I occasionally get involved in discussions on Facebook with people who ask if there is a baby monitor they could use while their child is sleeping in the hotel room and they want to go down into the lobby bar and have a drink. Or even go sightseeing.
I often get accused of attacking those people when I try to tell them what a bad idea it is. Because I strongly feel it is a very bad idea. Read on to find out why.
Now, all children are different, and all parents have different styles. Perhaps somewhere there is a child who likes that their parents are not around, and parents who are clever enough to understand that child before it can talk. If that is you, you are welcome to comment below.
Never Enough Attention For All
However, what I have to say is based on my personal experience as father to triplets, which also may not be a situation shared by everyone, but which ensures that I can not give all my children equal attention at any given time. One of them will often be screaming while another one is clamoring for attention and the third is yelling that she has finished at the toilet. They have to learn to be independent and manage things for themselves.
But it is one thing to be able to go to the toilet yourself, and a very different thing to be emotionally independent, at least when you are four years old. Even more before that. When I had to go away for half a day on business while we were in Thailand, my then 1.5 year old son hugged me so hard when I got back that I thought I would break in two, and wept rivers accordingly. And then grandma was still there to take care of them.
The Lone German Girl
That experience is part of informing my thinking about leaving your children alone in a hotel room, although I do not have any horror stories like the one a friend of mine can tell. He was on his way back to his hotel room when he encountered a small girl in the corridor. She looked to be about three years, and lost. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
He finally figured out that she was speaking German, and in his rudimentary German could figure out she had woken up alone in her room, and went in search of her parents. She managed to open the door and get into the corridor, but not being able to read numbers, she had no idea about which room she had come from, or where her parents were. She probably had no idea about what a hotel is either.
Lobby Bar Parents
Gentle soul that he is, my friend figured that the best thing he could do would be to take her to the reception. At least they would know which Germans were registered in the hotel, and if they had any children with them. So he told her that, and either her parents had not been very good at teaching her not to follow strangers, or she was desperate enough that a friendly face and nice voice meant some safety and comfort.
As they got out of the elevator in the lobby, she spotted her parents sitting in the lobby bar. She ran over, crying and weeping. The parents were appropriately grateful but my friend gave them a stern talking to, using up almost all of his available German.
Right Place For Baby Monitors
I personally would never leave my children alone. They deserve to have someone who knows them and who they know and trust around (which is why we are reluctant to use babysitters). And this is now, when they can talk and tell us what they think. Usually that they prefer to be with mom and dad.
I am not saying that baby monitors are useless, by the way. They are very useful if you are at a location where you can easily reach your child. But that is exactly my point: you need to be able to reach your child.
Three Reasons Not To
Leaving aside the issue of whether it is ethical, or even legal, to leave a child alone by themselves, let me give you three reasons for why you should never leave your child alone in a hotel room.
1. You May Not Be Able To Reach Them If Something Happens
2. Being Alone Is Very Scary
3. You Are Sending A Message To Your Child
Let us go through them one by one.
#1: Getting To Your Child
Why should you worry about whether you can get to your child physically? You can hear them on the baby monitor. That is, unless you have used a pair of mobile phones, because the call between them will usually be cut off when you enter the elevator (as it is a Faraday cage where radio waves can not pass out or in). And since the phone at the other end is trying to reconnect to the phone you are using, the call may not go through, and you have to go back to the room or not have a clue whether your child has woken up and is screaming in terror or whether she is sleeping like a log.
What If Something Happens?
If something happens, like a fire on the floors between the lobby and your floor, the fire brigade can prohibit you from going up to your child. Or even worse, toddlers can get out of bed and out of the room. Apart from their pinching their fingers in the door, drinking the drinks in the minibar, or falling off the balcony, not everyone who meets a lost child in a hotel corridor may be as helpful as my friend in the story above. And if your child is old enough to open the door by herself, you have no idea where they went or what happened.
