Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Asking the "village" - Home Alone

Home Alone (film)
Home Alone (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I loved hearing from people about my question, "What's on your parenting test?"  It confirmed my assumption, which is always gratifying, that our concerns are similar and that by talking honestly, we could all start to feel better about our choices.  Enough thoughts were shared that I will use it as a theme for the week.  Here's today's - leaving kids home alone.  When is the right time?

The question was specifically worded this way,   "My biggest concern is I just don't feel ready. If something were to happen I think I would blame myself for letting them stay home alone when they weren't ready or too young. Our daughter is 11 and our son is 10 and she is probably mature enough and responsible enough that I wouldn't have any concerns. He definitely is not ready which brings up all the competition and fighting they get into when anything isn't fair or equal. If she can stay home "IT ISN'T FAIR!!!!!" if he can't."
First off, I realized (after the fact) that there were actually rules about kids being left alone in my state, so check that.  No need to worry about sibling rivalry if you should really worry about the Department of Children and Family Services showing up at your door.  Next, it was helpful for me to sort out my fears about strangers breaking in hurting my kids and my fears of my own children setting the house on fire, hurting themselves, or just not being confident enough to go to a neighbors house if they were scared.  Random violence is impossible to control for, in my opinion.  We can make ourselves sick about it but random is random.   Random has just as much chance of touching kids who are sheltered their whole life as kids who were raised by wolves. It's terrible and life-changing and if we only live our lives waiting for it to come, perseverating on that fear, then we have allowed "Random" to actually become a very predictable and routine presence. 

Thankfully, most of my fears were things that I could teach and that my boys could practice.  I think the Free Range Parenting movement is about teaching those independent living skills and teaching them earlier rather than later.  (Editorial note: I have not read the aforementioned book.  I did hear an NPR story on it once though.)  For me, my big fear and question was when to let my kids ride public transit by themselves.  Thankfully, we are a one car family so we had plenty of chances to ride the bus together.  Over time, our rides turned into lessons.  "You tell me when our stop is coming.  I'm going to read my book.  You're in charge."  The trick with that is that they really have to be in charge.  I had to be willing to overshoot our stop and have them problem solve the solution.  I also gave a lot of quizzes, "What do you think we should have done when that man who was screaming came on the bus?"

These choices are absolutely going to be unequal, child to child, but they don't have to be unfair.  Each person is capable of different things at different times.  If we have our list of the issues and values that are important to us - the things that our kids must agree to if we are to trust them alone, then we can have them practice that even when they are with us.  Using the phone to ask a neighbor a question, locking up the house for you when you leave for school, and following directions in general, are great litmus tests.  "I can't leave you by yourself if I can't see that you know how to handle yourself.  Show me."  That comment seemed to bring surprises.  They did know more than I thought.  When they realized I was paying attention, they could be more than just silly goofballs who were trying to make sibling arguing an Olympic sport.

Eventually, we all find a way to run to the store for some milk, and then maybe a lunch date in the afternoon, a dinner at night, and then one day, find our little ones are amazingly, in a regular schedule of after-school independence.  We figure it out.  We also get used to multiple calls at work or on our commute.  Calls that help reassure us, frustrate us, and maybe most importantly, calls that help fill the silence for our child, alone at home.
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1 comment:

  1. Check out this blog post callled Home Alone on The Wonderwheel blog:

    And another one: Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone