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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    Shannon January 22, 2010 at 2:23 am

    I wasn’t going to comment, not being anywhere close to a parent, then I saw this: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_14239548

    That? That would definitely be neglect. Ten minutes? Meh. That said, I am kind of scared about this very situation when I have kids, just because I couldn’t even leave the kids I was babysitting for long enough to pee, so I would wait until they went to bed. Hopefully I will be more willing to peel my eyes from my charges when they are my own. Otherwise, I may have some serious bladder issues :-)

    Ginger January 22, 2010 at 3:49 am

    ??? I am really supposed to bring two kids with me back into my house to carry out the stuff? Or leave them in the house unsupervised while I carry out the stuff? In the car the 3 year old and 1 year old are attached to the vehicle with straps, so isn’t that better? Paying for gas foxed me with my first child. I know idling is bad for the air we all breathe, and I should turn off the engine to pump gas, and I won’t leave a child in a closed up car in the summer, and sometimes you can’t pay at the pump even if you want to. I think I am just over that one. And at the grocery store, I pull up in the minivan but the kid friendly carts are all stored inside so I leave the kids to get the cart, and leave them again to return it. My confidence built up and twice I have left them in the car while I ran in to the pharmacy on what I expected to be a very quick errand. I feel better doing it at night so perhaps no one will see the kids and call me in. Now, having read these comments, my fear level is notching back up. Yikes!
    .-= Ginger´s last blog ..A box of chocolates =-.

    Debs January 22, 2010 at 5:04 am

    I never do, but i I had to this time. There was nothing wrong in this. To me it entirely rests on the child. I would and have walked out to the mail, the neighbors to grab something, to the end of the block to get a child of the bus. But I would only do that with my first and third. The second and fourth would have wrecked the joint in under 10 seconds. I think that people are spending too much time worrying about what the other person is doing and not enough worrying about what they themselves are. Your child, your decision. A few minutes if you feel the child can cope shouldn’t be an issue. I’m not talking anymore than that, just to clarify. But thats just my opinion.
    .-= Debs´s last blog ..The new year =-.

    Marylin January 22, 2010 at 5:14 am

    I’ve done that before. Where I used to live, the shop on the corner was about a minute’s walk away. It was faster for me to put Max in his cot for a snooze and lock the door for 5 minutes while Zack played and/or watched tv than get them both dressed, max in the buggy (which didnt fit through the tiny door of the shop) and take us all along there.
    My neighbours all did the same. We would keep an eye on each others kids if they were out playing. It’s just the way it was there.
    Unfortunately where I live now everywhere’s further away, so I’d rather not run the chance of them getting up to no good without me being there!
    .-= Marylin´s last blog ..Scary day =-.

    Judy January 22, 2010 at 7:11 am

    I don’t think it’s any big deal. Other than the danger of Emilia deciding to totally remodel the house while you were gone, it’s no big deal. If you took out the trash, you’d be gone as long.

    It almost scares me to think of it now…but many years ago (the older child in this scenario is approaching 50 now) I used to leave my 8 year old in charge of her 6 1/2 year old sister and infant brother while I ran to the store. Things were fine. Looking back, it would have been very easy for them not to be, but they were fine. I was gone 10 minutes at most. Infant sleeping. Girls playing Barbies on the kitchen floor.

    I think the fear of getting DCAF or whatever the agency is called in your area brought down on you is making all of us hyper-parents. It was easier in the 70′s.

    Angie@The Crew January 22, 2010 at 7:36 am

    My thoughts. Your daughter didn’t have to walk in the weather while she was sick and she wasn’t at the daycare to possible be contagious to someone else(goodness knows other parents would have something to say about that too). You didn’t come home to find her curled in the fetal position and crying from neglect. You found her resting as you left her.
    .-= Angie@The Crew´s last blog ..Having a blast with my point and shoot =-.

    Ali January 22, 2010 at 9:42 am

    My kid once escaped from his grandad’s front garden and went to the park next door by himself to play on the slide while we were drinking tea. He was somewhere between 18 months and two. Oops. He’s 4.5 now and he sits in the car outside while I take in shopping, unpack perishables, go to the bathroom and run back outside to go somewhere else. I leave it unlocked too, how bad am I?

    I never leave him playing while I shower — I always take a bath because I can’t hear him when I’m in the shower and he’s likely to get upto mischief. If he was asleep would I run to the shop… probably not. I’m a single mum and if anything happened I’d be hung, drawn and quartered. Because all single mothers are neglectful.

