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Why I Ditched My Baby Monitor

Photograph by Twenty20

No matter how much research you do, some baby gear that seems essential turns out to be utterly useless once the child is outside your body. With our first, it was the rubber duckies who allegedly would let you know that the bathwater was too hot (because, according to the ducks, any water temperature over "ice cold" was too hot.) With our second, it was the 50 pacifiers we stocked up on, because unlike our first, he had absolutely no interest in rubber soothers.

One big ticket item we found we didn't use nearly as much as we thought we would was the video baby monitor. When we had our first son, we lived in a narrow townhouse and my husband and I initially took turns sleeping in his room with him so we could experience the joy of waking up to the baby's every grunt, snort and fart. Eventually the baby sleep trained us to the point where we felt confident that if he was hungry, wet or sad enough, we would hear his cries across the hall.

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Our house was also small enough that that if he woke up and started crying or babbling, we could hear him from the other floors as well. Ultimately we didn't see the point in having a monitor. If our son needed us, we'd hear him, so why would we also want to watch him on TV? Our point of view was that if he was awake but quiet and content in his crib, there was no need to intervene.

"But it's fun to see what he gets up to in there!" a few people told me, but that didn't tempt us. Perhaps because my husband and I lead very screen-heavy lives, neither of us felt compelled to spy on our son. I just didn't feel an urge to switch on yet another glowing object for distraction. Plus, if I wanted to get a fix of my baby while he was asleep, I could sneak into his room and get a look at him without him waking up.

After returning the first monitor we registered for, we gave in and purchased a monitor when I got pregnant with our second child, mostly because we had moved to a larger house where it was more feasible for us to spend time on another floor and not hear the baby crying. That, typically, is the only time we use the monitor—we click it on perhaps once an hour after the baby has gone to bed just to make sure all is well.

And if our kids need us or are having or causing serious issues up there, whether it's illness or nightmares or something else, we always seem to find out on our own.

This was simply the way it worked out for us, but in the end I think living a monitor-free life can actually be helpful for some parents. There are many schools of thought on babies' sleeping habits and styles of attachment, and I'd jokingly describe my husband and my style as "detachment parenting." Really what that entails is that we prefer a brief bedtime routine and aspire for our kids to practice self-soothing when possible, and sometimes we can convince ourselves to let the boys enjoy some freedom and privacy as well.

Sometimes after bedtime I hear my three-year-old running around a bit in his room. Not only do I not care to run upstairs five times after I've started my own quiet evening, I've found that the more I intervene, the more I have to intervene—that is, if I go up once, I'll probably go up three more times. but if I ignore one or two sets of steps, usually he's quiet afterwards. What's he up to in there? I have no idea. Taking out a book or a stuffed animal, probably—not exactly setting the house on fire.

And if our kids need us or are having or causing serious issues up there, whether it's illness or nightmares or something else, we always seem to find out on our own. And if they're not doing exactly what they should be, not treating it as a big deal means it's not a big deal—for us or for them.

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Sometimes I wonder if our monitor-free home is the right choice. Just last week we went to wake up our three-year-old and found he had barfed in his bed much earlier in the evening. Maybe if we had a monitor on we would have been able to help him, or at least felt less guilty about the fact that our son slept on puke sheets. But, then again, a monitor wouldn't have let us prevent him from throwing up, and he did sleep so... we must be awesome parents after all.

If you think you're up for it, I'd encourage an experiment of trying a night or two monitor-free and see how it treats you. Not only might it let you have a little bit more time to yourself, your child might also thrive with a bit of unsupervised time. Or at least you can just tell yourself that.

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