Home Alone

January 21, 2010

When I saw the news that Anna Kournikova’s mom had been charged with neglect for leaving her little boy home alone for an hour while she ran errands, I thought, how terrible. And then I thought, there but for the grace of a little more restraint go I.

I’ve left my daughter alone. Not for an hour – not for anywhere near an hour; more like a handful of minutes – and not at any significant distance, but still. How much difference does time and distance make, anyway? If you live in a big house, with a big yard, does leaving a child napping while you go outside to garden count as neglect? Running next door to borrow sugar from a neighbor? Crossing the street to return a snow shovel? Is it okay if you’re only gone a few minutes? If you haven’t gone too far away? Should you never, ever leave your children alone in the house, for any amount of time? Or does keeping your children at your side even while you’re dragging the recycling bins back to the garage mark you as an incurably hyper parent?

I left my daughter alone.

It was the other week, when it was cold and wet and windy and miserable outside and Emilia was home sick – not a lot sick, but sick enough that I didn’t want her going to school or outside or any great distance from blankets and tissues – and my husband had just called to say that he wouldn’t be able to leave work early enough to pick up Jasper from daycare. I would have to go get him. Which wasn’t a big deal, really, because the daycare is only a few steps from our house, just around the corner, less than ten minutes round-trip including coat-buttoning and boot-zipping time. Except that it was kind of a big deal that day, because I had on my hands a sick, bedraggled child for whom the walk in the wet, blowing snow would not – no matter how short – be pleasant and would likely make her feel worse.

“Just leave her,” my husband said. “You’ll be back in less time than it takes you to go to the bathroom. She’ll be fine.”

I hesitated.

“Really,” he said.

He had a point. She and I would be out of communication range longer if I took a shower or went down to the basement to do laundry. I was just going around the corner. I’d only be a few minutes. I would never tell anyone.

“Never tell anyone,” said Katie, when I told her that I’d done it, that I’d left Emilia for a few minutes while I ran to get Jasper. “I mean, I totally think it’s no big deal, but you know. People judge.”

Of course they do. Because, really, it can be hard to know where to find the line that divides free-range parenting from Madame Kournikova parenting, between making a choice based upon one’s confidence in one’s children’s abilities to function independently in appropriate circumstances and making choice that disregards the interests and well-being of the child. It can hard to find that line, because the location of that line depends very much upon the attitudes and opinions of the person looking for it. If you believe that a kindergartener should never, ever be left alone, under any circumstances, then even leaving them in front of the television while you take a shower or run next door to return a snow shovel might seem borderline neglectful. If you believe that if they can tie their shoes and operate an iPhone, they can take care of themselves unsupervised for reasonable periods of time, questioning the reasonableness of leaving them while you go outside to do whatever might provoke headache-inducing eye rolls.

I’m more or less in the latter camp. My own parents were a combination of hyper (they would enroll me in any activity – organ, voice, gymnastics, swimming, art, public speaking – if I showed even the slightest flicker of interest or talent, and then stage-parent me enthusiastically) and free-range (I was roaming our neighborhood freely, climbing cherry trees and stealing fruit when I was still in preschool) and I don’t think that their tendencies in the latter regard ever put me in harm’s way (and I say this as a child of the Clifford Olsen era in British Columbia, lest anyone think that that is only true because the late 70′s/early 80′s in Canada were a simpler, more innocent time). I think, actually, that their practice of worrying only about what they thought was the big stuff – was I being encouraged enough? was I being given enough opportunities? how could they best work toward ensuring that my future was bright? – as opposed to what they saw as the small stuff – was I old enough to be wandering off on my own to explore the neighborhood and ransack cherry trees? – was pretty reasonable, as far as parenting philosophies go. They wanted me to have a world of opportunity, so they guided me toward and encouraged me in the pursuit of and held my hand in the exploration of as much of the world as they could. But they also  wanted me to be independent, and so they let go of my hand, a lot, and let me be independent from an early age.

I don’t know if they ever left me home alone while I was in kindergarten. I do know that my dad forgot me at the mall, once, and that my mom gave him shit for that for years, but that’s a different thing, I think.

This is, I think, a long-winded apologia for what is really just another parenting confession: I left my child in the house alone, and I don’t want to be raked over the coals for it, even though I know that I might be raked over the coals and even though I know that such coal-raking is actually good for the conversations that we’re having or should be having about our choices in parenting and how we react to each others’ choices and so on and so forth. It is, too, one more effort to stick to my guns with the philosophy that if I’m willing to do it – ‘it’ being some act of motherhood – I should be willing to talk about it. If I really were unwilling to talk about leaving my daughter alone in the house for a few minutes, then I shouldn’t have done it; if I can defend my choice to myself – and I should never make a parenting choice that I can’t so defend – then I should be able and willing to stick up for that choice out loud.

So, I admit it: I made the reasoned choice to leave my child alone, in the house, for a few minutes, and I don’t think that I was neglectful to do so. What do you think?

(Go easy on me.)

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    { 143 comments }

    Caetb January 21, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    I have to confess that I have on many occasions left one or both of my children alone in the house while I: brought in the garbage cans, got the paper, ran next door to borrow something from the neighbor. They also happily entertain themselves while I shower, cook dinner, nap, clean, whatever.
    My son is in kindergarten and my daughter is going on 3. I only leave her alone if she’s napping, although she does entertain herself while I shower.
    I certainly would never go far enough that I needed to drive. And I would never be away longer than the length of a shower, but if I had to drag my kids along ever time I set foot outside the house I think all of us would go mental.