    I also drop him off at school at 8.45 and leave him in the playground with his friends until he goes in at 8.55.

    Leaving a five year old for an hour? Bit much. Leaving your twin two-year-olds and a four-year-old while you go out for dinner and drinks with friends while your on holiday a la the McCanns? Bit much.

    alex January 22, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I have a friend who drove up to the front of a coffee shop, where there was literally a 3 foot sidewalk between the front of the car and the interior of the small shop, left her two children buckled into their carseats in the backseat (windows down), and got herself an iced coffee. The door to the shop was open the entire time and at maximum she was 10 feet away from the children at all times.

    Later that afternoon while her children were napping, there was a knock at her front door. It was Child Protective Services. Someone had taken down her license plate and called it in to the authorities. CPS had to look in the refrigerator to make sure there was food, check on the children sleeping in their rooms, and open a full case. The mother’s day out where the children attended school was contacted, as was the children’s doctor.

    The parents were a pediatrician and a teacher in a small VERY educated and affluent area.


    I am always looking out for small children- they are in many ways, defenseless. But I also wish that the person who reported my friend had THOUGHT about what they were doing. CPS was called out on a citizen who was likely not neglecting her children- just trying to get a coffee. There are many many children in that area (Detroit) who need serious help. Instead of wasting valuable resources (and we all know CPS case workers are totally overworked) why couldn’t that person have just watched the kids for a second to make sure they were safe?

    Help a sister get some coffee!

    Loukia January 22, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I am a ‘hover mother’ most of the time. I usually never let my children out of my sight. Ever. Of course, they’re only 4 and 2 years old. I have been in the kitchen, and have left them upstairs in their rooms before for a few minutes, that’s as far as I’ll go. Or brining the garbage out while they’re inside. Once, when my baby was very young, I left him in his exercauser (sp?) and went outside for a cigarette. (I know, horrible). I could see him perfectly from the window outside. He was having fun, playing, etc. I turned around to um, ash my cigarette and have a sip of my coffee, and when I turned back around, HE WAS GONE. The exercauser was empty. Clearly, I freaked the F out, ran inside, spilling my drink, yelling DIMITRY? DIMITRY? I thought he flipped right out… but no baby is sight… panic… a few seconds later (even though it felt like long agonizing minutes) my husband appears, baby in his arms. I know you might think he is totally cruel for doing that, and at the time I hated him for doing that, but he did it to show me that I was sort of stupid for leaving the baby inside the house… as the front door was unlocked. I felt terrible, but still, I think he was kind of in the wrong, right?
    .-= Loukia´s last blog ..Say Cheese! A giveaway for photo-happy moms! =-.

    slouchy January 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

    I’ve done the same, under very similar circumstances. Frankly, anyone (with two kids or more) who denies having done so is a bit suspect, IMO.

    People who judge this either don’t have children or never had to take care of them.

    sam {temptingmama} January 22, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Anything that takes me out of earshot, I’m not comfortable with. I can shower, grab the bins from the roadside, shovel the driveway (checking in for screaming) and be okay. But I can’t leave that imaginary line of where my property ends. Skeeves me out.

    There were plenty of times when I was single-parenting, the kids would be in bed, and I’d want to run to the Mac’s less than 5 minutes walking distance and wouldn’t. Couldn’t. I just can’t get past the *what if*. Hyper parenting… maybe.
    .-= sam {temptingmama}´s last blog ..Run Down =-.

    sam {temptingmama} January 22, 2010 at 11:01 am

    *passed. Ugh.

    And! I am not being a judgey mc judgerson. Just my personal comfort level is all.

    .-= sam {temptingmama}´s last blog ..Run Down =-.

    Ally January 22, 2010 at 11:01 am

    As parents, I think we need to stop judging each other. How we approach parenting may differ, but that doesn’t make either of us wrong. I also think we need to stop worrying about what other parents think and start trusting ourselves more. You know your child and what they are capable of handling. That being said, if a child is truly in danger, we should call the authorities. But, let’s be clear on what the terms neglect, abuse or in danger mean before we start calling each other out or running to the authorities. It’s not running to a neighbors for a cup or sugar while your child is engrossed in a TV show or gardening while the baby is asleep does or even leaving your child in a locked car for 30 seconds in plain view while you get money at an ATM. Although, leave the AC running or crack a window if it’s a warm day.
    .-= Ally´s last blog ..AllyinVA: RT @vodkamom: "The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." x. =-.

