It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Pernicious Parenting Paraphenalia

Preamble: those of you who have as an item in your parental mission statement that Good Parents never, ever let their baby cry, not even for a moment, please stop reading now. What follows will only raise your blood pressure needlessly.

For the rest of you, now that I’ve got you all onside regarding baby paraphernalia, and have lulled you into a false sense of security, here’s my next bit of babystuff wisdom: Baby Monitors are 100% unnecessary. Maybe more.

Worse than unnecessary, used improperly (and most parents do) they are a positive scourge to parental peace. As parents of newborns can attest, a baby’s cry can effectively permeate the most oblivious consciousness. In fact, as Matthew can further attest, a baby’s cry can permeate your unconscious, and even make inroads into your sanity. And yet somehow we think it needs to be electronically enhanced? Broadcast, even?

I was once briefly held hostage by a friend’s Baby Monitor (hereafter to be referred to as BM). During dinner, I happily visited with their delightful eleven week old baby. After dinner, he began to droop and was popped into bed upstairs. The BM sat on a coffee table at my elbow. Not having often used one for my children, I was completely unprepared for just how intrusive that thing could be. Every time the baby coughed, murmured, or even rustled a bit, one parent or the other would leap to their feet and dash upstairs, physically vacating the conversation. The other parent would vacate the conversation mentally, eyes and ears glued to the BM, following their spouse’s footsteps through the speaker. In a moment or two, parent number one would reappear. “He’s fine!” would be the announcement, to the great relief of parent number two. If neither of them went, they would both sit, tense and quivering, all attention drawn to the antenna on the coffee table until complete silence returned. Gee, I had had no idea I’d been invited so we could all watch the BM together.

After eight or ten such false alarms, I was completely exasperated. Never mind the mincemeat it was making of the conversation, the anxiety that monitor was causing these nice people was helping no one, least of all their baby. Sooner or later, they were going to wake him up with all this upstairs-and-down-ing. Under pretext of reaching for my coffee, I discreetly turned the damned thing off. Only then did we finally manage to generate (and maintain!) some worthwhile conversation. What a relief. I could see the tension seeping from their weary shoulders as the evening progressed.

As I was preparing to leave a couple of hours after my subversive action, one of them innocently commented, “Gee, little Oswald has never settled so easily!”

I didn’t smirk when I told them what I’d done, but did gently suggest that the BM was perhaps causing more problems for them than it was solving. When you are in the living room, and your baby is up one flight of stairs, you will hear him if he needs you. Not to worry.

Now, there are obviously times when a BM can be a handy tool: If you want to do some gardening during baby’s nap, say, and baby’s room is on the opposite side of the house. (If baby’s room overlooks the garden, opening the window will suffice.) And let us not overlook the entertainment value of listening in on your neighbours, whose BM is set to the same channel as yours!!

Otherwise, turn it off! Turn it right off!

August 10, 2005 - Posted by | controversy, parenting


  1. We had the baby monitor with number one, and quickly learned that the wails of our offspring could not only be heard through the house, but down the street. The weird thing, is that I used to keep a monitor on while gardening – and ended up hearing other people’s monitors, and conversations on their cordless phones. Eavesdropping was far by the most fun we’ve ever had with BM’s.

    Comment by Heather | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  2. I could not agree more! You’re just hitting them out of the ballpark lately, Mary!

    Comment by misfit | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  3. I finally put mine away this weekend. I had the receiver in my bedroom, but the volume has been turned down for ages. I found it best for those sleep-in Saturday mornings when I think I hear Lauren crying and then look up to the monitor. If the LED’s are flashing like crazy (from her screaming), it’s time to get up. Yeah, I hated that thing.

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  4. Heather: we used a BM in a group home where I once worked. The clients were developmentally and behaviourally challenged (which means, retarded – a perfectly acceptable medical term – and bytimes a little violent). We quickly stopped using it when we realized we were picking up someone else on the street, which implied that someone else might be able to hear our client when he was in his room, indulging in his rather boisterous, ah, self-stim. activities. Yeep.

    Misfit: thank you, thank you. As one opinionated person to another (and I take some pride in that label) this means a lot.