    Okay, let the rock throwing begin..

    sarah February 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    I’m sorry, but I have several brothers and sisters and my mom told me one day (which obviously stuck in my head), that the day you decide to keep the child you have created in your stomach, that is the day you decide that this child is going to be with you everywhere! I believe that if you leave your child alone while you run out to the car or to take the trash cans or to borrow sugar from the neighbor, you are neglecting your child. Even as the oldest sister of 7, I am sure to bring my 9,5 and 3 year old brothers and sister with me out ANYWHERE.

    Well Read Hostess January 21, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    I totally agree with you about the hyperparenting.

    I’ve left my kids alone…with a phone in their hands (and of course my daughter called me within five minutes to ask me how long I’d be).

    But it’s all context and situation and kid specific, isn’t it? No matter what we do, we question it.
    .-= Well Read Hostess´s last blog ..I’ll Bet John Roberts Has Dick Cheney Hiding Under His Robes =-.

    Musings of a Housewife January 21, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I’ve done it. I think people are way too uptight these days, frankly. Your “secret” is safe with me. Heh.

    Leah January 21, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Yesterday I left my one-year-old in the car while I walked thirty steps to the ATM (in full sight of the car and my child), and I felt weird about it not because I thought something was going to happen to him during those two minutes he was strapped snugly into his carseat, out of harm’s way, but because I thought someone would see him (especially when he started crying) and accuse me of neglect.

    It’s good, I think, that most of us have seen enough child-left-in-the-car/at-home horror stories that we lean toward hyper-parenting, but I definitely agree that this is not the b&w issue people want to make it because, yes, it depends very much on the child, the parent, and the circumstance.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    It’s so powerful, isn’t it, that fear of censure – even more powerful than fear of something happening, because we’re pretty good judges of risk and our guts so often tell us when something’s pretty safe but OH GOD the fear of someone seeing and thinking differently. SIGH.

    madge January 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    My sister’s friend left her baby in the car (strapped in, asleep, window cracked) to run into her other child’s daycare. She had called ahead, plead her case and requested that her kid be dressed and ready. They were out in minutes.

    Then a few days later, she got a visit from Child Services. Another parent had seen the baby in the car and turned her in!

    I’m fairly free-range, but am also so wary of official, government sanctioned censure.

    zchamu January 22, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Leah, I did exactly the same thing the other day. She was asleep, bent over double passed out in her carseat, and I ran inside a store for about 90 seconds to pick something up that I desperately needed. The car was never out of my sight. She was at no more risk with me out of the car than she would have been with me in it. And yet? I didn’t even mention to the clerk that I had to go quickly because the baby was asleep in the car because oh my god, I can just imagine the looks or the judgey.
    .-= zchamu´s last blog ..I’m with CoCo. =-.

    Dani January 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I’m totally in the same boat. I have on two occasions have had a comatose child on a freezing day and run into a store for two minutes. But I want to lie and tell people that I dragged her out into the cold because I DID tell a friend once and got crucified for it.
    She was just as safe. The car was locked and the automatic starter was on so she was even still warm. It’s stupid that we have to be afraid of what people will think.

    Musings of a Housewife January 21, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Allow me to clarify. I just read the article. I’ve done the 10 minute thing while I run to preschool, not a 5-y/o alone for an hour. That’s beyond my comfort level.
    .-= Musings of a Housewife´s last blog ..American Idol Recap =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Totally got that. I’m not comfortable with the idea of leaving any child under babysitter age alone for an hour, either.

    Jenn January 21, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    I think you were totally justified. That being said, I leave my napping child in the house while I mow the lawn and garden all the time. I also leave them in the car (locked) while I take the 30 seconds it takes to run in and pay for gas. I don’t think what you did was wrong. I’m sure you locked the house. Besides, it isn’t like you left her for hours on end while you went out drinking or something. You were gone a couple of minutes and she was safe.

    Don’t beat yourself up over it. We all make our own choices as parents and no one will ever agree 100% with every choice you (or I for that matter) make. We are too quick to judge one another and I think it is because most people are just insecure about their own parenting choices so they choose to pick on someone else to make themselves feel better.

    Sugar Jones January 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    I once was chided by a neighbor for letting the kids ride their bikes to the community complex play area alone. It’s one building over. I could walk there in 30 seconds. I couldn’t believe I was being tagged a bad mom for allowing my kids to roam a less than a football field away.

    I don’t think we should be castigated for leaving our kids in a safe place for a short time. Who and how long depends on the age and abilities of the kids, of course. I can see some parents neglecting their kids…

    but that’s not me or you.

    :)
    .-= Sugar Jones´s last blog ..Screw Dr. Laura =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    :)

    Bonnie January 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Well, not being a parent I’m sure most of the responents after me will assume I know nothing; but, as an only child in a single parent house, I think I get a little opinion. I think your decision was fine – the reality is that your thought process was the good parenting part. The final decision was probably hard to make, but I think it was the fact that you understood the risks and made a decision that was caring and logical makes you a good mom. I grew up pretty independent and it was always taught to me that kids were just adult doing their on job training – so leaving a sniffly kid in bed for a little bit doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I only wish there were more moms like you who would recognise that they are not in control of the entire world and make decisions that don’t negate the fact that kids are not always destined for the worst case scenario.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Thank you – I think that the deliberation makes a lot of difference, too.

