How I Baby-Proofed My House
I love this house but she isn’t terribly kid-friendly. It’s 2 flights up 27 stairs, to get to the front door for starters, which is wonderful carrying a 28 pound toddler while being 30 weeks pregnant. Inside, as you see above, there are floating cement stairs, wood stairs with no railings, no yard (a big deck with views) and the inside is riddled with ironwork that is the perfect size for Charlie’s huge toddler head to get stuck in. We knew it when we bought the house, but it wasn’t until he was crawling that we were like oh shoot, this house is kinda a baby death trap.
Brian and I used to have different philosophies on baby safety. I consider every small fall (where he isn’t hurt) as a victory – it means he’s that much closer to understanding risk, danger and how his body works in the physical space. I’ve let him pinch his fingers in the drawer, obviously knowing that whatever he is about to do wouldn’t actually hurt him (It’s not like I let him grab the handle of a boiling pot of water in hopes of 3rd degree burns). I try to rid the floor and house of dangerous things to fall on, but then no, I don’t catch him unless its from high up. But I was raised with lots of kids and I have lots of nieces and nephews, so I’m just comfortable around kids and generally I trust that they’ll be fine. Brian was more of the worrier (remarkably he is so much less so than he used to be when we kid-proofed the house…it’s AMAZING).
So when it came to kid-proofing we were on two different pages. I wanted to do some, but not too much and he wanted to do anything that was recommended. But I was, and am crazy busy, he’s with Charlie more, and it was a hard battle a fight without sounding like a neglectful parent. I showed him the articles about risk and the so called ‘free range parenting‘ (which I’m pretty into) and he got into it and started coming around. But then we went to the pediatrician for our 9 month checkup and I asked him about childproofing.
I thought our Dr. was a progressive, modern pediatrician so I expected to get the answer that I wanted – childproof anything dangerous, but not anything that can’t really hurt them. But he had spent time as an emergency room doctor, and he basically said anything in your house can kill your baby so do anything you can to protect them at all costs. I wanted to shove his mouth full of cotton balls, because I knew that it validated Brian’s concerns and lost me the battle. Ultimately I wasn’t going to force Brian to subscribe to my parenting ideals – we were in this together and we needed to come up with our own strategy as a team.
So when the time came, we did what any wasteful, yuppy, suburban parent with busy jobs and precious weekend time in 2015 do – we called a professional child proofer. This dude came and walked us through every single room, pointing out how our house is dangerous and scribbled down pages of notes. Then we got the quote and it was a cool $2400. In case you are scoffing at how ridiculous that is, we are VERY well aware and had no intention of actually doing all of it, and certainly not paying that dough. It was insane and we felt like massive suckers for even calling the company. That included all the supplies and the installation by the way. But WTF were we going to do? Once someone – a professional – points out all the ways your baby can hurt himself and puts a price tag on it, you feel like the worst parent for thinking uh no thanks, we are not spending that on the safety/health of our child. We should have never called the service in the first place.
I find that so much of my life as a parent is often analyzing and subsequently avoiding companies or philosophies that make me feel neglectful for NOT purchasing their product or subscribing to their behavioral methods for my child. I’ve read about the anti-stroller movement and once you do, you feel a little guilty about putting your baby in a stroller. I went to a RIE class (which generally I like, by the way) but their stance on plastic shiny toys made me feel like a technology loving heathen (which I am). It took all the common sense my post baby brain could muster up to put my child in a stroller to go on a long walk instead of wearing him. It wouldn’t damage him. He will still go on to find love and possibly even a career.
My rant goes further: There are $25 ‘realistic nipple’ bottles that prevent gas, baby nap hats to help them sleep better, and helmets that protect them against your average every day fall. You know these things are ridiculous but then you feel bad because maybe your baby will be happier, healthier or safer if you bought them. But I’m a busy mom (like most of us). Therefore I make fast purchases, and I’m easily manipulated by companies that have done their research on me. They know my particular brain, brand of parenting, tastes and financial situation, and have marketed to me perfectly. Often they are GREAT companies made to actually make my family safer and healthier, but sometimes I just wonder how much of a upper middle class sucker am I being? Do we really need $450 car seats???? Aren’t they all tested A LOT for safety?? Will my baby be damaged if I don’t use organic linen in his crib? I just get so frustrated being sold, sold, sold to, and made to feel guilty if I opt out of a product that will supposedly make the life and well being of my child and family better. There are some things to genuinely worry about and some things that have been manufactured by the ‘parenting industry’ for us to worry about. And discerning between the two can be a full time job.
