We’ve all faced this dilemma: it’s bedtime for your only child, age 10, when he says, “Mom! I need [fill in the blank] for school tomorrow.” You don’t have any [fill in the blank] in the house, your spouse isn’t home, it’s past 9 pm, so what do you do?
Maybe this is a bad example. Some of us would say, “too bad, so sad” and be done with it. Some of us are never alone with our kids in the evening, being blessed with partners who are actually home and who actually help with parenting stuff. And what stores open past 9?
Having spent years married to an airline pilot who was regularly away for days at a time, and then years after that as a single mom of three kids (plus years before that as a single mom of one), this kind of thing happened to me a lot. Not so much the last-minute Mom-I-need-it requests, but the dilemma of needing to leave kids at home came up a LOT. And mostly, I didn’t. It was pretty much out of the question.
What worked (or didn’t) for me is probably different than what works for you. But here are my general rule(s) of thumb:
One kid alone can be left at a younger age than multiple kids at once Kids in groups seem to get in trouble easier than one kid home alone. Plus it seems unfair (not to mention unsafe) to leave a kid alone in charge of other younger kids until he’s really old enough to handle whatever might happen.
Always do a dry run Before this becomes a regular thing for you, try it out. Then ask lots of questions. If you were gone an hour (maybe too long for the first time), did she play video games for 10 minutes and then get right to her homework? Or did she call your cell phone 20 times after you had been gone 5 minutes to “make sure you were okay”?
Inform, don’t scare Every kid-left-alone should know basic things about what to do in case of emergency or unusual situations. Fire? Smell gas? A stranger calls for mom? Also, every kid-left-alone should have a list of go-to’s (trusted neighbors, family, etc) in case they can’t get hold of you.
I left my older daughter home to walk to a neighbor’s and get on the school bus every morning from about age 9. It was earlier than I wanted it to be (don’t we all want to protect our kids?), but it was circumstance of necessity and she mostly left when I did and hung out with the neighborhood kids (watched by a mom) at the bus stop.
When she got home again was another matter; she was alone for 2 hours before I got there. But she called my office the minute she got home and if I wasn’t there she talked to my secretary, who always knew where I was. Back then (I can’t believe I’m saying this; did we really have a cell phone free world once?) there weren’t really any cell phones but I did install a “car phone” and it mostly worked for her 3:15 daily call to check in.
It turned out well. There was only one incident when I found burnt matches left around after I got home (are you kidding? is this a cliche or what??), but we nipped that one in the bud pretty quick.
My younger three were a different story. Leaving Oldest Boy home with two sibs, one with Down syndrome, well, that never happened except for a couple of times running to the corner drug store to get some emergency item or another. And this after he turned 12.
My question to you: do you leave your kids home alone? And what are your rules of thumb? How has it gone for you? Or would you never, never do it?
Photo: christgr, SXC
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