    Crayonz: Kinda like your own live-in chirpy camp counsellor: “Okay, campers!! Rise and shine!” Me, I’ve never lived in a house so large or well-insulated that I couldn’t hear the child without one. Are you a very sound sleeper, you lucky thing, which I am NOT? My kids still wake me up, but now it’s by coming in late, and instead of the BM we have cell phones…

    Comment by Mary P. | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  5. It’s a peace of mind thing. I think all new parents feel a need to help their babies whenever they are needed. I have noticed, however, that because we have two babies and we’d be running into the room every 2 minutes sometimes, we tend to wait until the baby is screaming bloody murder before we go in.

    The baby monitor we have (and you’re gonna laugh at me, I know) also has a pad you put under their mattress that senses movement (like the baby’s breathing) and it sends out an alarm when it doesn’t sense movement after a certain time. The biggest problem with this, however, is when you take the baby out of its crib and forget to turn the monitor off, you get treated a loud alarm!

    Comment by Matthew | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  6. Oh, Matthew, Matthew… I understand, I really do, because your babies are VERY little. They are so helpless, and their needs so urgent, and your biology drives you to BE THERE for them. I’m not mocking, I’m remembering!!

    But a motion detector? Oh, dear. Though, wait now, I can see its use up to 12 weeks or so, when the risk of SIDS is the highest, particularly for premature babies who are at greater risk – not that yours were premature, mind. Still, it could have a valid use, I concede, for the first few weeks.

    I would argue, though, that since you wait till they’re full bore, anyway, you don’t need the noise-broadcasting part of the monitor. That they do that quite effectively all on their own!

    Comment by Mary P. | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  7. Unfortunately, I’m a VERY light sleeper. I think I probably kept the monitor on because of Lauren’s ear infections, RSV, flu, and other illnesses she’s had this past year. Sometimes she had difficultly breathing and the coughing spells could get scary. But you are right, I should have ditched the monitor, looking back.

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  8. You’re too generous, you lovely woman. I think I can modify my original position to allow that these things are good for use with ill children, too. That “difficulty breathing” one in particular. Lord have mercy… If I thought my baby’s breathing were not a given, I’d be sleeping on the floor in her room!! (Actually, knowing me, I’d have that baby in bed with me – which is another whole topic for discussion, I know!)

    Comment by Mary P. | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  9. I think the baby monitor is most useful when the children are no longer babies–for example, when they are, oh, say 12 or 13 and want to be alone with their friends in the finished basement. You know. Although you would have to hide the tranmitter, of course.

    Comment by Susan | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  10. Oh, you devious woman, you! LOL I have a 12 year old, but she and her friends are so loud when they’re together, who needs the transmitter? It would be when they suddenly get quiet that I’d feel the need, I’m sure.

    Comment by Mary P. | August 12, 2005 | Reply

  11. I swear I use it sensibly. 🙂
    I use it just now for the 2yr old, who has been trained to say “Mama I’m awake!” after her nap. If I didn’t use it, she’d have to shout (she’s up a floor and behind two doors in a solid European stone house) and I DON’T like too much shouting.
    We never use it at night. I tried for about one night with my eldest and didn’t sleep a wink.

    Comment by Mwa | May 19, 2010 | Reply

  12. Oh and here I am again.
    Another of my pet peeves is teaching babies to cry if they want your attention. So that’s another reason to like baby monitors in solid houses.
    This reminds me of another comment I wanted to leave you on that new post…

    Comment by Mwa | May 19, 2010 | Reply

  13. A friend of mine (a never-let-the-baby-cry-even-for-a-minute type) was recently appalled when she saw that I sleep the baby upstairs, while I am -gasp!- downstairs, and don’t have a monitor. “Do you NEED a monitor?” she asked, “Because I have, like, three sets, and you could have one if you want!” I politely declined and said that I can hear him all over the house when he cries. “Yeah, but can you get him before he’s really wailing?” Um… does it matter? Besides, he usually wakes up and talks to his thumb for a little while, and I would hate to deprive him of that.

    And I don’t even use one when I’m in the garden… I just poke my head in from time to time.

    Great post!

    Comment by rosie_kate | October 30, 2010 | Reply

  14. […] that’s out there? 98% unnecessary. The younger your child, the less it needs. A change table? Baby monitor? Bassinet? Don’t need […]

    Pingback by Sleep, baby, sleep « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | May 23, 2011 | Reply

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