Why I left my nine-year-old home alone
How do you know when they're old enough?
Last time I went to see my son in the school panto, another parent asked me where my daughter was, so I 'fessed up: "At home alone, eating crisps and watching The Simpsons".
The other mother looked horrified and said "Isn't that illegal?" I presume she meant the home alone bit, as I am not aware of salty snacks or American cartoons being outlawed yet (though it wouldn't surprise me these days).
And no, Judgemental Parent, it is not illegal, as you would know if you read Catherine's post setting out the official advice here,
The rights and wrongs of leaving your children at home by themselves have been in the news a lot lately. Nova at Cherished by Me responded to this by wondering if we are turning into a Nanny State. I wonder that too. Surely these are decisions for parents to make, not the state, since we know our children best of all.
My daughter is due to start secondary school in September, and it'll be a solo bus ride away. So the more confidence and independence she has, the easier she'll find that to manage. Which is one of the reasons I've allowed her to spend time at home alone since she was nine.
At first I only did it for a few minutes whilst I nipped across the road to a neighbour's house, or popped a letter into the post box at the end of the street. Over time this has increased, and the longest I have left her is around two hours whilst I did the supermarket shop.
I didn't do it lightly and was nervous about it. I don't feel guilty about it, so why did I feel so angry and got at when the parent at the panto commented last week?
A big factor in this is that my daughter really wanted to be left alone, and was ready for it. Plus she is generally a mature and responsible child. The one who was most anxious about it was me - I wrote out my mobile phone number and made her practice using the landline to call it.
Other instructions were: No answering the door; no cooking; no wild parties with the cat. I got her to explain to me exactly what she would do in an emergency, to check that she understood and was happy with this. We live in a busy, friendly street where we know most of the neighbours, so there is always someone to call on if necessary.
But it never has been necessary - the biggest problem I have found is that my daughter gets a bit grumpy when we come back and her home alone time is over. I think we're cramping her style.
So now she's 11 and is quite happy to have some time to herself. Her brother is seven, and is noticing that he still has to accompany his parents on boring errands, whilst his sister gets to put her feet up at home in front of the TV. But though he grumbles about this, I'm in no hurry to leave him alone too. I fear that two children can get into mischief that would never occur to one by themselves. So he'll have to wait for a few more years at least.
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