    Gray Matter Matters January 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Hmmm, it is a tricky one isn’t it. Every parent knows their child best–are they hypnotized when the TV is on so the likelihood of them leaving the couch is about 0% or do they get into everything?

    I think 50 minutes is truly neglectful when you’re talking about a 5-year old. I just started leaving my 10 year old alone for about that long, but he’s, well, he’s 10.

    I also wonder what kind of insecurity it could create in such a young child, being gone for that long. It would kill me to think of my child wandering around desperately looking for me. I’m not sure her 5-year old should get to decide whether or not he wants to accompany his mom on errands.
    .-= Gray Matter Matters´s last blog ..Sometimes it’s good to have a lawyer in the house =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I totally agree about the Kournikova case. I couldn’t have stood to leave Emilia for fifteen minutes, let alone fifty. It needed to be fast and close for me to justify it.

    Alexis January 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    In the same circumstances, I would have done the same thing.

    I used to agonize over whether it was okay for me to leave The Imp (3 months old, sleeping, in his crib) while I went downstairs (21 floors down, out of baby monitor range) to the laundry room for ten minutes. I did it – more than once.

    Now that he’s 19 months and mobile, of course, if I leave him awake and unsupervised for five minutes he wreaks immeasurable havoc upon the apartment, so I bring him with me.
    .-= Alexis´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Yeah, I can’t leave Jasper for more than fifteen seconds alone, because, DESTRUCTION.

    Lona January 21, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    I don’t think you did anything wrong. I’ve left my four year old parked in front of the television while I took the dog outside in a thunderstorm. Why WOULD I take my son out if he was perfectly safe — and in my instance, with the blinds open — I could see his little head in the house, bobbing to the music on the telly.

    I had those parents who were terrified to leave me alone. It was horrible, and left me — at 18, when I went off to college — in a horrible state, constantly nervous when alone.

    Ya did nothin’ wrong.
    .-= Lona´s last blog ..Geeeettting to know you, getttting to know alllll about you …. =-.

    Ali January 22, 2010 at 9:18 am

    I had those parents too! You have to learn to grow up AFTER you’ve left home, instead of being able to do it when you’re a kid.

    Carrie January 21, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I JUST wrote about this!!!! http://seattlemomblogs.com/2010/01/home-alone-when-are-your-kids-old-enough-to-say-home-without-a-parent/

    Anyway…I think only you can guage what is best based on your individual situation and your child’s personality. Only the parent, and I’m assuming you’re a level-headed, well-meaning parent, can make that decision. I’ don’t know the details about that other person, but of course…common sense is common sense. And the law is the law. All of these things play a part into what, should be, a well thought out decision regarding the care of one’s child. And regardless of judgement from other people, if it feels wrong – than it probably was. Not saying what you did, in your situation, was wrong…just saying. Ya know?
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Mom’s Lemon Chicken =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    I’m pretty level-headed, and very well-meaning :)

    And the ‘feels wrong’ thing – well, that was part of the point of talking openly about it. I’m okay with it, but being okay with it means okay talking about it.

    Molly January 21, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    I wouldn’t do it. But we live in a good neighborhood on the edge of a bad neighborhood, and the woman that lived here before us was a (no kidding) crack whore and for several weeks after we moved in the most terrifying bunch of people would stop by looking for her (she was evicted.) I live between two women, neither of whom work outside the home, and I think I would have asked one of them to come over and keep Max company for a few minutes. I know that’s not an option that most people have, but I think that’s what I would have done.

    Sure, I shower, do laundry, run out to the garage, and do lots of other things while I’m alone with my kids, but I’m still in the house. Max knows to NEVER, EVER open the door for anybody without asking first, and I don’t think he can manage the door anyway.

    I totally understand why you left her home alone for those few minutes, and in your case I might have done the same thing, but in my case, no way. No judgement though: I’ll parent my kids and everyone else should feel free to parent their own.

    Her Bad Mother January 21, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    “I’ll parent my kids and everyone else should feel free to parent their own.”

    Hear, hear.

    Mary Jo January 21, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    My husband differ on this topic a lot, and that worries me to some extent. We don’t have kids yet, but we’ve talked about children being left home alone. I was raised, as was he, as free roaming children in the 80′s and early 90′s. That being said, I believe the age in which you leave a child home alone differs with each child. While my husband thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to leave a 7yr old home alone, I disagree, that in my opinion is too young, no matter how mature. On the other hand you have someone like my sister-in-law who refuses to let her 13 and 16 year olds stay home alone, and THAT? Crazy to me!

    As far as what you did? I don’t see an issue, because you were minutes away. Like your husband said, you would have spent just as much time in the bathroom, basement or at a neighbors borrowing a cup of sugar. You did fine.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Now with more howling… =-.

    Bernadette Smith January 21, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    I have no problem with what you did. You did what was best for your child, both children actually. That is part of the problem with parenting. If you had taken her, someone would have given you shit for that! You can’t win this game, no matter what. You just do the best you can. That by the way is not an excuse. Someone somewhere will get all judgie about what your decision was.

    My mother has a fit if she can’t see and hear my children at every moment. I figure if no one is crying or bleeding, my work is done!

    I will keep your secret. If they find out and have a problem with it, tell them to suck it!