Now you know how I really feel…at least today.
But baby/child-proofing is something that you have to do because there are everyday dangers in the house that they need to avoid (big falls, knives, chemicals, etc). The question becomes – to what extent do we make our homes unlivable fortresses to prevent small injuries?
Well Brian and I kept debating about it – I wanted to do just the drawers with knives and he wanted to do all of them. I wanted just a few gates at the top of the stairs, he wanted top and bottom, etc. The day the guy came to install I was in New York filming The View. Brian called me in a panic because we hadn’t really decided on where to stop but I was about to go on camera and I just said ‘do whatever you think’.
So he did and tried to be conservative, so we didn’t do all of it but we definitely did a lot – I think it was especially hard with a professional safety expert staring at you, judging you for opting out of safety. The guy was there all day – 2 guys actually, and now our house is pretty much a fortress. A very safe, very kid-friendly fortress.
When I first got home and reached for a spatula I was like … oh for the love of god, how am I going to live here??? But now that Charlie is a rambunctious toddler I have no idea what living in a non-kid friendly house would be like. It does reduce stress and that is worth something.
The problem with this whole debate is that it just takes one major preventable injury or death to make you wish you had done something that you didn’t. And that is why we lost our baby-proofing battle. We have too much information now and because of that we make decisions, expensive decisions that we will laugh at later. But at least I’ll laugh whilst holding my non-injured children (hopefully…although if they never learn to hurt themselves at home then they never will!!).
Quite the intro to a post, eh? Lets get into what we actually did to make this house baby-friendly, safe and most importantly, less stressful than it was.
Plexiglass on the railings. This is where at least $500 came from (I think we ended up spending $1500, by the way). Worst case scenario is that Charlie gets his head stuck in between the bars and we have to call the fire department to have them cut him out of it with a blow torch. The guy has seen it happen and just knowing that made it an absolute must even though i’m sure the statistics were one in a thousand. So, there are sheets of plexiglass that are secured with zip ties to the railing and you don’t really notice it. It’s fine.
The childproofer did recommend that we save money by only doing the top floor and not the middle part, saying that maybe that area should be just generally off limits to Charlie. We agreed, so we didn’t put baby gates at the bottom of the stairs or the top of the living room stairs (at first) or the plexi on the bars.
Am I glad that there is plexi on the top level of stairs? I think so, but thats only because it’s the life that I have now, so I don’t know how stressful it would have been to not have it. Ultimately was it worth the $500? Absolutely not. We should have done it ourselves. But when you are really busy and you have only the weekends to spend time with your baby you don’t exactly want to spend that time at home depot cutting plexi and then installing it. This is a modern champagne problem, I realize, but we threw money at the problem because I just wanted it solved.
Our dude changed all our outlets to the baby-proofed ones, which you have to slide over. For the most part we are happy with this as they aren’t full of hideous plugs. But some of them didn’t work afterwards (I guess they were loose or something so I had to actually put the old outlets back in order to plug in a lamp and we had an electrician fix a couple of them). I think these cost around $15 each to do (for the part and the installation).
Would I do this again? I think so. Charlie goes for outlets a lot. I do worry that when he’s not in our house he will stick a fork in it because he’s not being taught on a daily basis to avoid them. These are the risks of providing no risks.
Drawers and cupboards. Ugh, this one is so annoying. We ended up doing every single drawer and cupboard and have since taken some of them off. Here’s my advice – do whatever you feel comfortable with, and if you hate messes then do all of them. But I personally think it’s fun for kids to play in drawers and ‘organize’ them, so if they are safe to play in then I let Charlie. When I’m cooking he unloads and reloads the tupperware drawer or bangs on pots and pans and it’s cute and fun and we somehow feel like we are doing it together. You must do the knife drawer and the cabinet under the sink if you keep any chemicals there, but otherwise I say don’t worry about the cupboard that houses your salad spinner collection – they will all survive the wrath of a toddler just fine.
GATES. Probably the most annoying and yet often the most necessary of all the child proofing. My friends/employees get driven crazy by these things as often NO ONE can figure out how to get through them. Welcome to our inviting home!!!!
Let me remind you what my house looked like:
Not ideal. Again please notice the cement stairs and the lower stairs with no railing (and I don’t want a railing). Once he started crawling, and then walking, it was stressful and neither of us wanted to be the parent constantly chasing after our kid, telling them no, worried that they were going to tumble and break their neck if we happen to turn our attention elsewhere for 25 seconds. So we decided to put up 5 dreaded and rather expensive baby gates. One gate lives at the bottom of the stairs in the living room (that we quickly moved to the top of the stairs by the bookshelf because we felt that there was more danger in him falling down the stairs from the second floor, than falling backwards as he was climbing up to the second from the first.
