Our columnist Nicole Zeman, a mom of two in Portland, Oregon, answers your pressing questions in her new Parents magazine advice column, "If You Ask Me...". Send Nicole your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be periodically posting some of the questions she answers in this space, and here is the first:
Q: A new mom friend of mine wants to trade off babysitting for our 2-year-old daughters. Only problem is that her house is unsafe in a few key ways. She has covers on outlets, but there are no baby gates on the stairs and sharpened colored pencils that belong to her older kid are stored in baskets on the floor. I'm not sure if my friend thinks of these things as hazards. Do I confess my concerns or just make up an excuse?
-Doing the Safety Dance
A: Dear Dance,
The golden rule is that your child's safety is priority number one, and other people's feelings be damned. That said, coming right out with a list of ways that her house isn't safe is equal to calling her a bad parent, which is sure to put your fuzzy new friendship on ice. Also consider that anyone can be guilty of a safety blind spot and every kid is different.
Your ideal move is to get your message across without sounding judgmental. Do that by couching your concern in terms of your own tot's limits. Let your friend know that you'd love to leave your daughter over at her house but are worried because she isn't yet able to navigate stairs and can't be counted on to handle pointy art supplies without putting an eye out. Throwing in a compliment about how advanced your friend's daughter is in those ways will candy-coat your comment even more. If your new friend is sensitive and accommodating, she will offer to put up baby gates at her place (volunteer some if necessary), store sharp objects on a high shelf, and be extra attentive every minute that your toddler is in her care.
You could also hit the park and ask her to keep an eye on your little one while you 'make a phone call.' If she isn't as vigilant as you would be, then, yeah, make up an excuse—all the babyproofing in the world won't stop a toddler from getting into trouble if no one is watching.
P.S. To find your safety blind spots, ask mom friends to look for anything you missed. I did and was horrified to discover we hadn't put anti-tip brackets on the bookcases that our toddler was always trying to climb.