleeper falling asleep nursing her. I would usually wake up some time later, try to put her back in the co-sleeper, wake her up, and begin the process all over again until morning. Any mom of a newborn can tell you, you love your baby to bits, but you get tired. It worked out just fine, until, she got too big for the co-sleeper and could sit up on her own. Since we didn’t want her crawling out, we started using a method similar to what we had been doing, but using the crib instead. Around that time, the fatigue was catching up to us. My husband was having a hard time concentrating at work and I was plain exhausted. I remember telling our doctor at her 6 month checkup that I had been scared driving to the appointment that morning because I was so tired. We couldn’t keep it up. Without another bedroom to put her in though, we didn’t have many options. So I moved to the living room.

We have a pullout sofa and every evening, before putting our sweet angel to bed, we made sure to use the restroom and grab our toothbrushes and pajamas. We would then have dinner, clean up, catch up, or watch some TV. We’d close the curtains and get ready for bed in the living room/kitchen. Daddy would sneak into the bedroom so as not to wake the babe, and I would pull out my foldable mattress. Success! I am not sure why it worked, but it did. Maybe she could smell my milk from the crib and so kept waking up frequently and unnecessarily. Maybe I was too sensitive to her every little noise and she to mine. But once I moved out, I couldn’t hear her and she couldn’t hear or smell me and we both instantly started sleeping through the night.*

We had friends who did the opposite and the baby got the living room while they got the bedroom and bathroom, but I couldn’t get dinner ready in time every night to do that in our house! Whatever works!

When we were able to upgrade to a two bedroom 6 months later, we appreciated it so much and saw it truly as a luxury. So I guess the old folks are right when they say to be grateful for each moment as starving newlyweds because these will be some of your fondest memories!
*I know not all babies sleep through the night at 6 months and we shouldn’t expect them to. But God knew what I needed and allowed it to work for us! Each family needs to take the mental and physical health of every person in the family into consideration when making such decisions. This worked for us!

From “agenda” to “relationship”: an update to my bilingual parenting journey

From “agenda” to “relationship”: an update to my bilingual parenting journey

I have to read more about translanguage, but the rest mirrors my experience as well!

Españolita...¡sobre la marcha!

baby_bebes

(Photo courtesy of Futureatlas.com, Flickr Creative Commons)

Last year I wrote about my then two-year old daughter’s language development in Spanish. My husband, D., a native of Spain, and I are raising our two children bilingually: our family’s language policy is Spanish at home/among us four and English with everyone else.

With the arrival of my daughter E. three years ago, I began my bilingual parenting journey with what some might call a “hard core” approach: use only Spanish with my children, all the time. Never English. No translating. Promote, promote, promote the minority language.

As a trained linguist, I can cite all of the research supporting bilingualism. I recognize the advantages of a family language policy that supports the minority language.

And, while I’ll be the first to raise my hand with an emphatic YES! to the benefits of being bilingual, I have to admit that my initial approach to raising bilingual children rested on…

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