Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To latch or not to latch: How much household safety is too much?

On Mother’s Day, my 18-month old son was having a meltdown. Unfortunately, my hands were full with dinner and my husband was manning the grill. I had just pulled potatoes from the oven. I closed the oven door, set down the hot potatoes and prepared to attend to his tears and frustration. However, he’d grabbed the oven door, and as he thrashed against it, it opened. I watched in slow horror as it yawned back, felt the hot air blast against my skin, and saw my son fall back with the door on top of him.

Thankfully, my son didn’t let go of the oven’s handle. He wasn’t burned, only terrified. The fall didn’t hurt him much, either. My husband and I quickly shut the door and scooped up are very scared son.

We simultaneously said out loud, “We need an oven lock!”

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This morning, he put a toy in the toilet. When I told my husband, he said we should get a toilet lock. I saw where he was going with this, but I paused. How many safety devices did we need? My husband wasn’t wrong in thinking we should protect our son, but what would a toilet lock save him from? Dirty water? Sure, the toilet lock will save us from clogs and potential plumbing repair and icky situations.

We have safety knobs for our stove, outlet covers, and gates at our stairs. We replaced the door knob in his room from the lever handle, which was easy for him to open, to a round knob. We have some latches on our cupboards, mostly to keep him out of the dishes, as all of our cleaning supplies are kept up high. Large items like bookshelves, the TV, and dressers are latched to the wall.

It’s not a wrong instinct for us to want to protect our children, but when does it cross the line from protection to risk aversion? If there isn’t some risk, children will not learn consequences. Consequences help our children to make smarter decision. If we safeguard everything, will they expect the rest of the world to be safe, to step outside and have no need to worry about danger or risk?

As explained in Bill Bryson’s At Home, childhood has always been full of dangers. “Coroners’ rolls for London in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries include such abrupt childhood terminations as drowned in a pit, bitten by sow, fell into pan of hot water, hit by cart-wheel, fell into tin of hot mash, and trampled in crowd.” Bitten by a sow?!

I wondered what my Granny would’ve done had she had her 9 children with all of these safety features available. Then, it struck me she wouldn’t have done a thing. She watched my cousins from infancy to age 5 when every single safety item was available yet she had none of them in her home. My cousins’ have fared well; they are 18 and 19-years old now. Sadly, I can’t ask her what she would’ve done differently. She passed away 7 years ago.  

I’m in favor of the oven lock. It’s terrifying to think of my son burning himself, but I think we’ll skip the toilet lock or the blinder winders. So, I guess we’ll find a balance (which is probably the only place I find balance as a parent…more on that in another post).

In case you’re interested, here’s a good link to ways to safeguard your home for children: Household Safety Checklist.

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