Other People In Your Room
Also remember that you are not the only one with access to your room. There are plenty of hotel employees who can enter after knocking. Your child may not take kindly to finding themselves in the room with a stranger, even if they actually are the nicest person in the world. You have no control over who knocks on the door, and since your child is either quiet and possibly asleep; or crying because you have not come back, they may enter.
#2: Being Alone Is Very Scary
The second issue is of course resolved the moment you come back to the room. But how long time does it take? Small children are more easily scared in strange environments and situations - at four, my son is occasionally afraid of going to the bathroom himself, and will rather pee in his pants than go without an adult. I would not even want to think about how scared I would be if I found myself in a place I had never been before, unable to move my arms and legs, and nobody I knew nearby. I would probably scream in terror, and I am an adult. Imagine what your child is feeling and how much she might scream.
It may only take ten minutes for you to get back, but those ten minutes will feel really long. And they will be longer for your child. If you compare your lifespans, ten minutes in the life of a two-year-old corresponds to 1.5 hours in the life of a 20-year-old. Have you thought about what it would feel like to scream for 1.5 hours?
Stressing Children Is Bad Parenting
I know that I try to minimize the stress in my childrens life. It is enough for them to stress to get to daycare. They do not need the stress of not having mommy, or daddy, or granny, or uncle, or anyone they know and trust around. I know there are babysitters they would like. We used to have a lovely lady come in, she was so helpful and the kids loved her. But we can hardly bring a babysitter on family vacation. And since we are usually not staying in hotels, we have to find an agency we can trust if we want to use a babysitter. And even if the person has the best formal qualifications in the world, there is always personal chemistry. Finding someone who your children will like is extremely difficult online, especially as they start walking and talking. But then you probably have stopped using a baby monitor anyway.
I know there are people who will tell you there are different parenting styles, and there are. But bad parenting is not a parenting style. And I think stressing your child unnecessarily is bad parenting.
Did You Consider The Message?
Your child will stop screaming when you come back. You will both feel a lot better when you have cuddled her for a while. But then you need to consider what message you have just sent to your child.
That we as parents are communicating with our children whatever we do is something we forget altogether too easily. Our children do as we do, not as we say. Just watch them picking their noses. And if we teach them that it is OK to leave them alone while we go off and do something else, we are teaching them not just one, but several things.
#3: What Is Your Message?
The first thing you teach your child by leaving her alone with a baby monitor in a hotel room is that you do not want to be with her. Yes, think about it. By going off and leaving your child alone you are telling your child that you have something more important to do than being with your child. You are telling your child that she is less important than whatever it is you are off doing.
That is going to create fundamental insecurity in your child. She will always feel she is less important than something else. Whatever your parenting style, I can not see how that can be good parenting.
You may consider getting a babysitter. I would not do this, I prefer keeping things in the family. But as your child grow older they may actually enjoy spending time with a babysitter. Not all hotels have this service, but many do. It will not be free (unless you go to a casino or something, which has its own motives for luring you out of your hotel room).
Are You Saying You Are More Important?
The second thing you are teaching your child by leaving her alone with a baby monitor is that you consider yourself to be more important than your family. Yes, that pink little lump of flesh is your family now. If you are a single parent, even temporarily single, you may consider this harsh. Are you never going to have any time on your own?
Children Should Come First
No. Your children have to come first. And going off alone is not a way of putting children first. Especially when you could do things together with them. Even if they are asleep. You can go to the convenience store with your child in a stroller. You can take a walk with your baby in the carrier. You can not participate in a conference, go have a drink in the lobby bar, or go gambling at the slots or the blackjack table with your child tagging along. If that is what you want to do most in your life, perhaps you should reconsider your priorities. You are not alone any more.
Well, that was a bit of a rant. But now I can point people who want to leave their children alone in hotel rooms to it.
If you are interested in more tips and opinions about travel with children, I have written about traveling with toddlers, keeping toddlers entertained in flight, tlying with a child with fever, about people who complain about your kids in flight, what you can do to avoid your child getting lost and how to beat jetlag with your toddlers. And lots more.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.