    Marcy January 21, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Twice now in the past couple of months I’ve been VERY tempted to leave my son in the car for a few minutes while I ran into a store (or into my own house) to get something really quick (he’s 2 yrs old and a PITA to get in and out of his car seat a lot of the time). Either time was overcast and cold, so there was no risk whatsoever of overheating. I felt it would have been a completely reasonable and safe choice each time. But I couldn’t stomach it because I knew if someone caught me I’d be viewed as a totally neglectful and irresponsible parent because of it. And honestly, I kinda resent that because, again, I *know* that he would’ve been fine, and made those 10 minutes it took to get whatever I needed to get a LOT easier and less of a hassle.

    In short– I think what you did was fine, and pretty much totally agree with you.
    .-= Marcy´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday: rainy days =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Okay, I *just* figured out the acronym PITA (had been trying to figure out how your child was a flatbread) and LOVE IT.

    Also, yes. And thank you ;)

    Marcy January 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    PS- I recently heard stories of when my mom was a kid, being walked around the block in a wagon by her 4 yo cousin while my mom was 18 months old and my uncle a baby of about 3 months at the time. And that was a totally fine, normal thing for them to do. You hear stuff like that (and know they all turned out fine and are still alive and were never kidnapped, etc) that helps give me a little perspective as per our “norms” today. My guess is most moms from the 50′s and 60′s would have been viewed as horribly neglectful by today’s standards.
    .-= Marcy´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday: rainy days =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    My parents let me go everywhere. I can remember playing alone (with friends) outside, away from sightlines of our house, when I was 5.

    Zeynep January 21, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    I don’t have children to leave alone… but I have been left alone as a child, for hours on end, every afternoon between the ages of 8 and…. whenever you’re not a child anymore, after I came home from school. Both my parents worked. I had no babysitter after my grandmother passed away.

    With a few pre-understood warnings and rituals (“Don’t use the stove, don’t open the door to anyone, call me first thing when you get home”) I guess the worst thing it caused was my habit of feeding the ants that used to get in that one time and then observe their patterns of movement. I would laugh in the face of anyone who thought my parents were neglectful.

    Beth January 21, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    This is something that me and my mom friends discuss a lot.The mothers (or fathers) who leave their children in cars for hours while they go to the casino (or whatever other horrible story you hear on the news) have obliterated the line that you talk of. I am not afraid for my baby’s safety when I leave him sleeping in the car when I run in to pay for gas. I am afraid someone will call the cops on me.
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Winter Blossoms =-.

    Shannon January 21, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Beth, that exact thing happened to me – someone called the cops on me and I was away from my (safely buckled in) children for no more than 2 minutes. And ever since then I can’t bring myself to do it, even though I am 100% confident that I in no way put my children in danger. I still stand by my decision and have no problem with others doing it. And Catherine, I do not think what you did was neglectful. It is up to you to decide if your child can handle a couple of minutes alone and you know her better than anyone else. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who thinks this way! :)

    Brittany at Mommy Words January 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

    We have a zer second law here in North Carolina so not only do the cops come – you get in big trouble for the car thing. I agree when the temperature is soaring because you can’t leave the car locked and windows closed but i think it is pretty silly to have parenting classes full of moms who ran in to pay for gas while it was freezing cold and pouring rain! So I am with you – terrified of the police more than the safety!
    .-= Brittany at Mommy Words´s last blog ..Bringing Baby Violet Home =-.

    Jennifer Juniper January 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    As with any parenting decision, I think you have to look at the circumstances. You were so close and it was for such a short amount of time.

    I wouldn’t have driven away or gone to the store, but I think what you did was reasonable. Would you have spent that amount of time working outside in your flower beds with a child inside? I would have, and have done so. I’ve walked to the bus stop when my little ones were still asleep. I guess something could have happened, but I also know of a horrible accident that happened to a little child when parents, siblings, and grandparents were in the same room: http://hopestudios.blogspot.com/2009/10/child-needs-your-help-hope-studios.html

    Don’t beat yourself up, we are all trying the best we can and working with what we’ve got to raise these kids of ours.
    .-= Jennifer Juniper´s last blog ..A Room with a View – Recycle an Old Window =-.

    C @ Kid Things January 21, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I leave my kids inside while I retrieve our garbage cans. I don’t like doing it, especially with my 3 year old who likes to get into everything, but sometimes things have to be done. If it wasn’t for my 3 year old, though, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it.
    .-= C @ Kid Things´s last blog ..Another First =-.

    jodifur January 21, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    I’m not going to comment on what I think or don’t think b/c it doesn’t matter, but will just say this. You are in Canada, and I don’t know Canadian law at all, but in the US, some states have laws about this. In the state I am in it is actually a crime to leave a child under 8 alone for any period of time. I’m not lecturing or passing judgment (although I did pass judgment when I wrote about this for mamapop but hey, that is what we do at mamapop) my hair just stood up a little reading this with “I just admitted I committed a crime, on the internet.” But I’m a lawyer, we worry about things like this.
    .-= jodifur´s last blog ..Merrily We Scoot Along =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    My understanding of Canadian law is that it’s similar, although I don’t know to what extent what ‘alone’ means is spelled out. If parents are on the property (what if it’s a big property)? If parents are in view of children? Can see them? Hear them? If I’m in our basement I can neither hear nor see the kids; ditto if I’m in the shower. I can see them in our yard – but in friends’ yards (2 acres) not so much. So do we just NEVER let our kids out of our sight? How would that even work?

