Sunday, November 20, 2011

Home alone: 2011 is not 1983

Originally posted on Live Journal: Suburban Eschatology Part Two (April 23, 2011 -12:57 PM)

Note:  November 20, 2011, 6:55 PM

Been working on tweaking and changing some of the tools I use to post, and the new method makes it very easy to migrate posts from one blog to another.  Eventually, I would like to move everything over here from the old LJ blog, but that is not a huge priority right now.

However, working on the system for doing that, I did want to move a few over tonight.  I posted a couple on their original publication date and posted a few for tonight.

In the future, I will probably just sneak most of them in behind the current posts on their original date.

I will also be working on a couple years worth of posts that were pulled down off of Rubble when it was repurposed and never put up anywhere else, the new SE2 or the old.

How Old Is Old Enough To Leave Them Home Alone?  (by Sarah Maizes on January 26, 2011)
”I left my kids alone for all of seven minutes, and I can’t help but feel like a criminal. Why is that?

Like the author of this article, our children are eight and eleven, and this is an issue that their mother and I deal with as well.  Are they old enough to be left alone?  In what situations and for how long?  Of course, with the unique issues my children are dealing with, it is a little more complicated, but we still struggle with the basics.

In the early 80s, I was a latch key kid from about the third grade through the middle of the fifth grade.  There would be many days where I would be alone until past bed time, responsible for cooking my own dinner and putting myself to bed.  At the time, it seemed pretty normal.  Especially being alone for a few hours, which was the most typical, until Mom came home from work.

These days, however, this does not seem as normal, at least in our neighborhood.  Plus, there are more after school programs available for single parents to fill the gap between school letting out and returning home from work, which were virtually non-existent in the early 1980s.  So, it would seem that leaving my eight year old and eleven year old alone for a twenty minute store run or for an hour and a half while I run to a meeting should not feel like a big deal to me, but it does.

I live in an apartment complex, and I've never had an issue with leaving the kids while I run up to the office to deal with an issue or run to the mailbox.  These little ventures could take from five to fifteen minutes.  Or just going out for a smoke or two, the boys might be alone in the apartment for up to twenty minutes.  But I was right there, they knew where I was, and they could walk out and get me in case of an emergency.

A couple years ago when their mother lived in the complex across the street, she'd come over for dinner sometimes and then I'd drive her home (she is disabled and the walk, especially around bedtime, was a bit much for her).  These runs would take less time than a walk to the mailbox, but I would still feel that we were doing something risky and not right.  Until we got used to it.  Meanwhile, the boys barely noticed I was gone.  So after these little jaunts were shown to be successful, I started leaving them for a few minutes if I needed to run across the street to pick up something forgotten at their mother's or even run down the block to the store for a few for a gallon of milk or whatever.  These trips still didn't take any longer than a run to the mail box, but I was not where they could come get me if I was needed, so there was a fundamental difference.  They were really on their own until I returned.  This was a big deal to me.  They, on the other hand, wouldn't have noticed I was even gone if I hadn't told them first.

Today, their mother and I are in slightly different places on this issue.  Also today, the boys have some issues that do differentiate what I'd do with them versus what I'd do with "normal" children.   With "normal" children, I think I'd be at the point where I'd feel comfortable leaving the kids alone, with the 11 year old nominally in charge, for up to two or three hours between meals and definitely being home before bedtime.  With my kids, I might feel comfortable leaving them alone for around an hour, maybe.  And probably just the 11 year old.  They have some issues.  Their mom will leave them alone for up to about two hours.  One issue we deal with is the idea that, if the older one is too sick to be in school right now, then he is probably too sick to be a qualified babysitter, but that issue is fading a bit now that we are working on getting his education back on track.  But that is a different story, and one unique to our family.
But even looking at what I would feel comfortable with if I had "normal" kids, there is a big difference between today and what my mother was doing back in 1983.  What has changed?  Societal standards are very different today, and we've have a lot more experience with single parents and latch key kids than we did back in 1983.  This is probably responsible for a lot of this, and I know in some neighborhoods the standards are probably very different than my neighborhood.  However, for me, it really comes down to personal experience.  
My experiences as a latch key kid back in the 1980s are really what guides my thoughts on this issue.  I think it was just too much too early back then.  I think it made me grow up too fast.  I remember, when I was a kid, seeing old sitcoms and what not with kids who were kids and realizing that I was not like that.  I never really had that period of idyllic childhood innocence that I saw on TV.  We were exposed to the grown-up world early.  We were watching R rated movies from about the second or third grade on.  We were sexualized early.  We were left alone.  Being a kid, not a parent, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I am not sure why this was, but I suspect that it was largely just a different approach to parenting back then than we have now, one that came out of the society of the late 1960s and 1970s when our parents came of age. 
And we did grow up fast and early.  We were more independent and we were not naive about sex, drugs and the world at large when we encountered it.  But at what cost?  We also struggled with trusting loved ones, with building healthy relationships later in life, with understanding our roles in society when we lost our independence in school and, later on, at work.  With my kids I've been trying to find a balance, where they can learn about the world, about responsibility, and about independence at a slower rate, leaving them plenty of time to just be kids while preparing them for the world they are encountering when they encounter it.  Due to the unique circumstances of their lives, this hasn't always been successful, but I've been doing the best I can with my parenting time.   
Sometimes I look at my kids and just can't relate.  Especially with the 11 year old.  His life, his world view and experience, is just so different from mine at his age.  At 11, I was a small adult.  At 11, he is still a little kid.  True, he is growing up slower than he should, again due to the unique circumstances of his life, and he is a little too far behind where his peers are at his age, but, overall, I think it is a much more healthy place for him to be than where I was at 11.  Of course, not all of that was due to how often and for how long I was left alone, but I do feel that it is an indicator of how parenting approaches have changed since then, our views of what is and is not age appropriate for kids.
By the time I was nine or ten, I could cook myself a healthy meal and put myself to bed with no one else at home.  My son, at 11, would melt down and freak if he had to do these things.  Somehow, I think one is a bit more healthy that the other.  So maybe we should be a little more comfortable with giving our kids a bit more independence these days, leaving them alone to fend for themselves, developing their own coping skills a bit more and learning that they can handle things on their own without constantly relying on Mom or Dad to solve all their problems, but, I think, they still should know that we are there for them if they need us, for a few more years, at least.

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