    Karen Sugarpants January 22, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I’ve done it. Thomas was home sick, in bed, sleeping. It was POURING outside and I went to get Dylan from the bus stop to spare him the soggy walk home. Was gone 3 minutes. The little guy didn’t even wake up. If he had, I would have been back in time to comfort him. Plus he knows my cell phone #.
    Like you, I questioned it a million times too though. Look at me justifying the crap out of it here! Parenting isn’t easy on the brain.
    I like what Ally said before me – we do need to stop judging each other. Totally.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant January 22, 2010 at 11:13 am

    You made the decision with Emilia’s interests foremost in your mind. I think that counts for a great deal.

    However, I make many decisions myself that other parents would judge (and have judged) negatively. I’m probably not your most bullet-proof advocate. ;)
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..Not yet gifted (for the present) =-.

    Sarah January 22, 2010 at 11:14 am

    When my son was 5 and my daughter was 7, they were home alone every afternoon for about 45 minutes. That was the time between their bus dropping them off and me getting home from work. We lived in a rural area and they came home, went inside, locked the door, and called my cell to tell me they were home. On the days when my daughter had Girl Scouts, my son went to aftercare, but I could not afford the $400 per month it would have cost to put them both in aftercare every day. Don’t get me wrong, if there had been any way to afford it, I would have. If I had a neighbor to watch them, or friend available to pick them up, that is what I would have done. But I didn’t, and you know, they were OK. Maybe I was just lucky, but there it is. So you get no judgment from me. Most of us are just doing the best we can with what we have. My kids are in high school now and my daughter gets herself across town on public transportation every day. I hope that the self reliance they have been taught will serve them well when they leave home.

    Peggy January 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I work at a college where many kids have trouble now doing just that… since they were never allowed any independence. Trusting our kids to trust themselves is one of the best gifts we can give as parents I think. Well said Sarah!
    .-= Peggy´s last blog ..Some new art… =-.

    momtrolfreak January 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Okay, so, I totally RAKED my husband over the coals for leaving our sleeping son in the house when he went across the street to buy a pack of cigarettes (he no longer smokes, and has never smoked in the house or around the child, but at that moment he was having a ottal nic fit. Which was his excuse. Which is my opinion is NOT the same thing as the urgency of picking Child #1 up from school with child #2 sick at home). Also, my son frequently wakes up ten minutes or so after being put to bed, for water or potty or whatever. So, what if he woke up and there was no one in the house? He’d be scared. SO i yelled at my husband. However, that doesn’t mean I judge you. Your circumstances were more dire. And you’re the mom, and i have a total double standard in that regard. i.e., I tell my husband he STILL, with the 3YO, may not leave the room when said 3YO is in the bathtub. However, unbeknowst to him, i do that all the time–laundry, ringing phoen, etc. I can hear him spalshing in there, he’s fine. But I fear that my husband feeling like THAT inch was ok, would mean he’d take a mile and, like, go across the street for something with the kid in the bathtub. Like cigarettes. And get hit by a car and before you know it it’s 3 hours with a pruney kid alone in the bathtub, or getting out on his own and slipping and falling. And here I am having drinks with my girlfriends at a bar, without knowing i have a run-over husband and a drowned or bleeding-out kid. So it’s really best for my sanity if my husband is not allowed to have any leeway on, like, anything. So I momtrol the hell out of him. However, in YOUR situation, I would totally have done the same.
    .-= momtrolfreak´s last blog ..I’m a Better Mother Than You, Because My Choices Rock and Yours Suck, and By the Way, I’m Prettier Than You Too =-.

    kelly January 22, 2010 at 11:48 am

    I really like what you’ve laid out here regarding choices. Never make a parenting choice you can’t in good conscious defend. If you’re not willing to talk about your choice, it was the wrong one. I like that.

    I think what you did was fine. It really does depend on the kid, the age, the situation. Yours? All good.

    Velma January 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

    This is a timely discussion for me, as I have quite recently taken to leaving my kids at home alone for varying amounts of time. My daughter is a rule-follower. My son is impulsive. This is one of those areas where one size does not fit all, and you just have to tailor your parenting behavior to the individual child.