    Karen Sugarpants January 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    There is no defined age, by law. http://www.cashn.on.ca/index.php/2008/06/19/at-what-age-can-i-leave-my-child-home-alone/

    Which means common sense prevails – and I imagine it would be up to CAS to decide, like in the case of Anna’s little brother? As said in the linked article, it’s vague on purpose – a 12 year old kid might be more mature than 14 year old kid.

    Biagia February 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    As you state, some states have a specific age limit law – not all do. I investigated this when trying to figure out whether we could “legally” leave my 13 yo stepson at home alone (wanted to make sure his mom didn’t have any ammunition to make a stink about it). I found out that in my state there is no specific age – it is left up to the discretion of the police/child services/whomever to determine the situation – although 13 years is an often stated guideline. So, 5-year old home alone for an hour – probably an issue; 13 year old – not so much.

    kittenpie January 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Like so many things, I think the answer depends.

    Depends on the child – are they likely to get into something? Not follow instructions? Do they have something to focus on to keep them from fretting about the absence? Are they comfortable with absence?

    Depends on the house – childproofed pretty well? Well-known to them? They can’t get out?

    Depends on the length and nature of the absence – short time, they know where you are going and are confident in your swift return? You are within close range?

    My biggest fears are ones that are dangerous with me IN the house, too, so going out to do something within view of the house on our long, straight block seems okay, or going to the basement while she is on the 3rd floor.

    These are the things that feel nerve-wracking at first, but are the baby steps to later independence, anyhow.

    cagey January 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    DUDE.

    I was not left home alone when I was 5 years old. *I* was leaving home . We lived in the country, our nearest neighbors were a half mile away. The shortest route was through our adjoining pastures (I live in Kansas, home to rattlesnakes and copperheads.) I freely ran around to our neighbors and back.

    I think it is obvious (or is it?) that what Kournikovas mother did was not cool. But in your case, I certainly see the temptation to just run a quick errand.

    I have left my kids in the car to pick something up and to pay for gas. When I check my mailbox, I am further away from my house than when I leave the kids in the car for the 2.2 seconds it takes me to run my errand. However, I am far more afraid of the cops being called on me than I am for my children’s safety. After all, they are in a locked car where I can clearly SEE them.

    How brave of you to admit this, Catherine. I am cautious to even admit that I let my 4 year old play by himself in our front yard. Folks are already so judgmental about kids playing their BACK yards.

    Lines? They are all so gray. Sigh.
    .-= cagey´s last blog ..In Accordance With GAPP =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    True story: when I was three, my mom left me out in our very big but enclosed backyard while she washed dishes. when she looked out the window, she saw me beckoning to a cougar, calling KITTY KITTY KITTY.

    She brought me inside. It took a year and a change of neighborhoods, but by four I was playing outside alone again ;)

    Lynn January 22, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Holy crap, a cougar? I think it’s safe to say that if this ever happened to me (from the mother’s side of things), my children would be locked in their rooms until adulthood :) . Crazy!
    .-= Lynn´s last blog ..Chocolate Creme Pie =-.

    Mandy January 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Sometimes, I think parenting is just a series of calculated risks. Like you said, kids can get into trouble while you’re in the shower, the next room, or, frankly, sitting right next to them.

    I think something in your gut would have told you if it was a bad decision to leave Emilia alone for those 10 minutes, and you would have brought her with you.
    .-= Mandy´s last blog ..Exposition =-.

    Ariel January 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I got supervised visitation worked into my divorce for my ex husband because he’d leave our 2 year old alone while he went to buy beer or go work out. He said she was sleeping so what did it hurt? BUT he was also always high at this point in his life. Not rational. AND he left her with his home health client who was NEVER allowed to be unsupervised. I didn’t care that he was sleeping either- he had a major head trauma and wasn’t fit to take care of himself, let alone a two year old. In fact, when I found out about him leaving her it’s the final reason I needed to leave him.
    But he wasn’t rational, he wasn’t responsible and hello? buying beer? WHILE WORKING? Ya.
    Not so much.
    NOW, on the other hand, you were in WALKING DISTANCE! I don’t have a problem with what you did!

    D. January 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    You definitely won’t see any stone-throwing from my neck of the woods. I think you made a perfectly justifiable decision appropriate to your child and your circumstances.

    My parents were not of the free-range mentality, and I was not allowed to be home alone until I was probably 11. I’ve had no second thoughts, however, about leaving the house for a minute or two to fetch something from our (detached) garage, or head outside to garden or mow while my Sweet Girl is sleeping.

    Despite that I’m still strangely unwilling to sleep without the monitor on (she’s 3) because a) our room is across the house from hers and we really wouldn’t be able to hear her if she was in true distress, and b) there’s something about knowing that I will be not conscious (and boy do I sleep like a rock) that makes me feel deeply uncomfortable about not maintaining auditory contact. I think that’s maybe a little weird, no?

    Her Bad Mother January 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Interesting point – my husband sleeps like the dead, so if I (who sleeps like the very-much-alive) am out of town, the kids are pretty much completely on their own through the night while he sleeps. There could be an earthquake and he might not wake up. I exaggerate only VERY slightly.

    Ali January 22, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    My ex used to stay over when the boy was tiny. Boy would cry, I, on the floor above would hear him and go see if he was ok. The ex? Still fast asleep three feet away from the crying baby. How do men do it?

