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Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Is It Ok to Leave a Sleeping Baby Home Alone?

Sleeping baby home alone via shutterstock

My daughter loves to sing. I’m not surprised. As the daughter of two musicians, she has had music around her since conception. Lately, my mother-in-law (MIL) has been teaching her Chinese children’s songs and it’s so lovely to hear her little voice singing the words. One of these songs is called “Good Little Rabbit 小兔子乖乖” and she’s taken to singing it every time anyone comes through the apartment door.


When my daughter was less than a year old, my MIL and I had a serious conflict that needed mediation. My husband, I’m grateful to say, sided with me and new rules were put into place. This is how it all unfolded:


I arrived home from work one day and entered my MIL’s apartment to have dinner and then take my daughter home. The day was a murky fog of pollution and I knew that my MIL had not taken my daughter outside in order to protect her little lungs. Nevertheless, fresh vegetables had mysteriously appeared for dinner. “Where did those come from?” I asked, curiously. It was then that I discovered my MIL had a habit of waiting for my daughter to fall asleep for her nap and then leaving her alone to go to the market.


“I locked the front door,” she said defensively. “She was still sleeping when I got back!” My MIL went on to insist that this was quite normal, that she used to leave her son (my husband) to go to the market all the time when he was an infant…that everyone does this in China!


I was shocked and horrified. “But she was all alone! You can’t do that, Ma!”


I insisted it wasn’t safe. What if she started coughing or choking in her crib? What if she fell out? There are so many things that could go wrong. An adult always needs to be present for a baby! I reminded her that in the West, leaving a child alone is actually illegal.


My husband agreed with me. His support was vital because my MIL and I regularly butt heads. In her mind, a “Nainai” should make the decisions (the older generation). In my mind, a child’s mother should have the ultimate authority. This is central to our culture gap and we generally navigate it fairly well, each making compromises when necessary. Yet, in this situation, if my husband had not stated his opinion and stood by me, I may never have been able to trust my MIL to take care of my children again. I knew I couldn’t budge on this point. Not for a moment.


An American friend of mine whose family lives in Beijing full-time also encountered this issue. Her oldest daughter at 3.5 had complained of waking up from her nap to no caregiver in the house. Not sure whether to take her young daughter’s word for it, she hesitated to clarify with their ayi (nanny). A short time later, similar to my situation, she realized that her ayi had been able to get to the store despite the children not leaving the house. Eventually, it was revealed that their ayi regularly ran errands while their daughters napped in the afternoon. It goes without saying that my friend quickly put a stop to it.


So this week, with this new Chinese children’s song ringing its melody in our apartment, I was reminded of these situations. Since my daughter sings the song whenever anyone walks through the door, I finally focused on the lyrics. You see, “xiao tuzi” (little bunny) is modelling a behaviour: not to open the door unless mommy has come home.


Here are the lyrics:


“Good little rabbit, open the door!
Hurry and open it! I want to come in.”
“I won’t open it, I won’t open it!
Mama’s not back,
So I won’t open it no matter who it is.”
“Good little rabbit, open the door!
Hurry and open it!  I want to come in.”
“Open it right away, open it right away,
Mama’s back,
So I’ll hurry and open it right away.”

小兔子乖乖把门儿开开  Xiao tuzi guai guai, ba mer kai kai!
快点儿开开我要进来 Kuai diar kai kai, wo yao jin lai.
不开不开我不开  Bu kai, bu kai, wo bu kai!
妈妈不回来  谁来也不开 Mama mei hui lai, Shei lai ye bu kai.
小兔子乖乖把门儿开开  Xiao tuzi guai guai, ba mer kai kai!
快点儿开开我要进来 Kuai diar kai kai, wo yao jin lai.
就开就开我就开  Jiu kai, jiu kai, wo jiu kai!
妈妈回来了 我就把门开 Mama hui lai le,  Kuai diar ba mer kai.


In other words, this little bunny is home alone! If it’s the basis of a popular children’s song, it must be a pretty normal circumstance in Chinese culture. I can’t help but stress once again: it’s not normal in my culture.


There is some positive, however. The lyrics reinforce the message that a child must keep the door locked to strangers, for safety. Alright, that’s a good thing, but to me, this is a secondary safety measure in a primarily unsafe situation. It is the same logic I’ve heard here in China that it’s safer for babies to ride on their mother’s laps in the back seat of a car rather than the front seat (see my previous blog post about that!)  Child safety seats haven’t yet fully penetrated this nation’s thinking. Again, this is another safety precaution in an originally unsafe situation.


All I can say is this: until my “little bunnies” are in their double digits, they will never experience being left alone. On this, I must insist. Call me an overprotective Westerner all you like, but I say leave it up to the constantly present care giving adults to decide whether it’s safe to open the door or not!


Besides, when the adults are at home with my little bunnies, they get the benefit of hearing my daughter sing. And this proud mommy can hear that she’s already got a great sense of pitch. Now someone give that kid a carrot!

© 2014, Ember Swift. All rights reserved.

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Ember Swift is a Canadian living in Beijing who gave birth to her first child in January 2012. She is also a professional musician and writer who has released 11 albums independently, toured internationally and writes for several international publications in addition to keeping three distinct blog series active. Her official website is located at

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsJules   |  Monday, 05 May 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Don’t call CPS, but if I’m missing one or two things, I will leave my napping kidlet alone and run across the street to get what I need. Sometimes, if it’s late in the day and I don’t want to spend 10 minutes getting everything together for a 2-minute trip, he’s not even asleep–I just put him in his room (all of his toys are kid-safe) and close the door. In my case, the supermarket is across the street from our apartment, so I can literally be there and back within 5 minutes. Otherwise I would never do this.

  2. CommentsCharles Anthony   |  Wednesday, 07 May 2014 at 6:45 pm

    I agre with you, Ember. This goes to the heart of raising a child who trusts his family more than any other external social construct. The first choice a child ever makes in life is this: “Do I trust this adult?” That choice repeats itself as long as that child breathes —- awake or not.
    As a parent, the issue becomes: “Do I want to foster a sense of security between my child and I? or Do I want to breed a child who needs to choose somebody else to trust?”

    A child who wakes up alone will grow up to be a child without a natural instinct to trust parents.

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