    Mornings are cold and his sister has to be at the bus stop a full hour before he does, so I’ve taken to letting my 7-year old son sleep in and lightly rousing him before I take her down the street. I tell him he can stay in bed and I’ll be back in 15 minutes, and he is inevitably still asleep when I return. Would I be comfortable leaving him for that time if I didn’t know he would be zonked out? I’m not so sure.

    For my conscientious almost-10 year old, last week was the first time I drove away and left her truly alone for more than 20 minutes or so. She had lots of homework to do and her brother had a 30 minute music lesson 15 minutes away, so I let her stay home by herself.

    It was scary for me to drive away like that, scary to be gone for over an hour, and – as it turned out – scary for her to be home alone as it got dark outside. There were tears when I got home, but also a sense of independence at having tried something that was an emotional challenge for her. For now, we’ve agreed that we are all comfortable with her staying home alone in the daytime for an hour or two.
    .-= Velma´s last blog ..Throw It at the Wall and See if It Sticks. =-.

    kayak woman January 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I like what Alex had to say. I live in the greater Detroit area and I know a young mother who was arrested in a very similar situation. Much later, after she spent a lot of money on lawyers and whatever, the cop who arrested her actually apologized to her, saying that if he’d had any idea of how much trouble this would cause her, he would have let it go.

    There are indeed many, many children in the Detroit area whose most basic needs are not being met and yet we are spending precious resources harassing parents who walk 10 feet to pick up a cup of coffee.

    My children are in their 20s and I left them alone for very short periods in many of the situations described by your other commenters. In fact, when my children were small, there was no such thing as pay-at-the-pump gasoline in my area that I know of. It seems more dangerous to me to walk across a gas station parking lot with two small children than to lock them safely in your car where they are within your sight for two minutes.

    I also think Slouchy has a good point that anyone who denies ever leaving their kids alone for a couple minutes is probably lying or whatever.

    Great post.

    Mr Lady January 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Oh, dude, I leave my kids home alone all the time! They’re older, yes, but they weren’t always. When 1of3 was, like, 6, he really wanted the alone time and psuedo-responsibility, so I’d leave him with a snack and a cartoon while I went to get gas or milk or something.

    Baby steps, you know?

    I think it’s massively important that they learn self-sufficiency, and how are they going to learn it if they are never left to be self-sufficient? I’m not saying I advocate leaving them to go out for long periods of time when they’re little, but you get what you give and if you give them elbow room and a vote of confidence, they give you confident elbow room.

    I think I’d have smacked you in the head if you HAD’T left her.
    .-= Mr Lady´s last blog ..This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record =-.

    Helen January 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    It is sad that we now have to worry more about what other people think than what we think is best for our families. When I was 5 and my brother 8, we regularly came home from school to an empty house while my parents were at work. Good grief, imagine if someone did that now!

    Years ago I left my 3-year old in the house while I went down the block to meet my son’s school bus, which ended up being late (I could see the house…almost). One of the other moms there asked where my daughter was and I told her she was home watching Harry Potter. She then berated me about the evilness of Harry Potter, how her son didn’t even WANT to watch it (right) and how inappropriate it was for anyone. I guess leaving my 3 year old alone was acceptable. That was my welcome to the south.

    Kat January 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I’m so glad to hear other people “confessing” to the things I have done with my son. I don’t think that there is anything at all wrong with leaving my 3 year old in the house while I take the trash out. I usually wait until he is in bed asleep, just in case, but the time it takes me to get the trash to the dumpster is less time than I am in the shower in the mornings. I’m more nervous about what he will get into then! And as far as leaving him in the car, the only time I ever do that is occasionally while I’m running into the post office (I usually go during my lunch break) but I bought a key ring where the remote to lock my car pops right off so I leave him buckled in his seatbelt (which he can’t get out of himself), car on so he doesn’t get over heated or too cold and the emergency brake on. It takes me 30 seconds to check the mail & I park where I can see him but I still worry. Luckily I live in a very small, laid back town so I haven’t caught any flack for this.

    Kat January 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    *and I lock the car with the remote while I run in.
    .-= Kat´s last blog ..room for improvement =-.

    Heather January 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    I’d like to say that I’m comfortable with the idea of leaving kids alone for a few minutes here and there. However, I’m cripplingly morose. I’m just sure something horrible is going to happen if kids are left alone for even a split second. I can barely stand to let my sister’s kids play in the next room while I’m babysitting. Maybe it’s best I don’t have kids of my own….