    Bella January 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Here’s a take on “how” men do it… and why mothers wake from every freaking whimper:

    http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/why-mom-wakes-up-when-baby-cries/
    .-= Bella´s last blog ..The best ten books on discipline =-.

    Bill January 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    My rule is simple – if I can see my house and am only a couple of houses away, I’m okay leaving my kids alone for a few minutes…especially if they’re asleep. If I didn’t, I could never mow the grass, shovel snow in the street, or talk to a neighbor in the yard.

    Why do I want to keep it in sight? I’m not as worried about my children doing something as I am about a stranger coming up or the house catching fire. If I can see it, I can do something about it quickly.
    .-= Bill´s last blog ..Celebrating MLK =-.

    Suzanne January 21, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    I think Beth hit the nail on the head – the truly neglectful have ruined it for the casually unconcerned. I can’t even go to the gas station in my neighborhood because I have to go inside to pay and that would involve dragging my 9 month old in and out of his car seat for a 20 second transaction. I would be totally ok leaving him in a locked car but my fear of having to explain to the cops that it was 20 SECONDS and 50 degrees out means I drive to the nearest pay-at-the-pump. But do I leave him sleeping in the car behind my house when I unload groceries? Of course. Do I let him nap in his crib while I garden? Sure. As long as I could get back to the baby in a reasonable amour of time I don’t need to be in the same room all the time. That’s what child safety locks and baby monitors are for.

    Melissa January 21, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I leave my kids (4 1/2 and 2 1/2) in the house to take out the garbage, feed the cats, etc. They play by themselves when I’m in the shower. (Which I never thought was a big deal, and some of the comments here “confessing” to doing the same thing are surprising to me.)

    I’m too paranoid to do any more, but that’s mostly because of my own issues. Once a babysitter left my brother and me alone for a couple of hours when we were 4 and 2. I don’t remember it, but I can only imagine my own kids would be terrified in the same situation. We were latchkey kids from a very young age and once a neighbor called the cops and reported my parents for neglect. (The cops came and saw that the house was clean and well-stocked with food and that we were fine, and that was the end of it.) So that’s where I’m coming from, but I don’t think what you did was terrible at all.

    BoozleBox January 21, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I wouldn’t have done it. I think unexpected things happen and it’s unfair to ask a young child to cope. I was at home once and a contraption my husband had made using batteries and wire ( for the kids of course!) caught fire on the dining room table. I panicked for a few seconds then managed to put it out. It really brought home to me that my kids would have to know the safe thing to do in circumstances like that before I could leave them. I’m happy to go in the garden, shower etc because I can at least hear them. I struggle with this alot lately as I have two kids aged 8 and 10 and my peers do leave their children of the same age alone for short periods. But I don’t because I think it’s not fair to leave the 10 year old ‘in charge’ of the 8 year old. I have left my 10 year old alone for short periods though because I think he’s sensible enough but also because we have alot of good neighbours he could go to if he needed to. I’m not judging though – you asked for opinions and that’s mine for what it’s worth.

    Marinka January 21, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Ha! I’m so not falling into the whole judging you thing. Every parent has a different comfort level. Personally, I think that leaving a 5 year old alone for an hour-AN HOUR! is pure neglect. What bothers me almost as much, though, is her explanation is that she asked him to come with her and he said that he didn’t want to? WTF? I mean, really. Here’s a list of things that my 8 year old doesn’t want to do: set the table, go to school on most Mondays because the weekend is too short, practice the piano and help me with the laundry. The good news for him is that it’s not negotiable.

    But maybe I’m just bitter that Mrs. Kournikova has a superstar tennis daughter and still looks younger than I do.

    One of the parenting puzzles that I am struggling with right now is this complete fallacy that we can keep our children safe by our presence.
    Only you know if your decision was the right one, and I have no doubt that it will change over time.
    .-= Marinka´s last blog ..Other Things Admitted by John Edwards =-.

    Catherine January 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Right now I am sitting in my bedroom, contemplating homework, in the 2nd story of my house. My children are in the basement playing. Are they alone? I cannot hear every sound they make. I am not there to resolve every difference.

    I sometimes leave my kids in the house when I go to get the mail (which sounds about as far as your daycare).

    I sometimes go outside and shovel snow for what feels like ever. My kids are warm inside. Are they alone?

    My children do not need my constant, direct supervision every second of their wakeful life. So, sometimes I have to leave them alone.

    Jen_Ann_W January 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    There is a distinct lack of flamers today! Awesome! I don’t have children but I still agree that leaving Emilia home was a rational decision. As someone else pointed out, you THOUGHT about it, whereas so many people just don’t think at all.
    You’re so hard on yourself! :-)
    .-= Jen_Ann_W´s last blog ..Last week’s @dailyshoot =-.

    patois January 21, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    You get to decide what’s reasonable for your kids. I get to decide what’s reasonable for mine. As for mine? A kindergartener alone while I’m outside or talking to the neighbor for a few minutes or running to the Quik-e-mart for milk for all of 8 minutes roundtrip? Depends which one of mine we’re talking about. The older two? They were just fine. The youngest? Only if I wanted to see the place set on fire.
    .-= patois´s last blog ..You’ve Been Starring in My Dreams =-.

    Elizabeth (@claritychaos) January 21, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Ha! This is exactly what I’ve been thinking as I read through the comments. My oldest is 6 and is the most compliant, responsible kid around. He’d be fine. But the 3.5 year old? I won’t be leaving this kid along when he’s 16!

