If I were a different kind of parent, my life would be so much easier. I would set the rules and my children would follow them, mostly. Instead, my husband and I decided to allow our children a say in the decisions that most affected them, sort of “no parenting without representation,” if you will. We’ve always required that they state their case convincingly, backing it up with more than just their own vehemently stated desires.
Now, of course, we are living with a severe case of "Be Careful What You Wish For." Children capable of formulating a sound logical argument are not to be trifled with. No matter how loudly I say “Because I said so!” they recognize it as the last desperate gasp of a woman out of countering points. Lately, I find myself wishing I’d gone to law school.
This week’s debate is how old do you—meaning my daughter—have to be to stay home alone. My husband says somewhere around middle school and I’m inclined to agree with him. Our son, responsible for his sister’s care while Mom and Dad are away, says she’s perfectly fine on her own right now, but with friends calling for him to hang out, his motives are not entirely pure. Our daughter, convinced she’s no longer a baby, agrees with our son. She’s 9; he’s 16.
I’ve spent the better part of the week listening to both children’s arguments in favor of our leaving our youngest to fend for herself for a while. She can get her own food, knows when to call 911, and is generally a responsible, mature child. Both children claim that other neighborhood kids care for themselves often. Still, my husband and I weren’t convinced.
I was so anxious, in fact, that I did what I always do when faced with a dilemma: I researched it. I found what I was looking for, too. The University of Illinois Child Care Resource Service has a downloadable checklist to help parents evaluate their child’s readiness for self-care. Mom, dad and daughter took the quiz and I was surprised at the results. According to the checklist, none of us are completely ready for her to stay home alone. The checklist revealed that, despite her bravado, she’s anxious, too.
Just to be thorough, I checked the Naperville Police Department website. While the police present “On Your Own” safety courses to third-graders throughout Districts and , they don’t advocate leaving children alone. In fact, in Illinois, parents can be considered negligent for leaving “any child under the age of 14 alone for an unreasonable amount of time.”
I didn’t relish the idea of debating what constituted an unreasonable amount of time when we told the kids they’d be home alone together for a while longer. So, I devised my equivalent of a thermonuclear device: we’d pay our son to watch his sister. Debate over; point to Mom and Dad.
Do your children stay home alone? Tell us in comments!