Sunday, February 17, 2013


My kids are 11, 9 and 6.  They have their little squabbles here and there, but for the most part they are very sweet together.  Aden as the oldest is good at managing her siblings, little Quinn is seldom any trouble, and although Mona in the middle is the least predictable of the three, she can be counted on to do her best to follow instructions.  So we've been experimenting more and more with leaving them on their own when we go out.

It's a whole new level of freedom as a parent when you don't have to either bring your kids with you everywhere or arrange childcare for them when you leave the house.  Aden is fairly trustworthy, and when she turned 8 we started letting her opt to stay home by herself if the rest of us ran out on an errand.  I'm less comfortable with Mona on her own even at 9 because I have trouble picturing her keeping a calm head in an emergency.  Quinn is about as responsible as you could ask a 6 year old to be, but he's still only 6.  As long as Aden is in the house I'm comfortable with leaving the kids on their own from time to time.

The rules for when they are on their own are as follows: 
No using the oven or the stove.  No activities that require running lots of water.  No telling anyone on the phone that their parents aren't there.  No opening the door for anyone who does not already have a key.  If you can't get along go to different rooms.  If there is a fire, leave.  They know which neighbors to contact if they have a problem.  They know how to dial 911.

We started with short stretches of unsupervised time while we did things like run to the store, and have been able to extend that to include whole Saturdays where I'm at work and Ian has Army drill.  On those days I call to check in periodically and remind them to walk the dog, and we make sure they are well stocked with food that doesn't require any cooking.  So far so good.  For Ian's birthday the two of us even went out to a movie and left them in charge of putting themselves to bed.  It still makes me nervous, but I'm glad it's an option.

I'm proud of my kids when they can do things on their own.  It's hard to let go and leave them to themselves, but I remind myself that ultimately that's my job.  I tell my violin students all the time that my goal is to teach them enough to make myself obsolete.  On some level my kids will always need me, but eventually not to do things for them.

Aden and Mona recently had a violin recital.  They played well and I was proud of them, but I may have been more proud of the fact that the morning of the concert my kids decided to make cookies to bring to the reception afterward, and did it all on their own.  Aden and Quinn made the dough without any adults around.  They didn't need me to run the mixer, find the ingredients, or read the recipe.  I did help put the cookie sheets in the oven, but Aden could have done that.  I left the kitchen entirely when it was time for all three kids to decorate their treats.

This is what my kids can do unsupervised:

My kids still need to improve at swimming, we've taught them nothing about sports, and everything they know about religion they've probably learned from The Simpsons, but overall I'd put their day to day life skills in terms of doing laundry and preparing food and their general level of basic decent behavior up against anyone's kids.  (Why such excellent kids still can't put their clothes down the chute without a reminder, however, remains a mystery.)


  1. That's awesome, I aspire to raise kids like this but I fear that I am far too lazy to put all the upfront effort in...

  2. I confess, I'm looking forward to a time when we can leave the girls unsupervised. Poor Bitty is such a worrier I'm afraid Bean will be ready looooong before Lil is...

  3. It makes me so happy to read this - I had a heated discussion with a friend last week about leaving kids alone, with me saying it's up to the parents to decide when kids are ready and preparing them appropriately, and her saying there should be laws banning it before kids are at least 12. Twelve!! She's American and I am not, so I thought maybe it was a cultural thing... but I'm very happy it's not a nation-wide thing!! Because I do very strongly believe that we should not just teach our kids to be independent but give them the chance to be as well. And also, that even though we love our children, we should not have to be by their side every second of the day.

    1. I think it depends so much on the individual child and where you live. I was fine with sending my oldest at 9 down to Target alone (two blocks away) to pick up milk, but my brother doesn't have that same kind of luxury with his daughter because they live in Manhattan. A two block journey is very different there!

      As much as I love being with my kids I think we do them a disservice by watching them all the time. I agree we need to find ways to let them learn real independence. It takes some creativity, trust, and a willingness to give up some of our own control, but it's worth it.

  4. I agree with Emma - it's a relief to hear of other parents who trust their kiddos to stay alone in the house. I leave my 10- and 8-year-old boys, though not the 4 year old. Not yet. Maybe next year. Mostly I'm afraid the youngest one will drive the other two a tad too far over the crazy line. He's that kind of kid. But other parents look embarrassed for me when I mention this practice...