    Yeah, point being – depends on the kid, depends on the circumstance, depends on who is around to call the cops on you. ;)
    .-= Elizabeth (@claritychaos)´s last blog ..Cold blasts and heavy rocks =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Jasper will never be left alone, ever, not until he’s TWENTY, for that very reason.

    Heather January 21, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Since my daughter was 3 I’ve been saying she would be one of those kids that would surely survive if something happened to me in our home. She’s now 6 and in kindergarten. I haven’t left her home alone while I’ve driven away to do errands, but I do let her roam free in the neighborhood.

    I’m also not the type of parent to pull my kids out of the car when I go to the kiosk to pay for gas that I’ve just pumped as long as my car is within my sight, or when I go to a non-drive-through ATM, or to drop mail in a drop box. I haven’t yet left them in the car while I go in a store, but I have when I’ve had to run back to the house because I’ve forgotten something. I blogged about that months ago for a local website and got publicly flogged for not unbuckling them both, carrying my 35 lbs. son back to the house with me for the 30 second roundtrip.

    Part of parenting is making the best decisions for our children that we can. We weigh the risks on either side of the equation, determining which – for us, our children and this particular situation – is the lesser of two evils. And then we live with our choices.

    Major Bedhead January 21, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    I wouldn’t leave Boo alone for any amount of time. In the time it takes me to pee or do a load of laundry she has cut off half her sister’s hair, drawn on the bathroom walls with Sharpies and dumped flour all over the kitchen. So no, but only for my own fragile sanity. If she weren’t so hell bent on destroying the universe, I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all.
    .-= Major Bedhead´s last blog ..Why You Shouldn’t Clean While Naked =-.

    Her Bad Mother January 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    As I’ve said a few times now: that would be Jasper. He will never be left alone. NEVER. Not until he leaves home, and even then.

    He is why I only shower on daycare days.

    Linda January 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    My children were born in the eighties, the same time Adam Walsh’s son was kidnapped. My friends were aghast as we witnessed first hand the end of the innocence. Bucking the tide we took risks with our kids, calculated risks all the time. When yours are older I’ll share the story of my kids getting a ride home from the DARE officer because it was snowing and they were expected to walk (horrors) one block and they were in 6th and 8th grade!! Oy, I feel your pain.
    Linda

    Mandi Bone January 21, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I had a “friend” say she could not let her daughter play with mine because I put my daughter in danger. The danger to her was that I let her play outside with the door open while I was 20 ft away in the kitchen.We live in a very rural area with our only neighbor is my mother in law.I have been thinking about leaving my 2 kids in the car when I run in for coffee. But I have not felt comfortable with it yet. My daughters are 5 and 2 and are very good girls (most days)I am just afraid someone would turn me in to CPS.

    Emma January 21, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Sounds like you made an informed decision, weighing and balancing the risks to all of you. Sounds good to me.

    Beth January 21, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    I have walked out to get the mail. I have worked in my garden while my kids were napping or watching a show. I’ve also been locked out of my house by my then 2 year old son when I walked out to see what we needed before we went on a walk (raincoats, jackets, tank tops — it’s Florida, any of those could happen). He did manage to let me back in, for which I’m sure the dogs were eternally grateful.

    My son, now four, plays in the backyard by himself a lot. I can see everything he’s doing (we have sliding glass doors all along the back of the house). Some folks can’t believe I let him, but I figure I can see him. He wants to be outside, and he’s okay.

    At five, in the conditions you describe, I would have done exactly the same thing.
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..GTT: Pet Peeves =-.

    carrien (she laughs at the days) January 21, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    When my oldest was a baby we lived in a small apartment building. When we first moved in I took him everywhere with me in the backpack. I waited until he was awake to carry a load of laundry down the single flight of stairs to the laundry room so I didn’t leave him alone.

    Eventually I realized how ridiculous I was being. I did laundry while he was napping, duh! I ran down to the dollar store at the front of the building to grab a quick item. I would take the baby monitor to our neighbor across the hall, and my keys, so she could listen for him to wake up while I ran up the street to the post office. He never did wake.

    Once, when it was very late and my husband was not yet home, I even ran across the street to Subway. All of this was within 50m of him, at all times. Eventually, we would head to the neighbors apartment for dinner, monitor in hand, while he slept. Once we forgot to take it home with us after too, and left it on. Embarrassing.

    My in-laws have a 2 1/2 acre property with a house that has more square footage than the entire area I roamed from my apartment while my child was sleeping. Yet, I am guessing that leaving my child to sleep while far away on those two acres I would be far less likely to be considered neglectful than running cross the street from my apartment building. I wonder why that is.

    Ironically I was once accused of neglect and had CPS arrive at my door, while I was home, door open, ear cocked for my then 4 and 6 yo who were playing less than 20 yards away. Apparently, Someone thought I shouldn’t let them play outside “unsupervised” in an enclosed child oriented play area. Also I was neglectful for not making them wear shoes in the CALIFORNIA WINTER! oh the humanity. (They were born in Canada.) Needless to say, the charges were dropped. But it has taught me that we parent in a goldfish bowl of public opinion, and that, while it isn’t right, we do make parenting decisions based on what other people will think of them because the thought of enduring the humiliation of having those choices scrutinized too closely, and or losing our children, is intimidating.

    ps. My children still play outside, in the same place, “unsupervised” and barefoot.
    .-= carrien (she laughs at the days)´s last blog ..My kid’s dentist wants to know this. Maybe you do too. =-.