    Peggy January 22, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Bravo, I would have done the same thing with my little guy who is in kindergarten. I know he is ok, I used to mow the lawn and work out in the garden when he was little, sometimes with a moniter and sometimes within earshot, but if he did wake up he was almost always happily playing in the safe space. I too would never drive anywhere, but to go get the mail, hang laundry etc? I think it is good for them to have a bit of time on their own if they can handle it.

    Val January 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Not only do I think it is okay to leave children of varying ages alone (as you feel comfortable) – I think it is necessary. For that child to learn that the house is not a scary and evil place when they are alone. For that child to learn that his/her parents trust him/her. For that child to learn to make their own decisions in very small ways – and larger ways as they grow up. When I was in elementary school, I walked home. I ran around the neighborhood with my friends. We tend to think about all the evils out there in the world, but truthfully, if your kids are injured, it will most likely be in the car with you driving, or by falling down the stairs when you happen to be in the next room (as I did at ten). Of course, lock your door if you ever go out of view of the house. And don’t leave a pot of boiling water on the stove. Don’t ask for trouble. But, also, don’t expect to find trouble around every corner!

    FrenchCecily January 22, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    My brother first ran away from home (rather escaped from the fenced-in yard) with the dog as soon as he learned to walk. He was nine months old. There were 3 older children at home (5, 7 and 9), as well as my grandmother when this happened.

    And, when one considers that in many parts of the world, four and five-year olds are routinely responsible for such tasks as:

    -taking care of their younger siblings
    - taking care of the family’s herd of goats, sheep, etc. (in Africa),which includes spending the night out in the bush “armed” with a stick to fight off predators, etc., very occasionally leaving your child alone for a few minutes because you can’t manage otherwise, is not so bad. And we’ve all done it for various reasons.

    Swiggy January 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I’ve left one of my kids alone, a few times.

    The first time:

    We used to live in a VERY small village in northern Vermont. Our house was 30 feet from the general store. My son couldn’t have been more than 2 months old, if that. I had been home alone all day, everyday. I was even working remotely for my employer at the time. I was hungry, and there was no food in the house. The baby was strapped in his swing, asleep.

    I went out to the general store and grabbed a sandwich from the deli and was back in less than 5 minutes. I was nervous the whole time. When I got back to the house, the baby was still asleep in his swing.

    No harm done.

    Hubby found out and asked me to never do that again (how this was any different from me just going out into the garden for a little sun, is beyond me). His reasoning was if I had gotten hurt or something while I was out, the baby would be in the house all by himself until someone was either told about the kid or Hubby came home.

    So I never did it again.

    The next few times:

    About a year later we became very good friends with our neighbors. Every now and then we would have them over for take out and games after the kid went to bed for the night. After a while, the neighbors started asking if we would go to their house for a change. Hubby and I decided that we could do that. But we didn’t know anyone who would sit for us.

    Instead of bringing the kid with us and having him sleep there (wouldn’t have happened), we decided we would leave the kid sleeping in his crib, with our dog in the house, and the front door locked. The monitor was able to pick up the noise from the kid’s room in our neighbors house, so we brought that with us.

    The kid never knew we were gone.

    We were comfortable with this because we were right next door. We could hear if he woke up. We would hear if anyone came into the house because the dog would be going crazy. We did this quite a few times until we moved and weren’t able to do it anymore.

    So, as you can see, you won’t get any judgment from me. I think you did what was right for you.

    Todd '@tojosan' Jordan January 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Late to comment but you’re not bad or neglectful. You’d have been longer in the shower and no one would have thought twice. House locked. Kid in bed. If they were going to run off, they’d do it just as much with you in the bathroom vs next door.

    Thanks for making folks think.
    .-= Todd ‘@tojosan’ Jordan´s last blog ..The Face That Launched A Series =-.

    Susan (woo222) January 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    I think that is completely sensible. My parents left me alone a LOT, for very long periods of time, and although I’m not certain if I would leave my kids alone for quite as long as I was left, I also don’t think there was anything wrong with my parents’ choice. You don’t have to apologize, if anything, I think it was compassionate and sensible to leave E rather than drag her out in the elements. ~Susan
    .-= Susan (woo222)´s last blog ..Hippie Therapist FTW =-.

    Tanis Miller, RNM January 22, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    You know how I feel about government sanctioned judgement.


    You know how big my yard is. The government says it’s not neglect if my kids are in the house and I am anywhere on my property.

    You could be to J’s daycare and back before I could ever walk to the back end of my property and home again.

