A Parenting Dilemma

There comes a point when every parent has to face the dreaded question….at what age do you let your child/children stay home alone?

I think back to my childhood, and I remember having a friend at age 10 who was a “latch-key” kid (a child who stayed home alone after school for an hour or two before the parents come home). I also remember at age 11 my mom had a job that required my brother and I to take turns cooking dinner before she got home. But this was during a period when a friend of the family may have already been living with us, so there was still an adult around…although I’m not 100% sure about that. By age 13 (well two months shy of being 13), my dad had a brain aneurysm. His subsequent hospital stays and surgeries forced my brother and I to be home alone constantly. Of course my brother was 15, but we each did our own thing and didn’t spend much time together.

Now I am a mom, and not sure at what point I can or should start to let go. Our daycare stops taking kids at age 12. So I was curious and decided to look up my state’s laws regarding leaving children home alone. What I found just left me more confused. Apparently there is no age limit. They base it on the maturity level of the child. Now of course they do frown on children younger than 10 being left home alone for extended periods of time, but a child as young as 8 is allowed to be a “latch-key kid” and to be home alone for brief periods of time until the parents get home. I also found posts people have made in our state on this very issue. One post was by a police officer who says he let his 10-year-old son babysit his 3-year-old. Interesting.

So, I have started running errands that take no longer than an hour or hour and a half when my daughter Virginia is home sick from school. For example, I will run to the store or to the elementary school to pick up my youngest after school, while leaving Virginia at home alone. I figured it couldn’t hurt, after all she does ride the city buses alone after school every day, and that whole trip takes almost an hour before she gets to my office. That was hard at first, but I have gotten used to it. Virginia is 11 and very mature for her age. I have no doubt in my mind that she would be fine being left home alone right now. In fact, she has been begging me to let her stay home when there is no school, summer included, because she really loathes going to the daycare. Two problems….her dad (my hubby) and her sister.

Klara is going to be 9 soon. She wants to stay home with Virginia. The child can be very mature when she WANTS to be. But she rarely WANTS to be. She prefers to act like a baby most of the time. This behavior causes my girls to fight often, because Virginia can’t stand it. If I let them stay home alone together, who knows what they would do to each other. How do I let one child stay home and not the other? Then there is my husband. He is not fond of the idea for either one of them yet. I understand his apprehension. I have been there. But I am learning to let go, and it’s time he learns to do the same.

The biggest question lies in the summer months. I have told Virginia if she were to remain home, as a safety precaution, she would not be allowed to go outside to play. She would have to remain in the house all day. (Is this a reasonable expectation?) She would be very bored. But she insists she will find plenty to keep herself entertained all day, everyday.

So between listening to my child’s pleas and looking at the prospect of saving lots of money by not paying for daycare, I am really leaning towards at least one child staying home alone during the summer. Who knows, by the next school year, I may even consider letting Klara become a latch-key kid. After all, most weeks, she only goes to the daycare once or twice a week anyway since my husband either has days off during the week or gets home early. It’s a waste of money to have to pay for an entire week of daycare for only one day.

Oh how I wish I just had family living close by, then this would never be an issue. But alas, it is. So what do I do? What would you do?

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