    Kayt January 21, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    I’ve left my one year old playing in his room alone while I’m doing things downstairs, listening to him on the monitor. When I was four, my mom left me to entertain myself while she was in the shower. I found a pair of scissors and ran around the house hacking my hair off. It’s one of my earliest, vaguest (most vague?) memories. Then, when I was five, my mom left me home alone to go pick up dinner. She was gone less than ten minutes. During that time, I managed to yank out a barely loose baby tooth and bleed everywhere. Neither bothered me as much as it bothered my mother. I think it’s not the end of the world, but you have to know your child and know how much trouble they’re capable of causing. I was a bit of a hell-raiser. So far, my son’s showing all the same signs of being the same. I’m not worried, I’m just ready to make mistakes.

    a January 21, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Wait, I’m not supposed to leave my daughter sitting in the car (in the garage, with no keys in the car) while I run back in the house for the 17 things I couldn’t carry or forgot? I guess that means I shouldn’t leave her sleeping in her carseat when she falls asleep in the car. And that also means I’m going to have to hire someone to mow my lawn too.

    Apparently, my mom would leave us alone at home while she would walk the one block to the corner store to pick up milk or whatever else she needed.

    I don’t see it as a problem to briefly leave your child, until someone else in the general public sees it and decides that it’s a problem for them. Then they decide to make it a problem for you too. It’s great that other people are aware and watching out for your children, but common sense please!
    .-= a´s last blog ..Show and Tell – Farm Life =-.

    Beth January 21, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    I don’t have kids of my own, but I can still understand the situation. I don’t think you’re neglecting. My mom used to leave me home alone at 7 with two babies in diapers to run out for milk. She was gone no longer than 20-30 minutes and the alarm was always set. I turned out just fine. *twitch* twitch* :-)
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Roller Coaster of Blog =-.

    sweatpantsmom January 21, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    A few minutes within walking distance, in my opinion, seems totally fine and reasonable. Getting in your car and driving away for almost an hour and leaving your 5-year-old home alone is just plain cuckoo.

    Also, as many have said here, at what age you leave your older kids home alone depends on the individual child. Mine are 11 and 13 and it was only maybe 6 months ago that I was comfortable enough to leave them for an hour while I ran to the grocery store — my 11yo was ‘Go!’ while my 13yo tends to think axe murderers are hiding out in our bushes. (Recently left them home alone, with two of their friends, AT NIGHT to go to a party for a few hours and that was nerve-wracking. Even if one of the friends was 15.)

    Also (because this comment just isn’t long enough) I’ve never felt comfortable leaving them in the car because I’m just so paranoid of carjackers.
    .-= sweatpantsmom´s last blog ..‘Got Milk’ Party at the W Hotel: If living like a rich person is wrong I don’t want to be right =-.

    ClumberKim January 21, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    I love finding I’m not alone. When my daughter was a baby she had an incredible knack for starting a nap within 15 minutes of when I needed to pick up my son at school. She was a champion napper. There was no good way around it. My son’s school was exactly a mile from our home. A neighbor was always reachable by phone, should I be delayed. It should not have turned me upside down like it did. I wrestled with this for weeks before finally leaving her soundly sleeping one day. That first time was awful and I was a wreck, but she was fine and I was gone less than 20 minutes. Over the course of the next few months I did when I needed to (not more than a dozen times in total), and became less of a wreck but I was never “comfortable”. Eventually, her sleep pattern changed and we didn’t have the conflict.

    I am not entirely certain that what bothered me was really the safety issue, or just being “discovered”.

    crazyassmomma January 21, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    i dont think you made a bad decision at all. if my children had to be up my ass all the time id go crazy. i would never leave them alone for an hour! thats crazy, but for that quick walk to get jasper & go back… no biggie. hell, tomorrow morning i have to drag my uuuber sick 4 year old out of the house so that i can drive my 10 year old to school. cuz its not in walking distance. and right now, i reeeeeallllyyyy wish it was.

    and btw — theres something on my blog for you if you have a moment & are interested :)
    .-= crazyassmomma´s last blog ..what makes me happy?!?!?!?!?! =-.

    Tara January 22, 2010 at 12:31 am

    Oh good Lord does this hit home!

    Just last night, with my husband out of town & my (almost) 4 year old deep asleep for the night, my dog sat at the door & whined to go out. We live in an apartment building.

    My choice was to wake up a sleeping child at 11pm, drag him into the rain or to let the dog do his biz in the house (yuck). I called my husband & mom to confer.

    Our decision was a very 21st century solution. I set up the laptop, w/ the husband on skype, next to the bed. Cell phone in hand, I went the 5 stories down (a very secure bldg). Of course I was outside about 30 seconds before the husband called to say his internet connection died!

    All is well, but the guilt, it plagued me all day! Thank you all for your own admissions. It doesn’t make me any more likely to do this again, but it does let me let myself off the hook for this!

    Cristin January 22, 2010 at 1:32 am

    I don’t blame you one bit. Perfectly reasonable.
    I don’t know what the hell that Kournikova lady was thinking but you have nothing to fear, in my opinion.
    Did you hear about that mom on Dr. Phil who was arrested for walking 30 feet away while her daughter was in the car? It’s insane.
    http://drphil.com/shows/show/1123
    What happened to common sense?
    .-= Cristin´s last blog ..Doxycycline Doldrums =-.

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