    But the judgement, you know I fear it. I fear it well.
    .-= Tanis Miller, RNM´s last blog ..Update =-.

    Jack January 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    People are quick to judge. When my son was about three he managed to lock himself the car.

    Mind you he did this in front of his mother. She had picked him up at preschool and walked back to the car with him.

    When they arrived she noticed that he had a not so fresh scent and walked around to the back of the car to get the diaper bag.

    In the time it took to walk from the passenger side to the back he managed to press a button and lock the car.

    It was about 90 that day and in short order a crowd of people had gathered around the car and were shrieking about him being in danger.

    Long story short a security guard had to break the window of the car to get him out. He was in there for less than 15 minutes. The whole time he was there he played with toys inside the car or made faces at his mother through the window.

    But we got all sorts of grief from people who thought that we had been negligent.
    .-= Jack´s last blog ..What I Dream About =-.

    MsDarkstar January 22, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Granted, I am “old” but starting in kindergarten (I had full-day kindergarten), I would walk home from school (2:30ish), let myself into the security door of the apt., let myself into our apt., lock the door behind me, change out of school clothes and then was alone until my parents got home 5:30-6:00.

    By the time I was in 2nd grade, we’d moved into a house and I came home and was alone for a couple of hours and was expected to have dinner started before my parents got home (they did the prep, so it was turning on the oven and putting something in it, usually).

    But…I guess that it’s fair to say that that was a different time. Still, I think you made the best decision given the set of circumstances.
    .-= MsDarkstar´s last blog ..With a little help from the POSSLQ… =-.

    Donna January 22, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Okay, here’s an odd situation. I leave my kids home alone sometimes. Just yesterday, I left my 10-year-old in charge of the 6-yr-old and the baby while I drove the 3-yr-old to pre-school. I was gone for 20 minutes. They were fine. But I live in a guarded, gated community in Beijing, China, where there is no fear of thieves or kidnappers. Really, I fear faulty electrical wiring most of all, so when I leave them, I lecture them on what to do if there’s a fire or a flood in the house while I’m gone. My 6-yr-old has been roaming the compound alone since the age of 3, and there are often hours when I don’t know exactly where he is. I love being able to give my kids this freedom! But – and here’s the odd part – in a few months we’re packing up and moving to Jordan, where the threat level is completely different. I’m already struggling with the fact that I’ll have to know where my kids are every minute of the day. I’m not sure how they’ll deal with the sudden restrictions I place on them, and I don’t want to have to discuss the bad guys in too much detail. Not sure how we’re gonna do it. We move every few years, though, and I change my parenting style accordingly.

    Every parent needs to make decisions based on her individual circumstances. You know your situation, and you know when you are taking an acceptable risk. You have to trust in that knowledge.

    Jessalee January 22, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I actually used to leave my daughter (4-year-old) napping or watching TV in the house while my nephew (3 years old) napped so I could run up less than a block but within viewing distance to grab my son from the bus. I worried about the watchful, nosy neighbor that tattled on everything I did to the landlord (like leave a ride-on toy of the kids on my front porch for six hours! GASP!). But I didn’t worry about the kids. I knew my daughter wouldn’t get into anything and wouldn’t do anything she wasn’t allowed to do. That’s the kind of kid she is. And fortunately so is my oldest. And if my nephew woke up she’d nag him and boss him around to death in the five minutes I was out of earshot that he wouldn’t have a chance to do anything wrong.

    When I was little I was a latchkey kid simply because my mom couldn’t afford daycare. She worked full time and my dad was deployed overseas. I was 7 and my brother was 5. We called the second we walked in the door, did our chores, never did anything we weren’t supposed to do. And we were perfectly fine and responsible! Plus, we would play outside in the neighborhood once my mom was home, and we were not within earshot. But we were always with our friends, so I guess it was safety in numbers.

    My sister, on the other hand, was born ten years after me. She wasn’t left alone hardly ever because she was so irresponsible and had a penchant for talking to strangers and failing to follow directions.

    Like it’s been said over and over again, it really depends on the kid and the circumstance.

    I’ve also left my kids in the car while I ran back in the house, but I always lock the door. I let my kids play outside as long as I can keep the front door open, and I send our dogs outside with them to run around the yard at the same time. They get a little TV time while I work in the next room with my headphones on (I’m a transcriptionist).

