Did we break any laws in the story I’m about to tell? (Well… no… but before I wrote it and put it out there in cyber space I had to do a little research to make sure… all the while having a little chuckle at myself)
The story behind this is that yesterday morning, we let Ethan stay home on his own for almost two hours. This came about opportunistically, as Dean was on his way home, I was en route to work, and Audra was at a friend’s sleepover. Upon reflecting what to do with Ethan in the hour-or-so interim, it dawned on me that staying home was actually a viable option. And quite honestly, it is not an option that has ever occurred to me in the past, but this time it came to the front of my mind like an epiphany – a new level of awareness being revealed. And in a way it was – a pretty big first step, I think.
It’s been a process over the last few months of slowing testing the waters to see what level of responsibility he can handle. Leaving him home while I’d run to the store, letting him go on his own for a bike ride, to the park with friends, or to the library to get some books (always with a watch to make sure he was home when expected) And every time, he passed the “test” with flying colours. Dean, of course, has a different comfort length to his parental “leash” (he cites growing up and letting himself in the house on his own at age 8 – although I feel it is relevant to mention his 12 year old brother was in the picture.. although “too cool” to walk home from school with his little brother.) I admit that in part, it may also be a dad-thing.
Regardless, my point is this: there are lots of factors to consider when deciding when and how any child can be left home. The reason for my laughing at myself as I read through government pamphlets by Child Protective Services was that I wanted to avoid needless lawful action against my mothering choices – but also because it seems silly to me to think a law might tell me what choices we are allowed to make about taking care of our own children. I mean, who on earth knows our son better than we do at this point in his life? Who loves him more than his parents? No one. Ever.
Could someone call the police on us for leaving our 9-(and-a-half)-year-old son home alone? Citing irresponsible parenting or abandonment?
I think I’d fight them by citing excellent parenting to have instilled such a high degree of self-worth and self-responsibility in our young son that we could feel confident in our choice to leave him alone for a short time.
And so yesterday morning, he got up with me, excited and full of pride that he was deemed “old enough” to stay home alone. Old enough actually has little to do with it, in my mind – it really is whether there has been enough evidence of being able to make good choices, show maturity and take responsible actions.. And he has demonstrated these time and time again.
Now, I would not leave him home with another 9 year old friend. And I wouldn’t leave him to be responsible for his 7 year old sister, either. But on his own, it turned out to be a great lesson for all of us.
Our strategic plans were in place (don’t answer the door, only answer the phone if it’s mom or dad, don’t touch the stove, do you know how to dial 911?) – and phone numbers were on speed dial. The reality is that in our little town of 3,800, he could have gotten help if needed from any number of our close neighbours and friends.
And did I worry? No, not at all. Actually, not even for a second. My only hesitation – still laughing about it – was wondering if I could get in trouble for it if “anyone found out”. When Dean got home, Ethan was lounging on the couch in his robe, munching on a bowl of nuts and watching TV. Our little boy, not so little.
I guess it’s all just part of that same process of gradual letting go that parents go through. The reality is that they are going to grow up and eventually lead their own lives, and I would like to provide safe and supportive conditions for them to stretch their wings in the process. The truth is that if we want to nurture responsible, resilient and self-confident children, at some point in time, we have to provide the framework for testing out those new skills.
I’m pretty sure that this experiment could be the stuff of school yard bragging – just hopefully without the age-related tendency towards exaggeration… then we might really be in trouble!