When you have six kids and they participate in so many different after school activities, you spend a good deal of your time just playing “chauffeur”. When the kids are younger- there's really no dilemma at all. No matter which kid has soccer practice, swimming lessons. speech therapy, or a dentist appointment- all of the kids hop into the car too- and everyone's going along.
But is it fair to always drag them along for the ride?
Once your older kids hit middle-school-age, is it okay to leave them home alone and even put them in charge of “babysitting” the younger ones while you shuttle other kids back and forth to activities?
Things have changed in this area of parenting!
Way “back in the day”, I was already babysitting my neighbor's four kids when I was just 12 years old! There were even twin babies involved so I was even called upon to change diapers! However, my mom was always home, just a mere three doors down from the house where I was babysitting, so if I were to run into any sort of problem- I had “backup” just moments away.
But somehow today it feels to me as if things are different, and I wrestle with this choice all of the time.
It seems okay to leave kids at home if I'm just running to drop a child off at soccer practice at the local park which is less than 3 miles away, but is it still okay if I'm going to drive 20 miles away to a swimming lesson and stay there for 90 minutes?
Okay for a 15-minute stop at the grocery store but not okay for an errand that might take an hour?
My dilemma is that there are really two schools of thought about this:
The first one is that a little “free-range parenting” is a good thing. Allowing the kids to stay home alone and babysit their younger siblings teaches them responsibility, right? The kids feel grown-up, and trusted, and learn that they can handle things on their own for a bit of time.
My kids generally act pretty mature, follow our house rules, and have shown me that they can be trusted- so they have proven that they have earned this rite-of-passage, haven't they?
On the other hand…
The natural-born-mom-worrier in me thinks of all of the things that could go wrong when they are home without adult supervision.
What if someone decides to make microwave popcorn and puts it on for 30 minutes instead of 3 and catches the kitchen on fire?
What if they lock themselves out of the house and can't remember where I've hidden the spare key?
What if some menacing stranger decides to pull into my driveway, break the door down and kidnap my children?
See what an overly imaginative mind can do to a Mom's good sense?
The benefit of knowing how it all turned out!
I originally wrote this post six years ago when my kids ranged in age from 7-12. Now that I have the benefit of knowing how it all turned out- I can say that giving them doses of independence when they hit their middle school years, and gradually stretching that out over time is what worked for us.
Was it always smooth? No.
Did someone once drop a pizza inside of the oven so that the cheese burned everywhere and the fire alarm went off from all of the smoke? Indeed.
Have my kids had to figure out whether or not to answer the door, or how to handle a phone call from a stranger when not in my presence? Yes- they did.
But these experiences helped them to learn how to handle things that didn't go as planned… and that's always a good thing!