Living below two little kids (who sounded like quintuplets) when I was a university student gave me a soft spot for people who want to live in relative peace and quiet. So when my landlord sent me an email last month kindly asking me if there was anything I could do about my baby's crying, I wasn't miffed. I was, in fact, apologetic and obliging.
My one year old's bedroom is right above the entrance to the other unit in our converted character house, and she woke up from her nap crying just as a prospective tenant was viewing the suite. Talk about terrible timing.
I wasn't home, but it took my partner longer than usual to get to her because he was in the middle of making sushi and had to get the sticky rice off his hands. We do our utmost to keep the crying to a minimum and usually dart up the stairs as soon as we hear a peep.
Out of respect for our neighbours (and ourselves), we also have household rules for our four- and 14-year-old kids: Use your inside voice, no running and jumping, no loud music, no slamming doors, no click-clacking around in mommy's heels -- basic stuff. Naturally, the rules are broken every once in a while, but we are teaching our kids to be respectful.
Just this morning, at precisely 5:59 a.m. (groan), my four year old shushed her screechy sister, saying, “Our neighbour is still sleeping.” (Lucky her.)
One Abbotsford, B.C. mom takes a different approach with her sons, ages two and five. As reported by CBC, Kathryn Mackenzie responded to noise complaints from her downstairs neighbour by putting a foam mattress in her dining room for her sons to jump on. A questionable attempt at mitigating the racket to say the least. And it's not just the odd romp on the mattress that irks the neighbour.
In an email to Mackenzie, the neighbour wrote that the children were "constantly running back and forth, and ... jumping and stomping all day long."
It perhaps comes as no surprise that the conflict between Mackenzie and her neighbour has escalated. After the strata council determined the constant commotion caused by the kids violated a strata bylaw, Mackenzie received a $50 fine in November and another $50 fine in December, along with a final warning threatening further action and citing "excessive noise of running, jumping, banging, screaming and stomping."
"I have a two-year-old," Mackenzie tells CBC. "He does scream, he has tantrums ... I know it's really loud. He's supposed to be loud. He's two years old and there's nothing I can do to stop that."
I sympathize and I respectfully disagree. Of course kids can be loud and there are certain ages and stages at which decibel levels spike. Some children also have developmental challenges or health issues that make them prone to behaviour that may be disruptive to some. But there are plenty of things families can do to be good neighbours.
Communicate openly and respectfully
A study on negative relations between neighbours published in 2013 in the journal Urban Studies found that more than 18 per cent of people have been annoyed by at least one of their direct neighbours. By far, the most mentioned annoyance is noise. Children are among the other often-mentioned irritants.
The study finds that the most common way of dealing with annoyances (80 per cent) is to actively find a solution by discussing it with the offending neighbour.
When my landlord sent me a respectful email asking if I could do anything about my baby's crying and providing a possible solution (she suggested moving her to a different room that's not directly above the other unit), I was more than happy to work with her on a solution.
With past neighbours, my partner and I have checked in to see if we were being too loud. In one case, a neighbour said our cupboards slammed a lot, so we made efforts to get the kids to close them more gently. Simply asking your neighbours if your family is too rowdy can go a long way in building a good rapport.
Get to know your neighbours' schedules
Some indoor activities can be louder than others and are best reserved for times when your neighbours aren't home. We like to have the occasional dance party in our living room and, thanks to our thin walls and our view of the street parking, we usually know when our neighbours aren't around and it's safe to cue up the Frozen soundtrack.
We once had a nurse as a neighbour and invited her to put her schedule on a shared calendar so we could be sure to be quiet (or out) when she was sleeping off a night shift. She was too considerate herself to do so, but I know the offer was appreciated.
We try to keep our house for quiet time between activities outside the home. Even in the winter, there are plenty of options from playgroups to the pool. I imagine it's a lot more fun to jump on a trampoline at the gymnastics centre than a mattress on the floor. When we bring our kids inside after a busy morning at the park, they're a lot less likely to be bouncing off the walls.
Make reasonable concessions
If a neighbour is irritated by the sounds of those loud electronic chunks of plastic, it's just the excuse you've been waiting for to take them to the consignment shop. Trust me, no one will miss them. If there are small things you can do to make your neighbour's life more peaceful, do them.
Schedule disruptions and give some warning
We waited until our neighbours were out of town for the weekend before eliminating nighttime breastfeeding, which we rightly predicted would result in some tears. If you're planning a "cry it out" sleep training program, let your neighbours know and perhaps purchase them some earplugs.
When our baby was teething hard (and loudly complaining about it for what seem liked all day and night), I spoke to our neighbour about the situation. Most neighbours will appreciate knowing what's going on and knowing that it's not going to last forever.
Choose your home wisely
I would never choose to move my family into an upper-level suite. Minimizing shared walls and ceilings was an important criterion when we were looking for a family home. Mackenzie told CBC her complex is "family friendly," which is important, too. Of course, welcoming families and welcoming excessive noise are two different things.
Mackenzie’s place also has a wood frame, basically a sound conductor, and she says she’ll never buy in a strata complex again.
It can be tough for families to find comfortable, safe and affordable housing. Often, multi-family dwellings are the only option. No one should be driven out of their home because they have kids. But no one has to be.
There are rules in communal living situations: strata buildings have bylaws and renters are bound by the Residential Tenancy Act, which entitles them to the quiet enjoyment of their homes.
Rules and regulations aside, respect your neighbours and they will respect you. And that means no more monkeys jumping on the mattress on the floor!
"For a year and a half now I am not parenting the way I would want to because I have to put this virtual stranger’s comfort before the well-being of my children," Mackenzie told CBC. For me, living in a multi-family dwelling has actually helped me parent the way I want to: it encourages me to get out with my kids, it reminds all of us to keep our voices down and, most importantly, it offers a daily reminder to teach the kids the importance of being respectful to others.
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