We put one at the top of the stairs on the bedroom level that we are VERY glad we have because those are the cement stairs – sorry, you can’t see that one and we didn’t take a photo of it because the laundry room was, like REAL messy.
That picture kills me. Its just the cutest and most pathetic thing that I have ever seen.
We decided to basically create a big cage on the middle floor for him that encompassed the kitchen and family room. This is less for safety and more for our sanity while trying to get things done, like cooking or cleaning. This forces him to stay in those two rooms when they are closed. Again, this is probably not necessary but now that he can run really fast and open doors (like the front door with the 2 story drop) its nice to know that if/when we need to he can be lovingly detained in that area.
The last gate is attached to the sliding glass door, on the front deck – which you can barely see in that photo above. This one is absolutely crucial and there is no way I would be able to sleep without it. This gate was custom built and it had to be drilled into the deck in three different places, which cost about $275. I wasn’t psyched about it but Brian or I didn’t know how to do it ourselves so we just let them keep that on the invoice. We did find out that the glass is tempered, thank god.
The things that we didn’t do are as follows:
1. Doorknobs. We may find that we need to do this, but I couldn’t bear to do it yet as they are so annoying to deal with. I honestly doubt we’ll do this.
2. We did do the toilet seat things but they have both broken now so that was a big waste of money (probably like $40). I have a friend whose baby threw her iPhone into the toilet, which is the most compelling reason to get one, but they are so annoying – especially as a pregnant person that needs to go to the restroom like 29 times a day. When you are desperate and trying to get that thing open it’s just a real bummer.
3. We didn’t have them put any foam corners on all the things that they wanted to. I hate those things and aesthetically can’t handle them on my pretty furniture. Instead we stored our coffee table and brought out this pouf, got rid of all sharp cornered tables for the time being and have mostly rounded furniture. All of the furniture in the room is now pretty safe (and hard to stain as its leather and Sunbrella fabric) and I’m still proud of how it looks. We have removed almost all accessories at toddler level except pillows, books and globes (which he plays with and I’m fine with).
So that is how we baby-proofed, or should I say toddler proofed, our house. I guess my thesis is this:
Toddler-hood is a temporary stage in the timeline of life, and spending real money on toddler-proofing your house (like we did) might be a bit insane and wasteful, especially retrospectively. The more we eliminate risk from their lives the more we are just putting off injuries or just making them happen elsewhere. At the same time parenting is stressful and I’m a fan of reducing stress in ANY WAY because I think that it makes us a happier family. Those gates reduce my stress when I’m with Charlie and I’m trying to get things done. If he fell the wrong way and really seriously hurt himself I would never ever, ever forgive myself because this was in my control while playgrounds and other people’s homes are not. So I’m less preventing the injury and more preventing my involvement in the injury. I think you have to gauge how much that is worth to you. We did forget to close the gate one day while we had a bunch of friends over and he fell from the top floor to the middle. He cried for around 15 seconds. Thank god I was the one that found him. But he could have fell wrong and that would have been devastating and no matter how optimistic of a person you are in life (me being VERY) as a parent you see the worst case scenario play out in your imagination all the time. And the modern parenting industry is marketing and banking on that fear.
Ultimately call someone who loves you to do that kinda of stuff, or if you have the time and desire do it yourself, go for it. I wish we had asked Brian’s dad because, had he been around, he would have done it in a second. I selfishly didn’t want Brian’s weekend time, the time that we spend as a family, to be spent drilling holes into our cabinets, and I had no interest in doing it at all. But hiring a professional to do it is definitely expensive for fairly easy tasks. This is what grandpas are for, and had ours been here when we did it he would have insisted on doing it for us.
So, that’s how we baby-proofed our modern home. I wish I could have written a ‘How You Should Baby-Proof Your Home’ article but I don’t really know the answer and besides, it’s just such a personal decision to make and different for every parent. Gauge the level of stress/worry the ‘danger’ gives you and then decide whether you want to reduce that stress or live with it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, especially more seasoned parents. To what extent did you baby-proof? Is your house a fortress? And if not, are you happy with what you did or didn’t do?
**All pre baby-proofing pictures from Tessa Nuestadt and all post baby-proofing pictures from Jessica Issac for EHD