    They’re at an age where this is appropriate, and I never, ever feel that they are in danger in the circumstances they’re put in. It’s all about common sense!
    .-= Jessalee´s last blog ..Dreams of what I want to do when I grow up =-.

    Alexicographer January 22, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    This is interesting reading, thanks for starting the conversation.

    I have a not-quite-3-year old human child, and a 20-something (old, arthritic) horse who lives in a large field on a large farm (not mine). When in recent days I’ve needed to go out to blanket the horse in foul weather, my son has ridden with me; when we get to the barn, I park the car in a spot where I will be able to see it from the field, explain to him what I’m doing, leave him (strapped in) in the car, and go deal with the horse. This is without question the safest option; there is nowhere on the farm my son would be safe without supervision and he would not be safe (e.g.) strapped on my back while I caught and blanketed a horse. Also? He does fine with it — it does not freak him out, though he did once get upset when, while I was gone, he dropped his pacifier.

    I can basically always (+/- 5 seconds) see him, but because of trees, sheds, hills, dales, he cannot always see me. Honestly? I think it has been a positive experience for him … something he does “independently” (“wait for mama,”), something that involves his learning that I leave and come back, and something about which we discuss his strategies for coping before I go (“You can watch mama, or watch the ducks if they are on the pond, or the flashing lights [over on the radio towers].”

    The horse could kick and flatten me, of course, preventing my returning to the car, but then again I could I suppose keel over of a heart attack while caring for my son at home (technically my son would be safer, if more miserable, in the former case than the latter.)

    jenS January 22, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    No rock throwing from me. Today I had to go to the bank, not just the drive thru, but inside. I had to take all 3 of my kids, (4 and 2.5 yo twins) and I seriously considered leaving them locked in the minivan for 5 minutes. I think I could have bribed them all with a sucker and they would have been fine. In the end I took them (and their suckers) in with me. They were actually better than I expected! I was not concerned that they would freak out or be in any danger whatsoever, but more that someone would see them in the van and call the cops. That would be my luck! But they all can entertain themselves (to varying degrees) while I shower or do chores or work in my basement office for short periods of time. I think it’s certainly okay to expect my kids to be able to do that. And leaving them in the van for 5 minutes probably would have been fine, too.

    Margot Magowan January 23, 2010 at 12:25 am

    I am often tempted to run brief errands when my 10 month old is sleeping. It’s one of my only breaks and she’s such a deep sleeper, But I don’t. I do pay my sitter more when I leave all 3 kids– but they’re all sleeping! What’s up with that?

    Oneluckymommy January 23, 2010 at 12:41 am

    Interesting. After reading the article and about 1/3 of the comments I have the following reflections:

    1)I am uncomfortable leaving my 2.3 year old asleep at night upstairs where I can’t hear her. I can’t imagine leaving the house with her awake (among other things, she’d freak as soon as she couldn’t find me, and would’nt let me outside without her if she saw me leave). Now I’m all worried that I am too clingy and hovering…As an older mom who worked 3 yrs to get pregnant – this is it. I screw this one up (lose, kill, or break her) and I’m not going to be able to get another one (not that I could ever replace her wonderful uniqueness). I just really don’t want to take ANY chances.

    2) Where do you-all live that you have to go in and pay for gas? It would be a challenge to find a gas station in my state, much less my city that would make me pay inside.

    3) I’m really, really happy we have an extra parent – as much as we gripe about not being able to do things – there pretty much always is a parent available to my child.

    Ami January 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    I agree with you. I don’t take chances either. But I don’t think that makes us too clingy or hovering. We are vigilant and cautious. And I think our children will be able to go to college by themselves without freaking out or being emotionally scarred.

    Adoption of Jane January 23, 2010 at 7:05 am

    All my kids are spaced out…. ages 23, 18, 12, 2 1/2. So I have a false sense of security. I’ve left the baby with the 12 year old while I run to the corner to buy milk, little errands within 5 min. of my house, no longer than 15min. at a time. Usually when the kid is napping and I hate waking sleeping babies! But it does weigh heavy on my mind. I get real nervous in line, thinking what if he choked? What if there was an Earthquake? Would my 12 year old know what to do with a 2 1/2 year old? Would I even know what to do… I get sheer anxiety from it. I promise myself each time I will never do it again. Then I am out of Milk again.
    .-= Adoption of Jane´s last blog ..Skinny Six Word Saturday =-.

    Sara January 23, 2010 at 11:22 am

    I completely agree with Bonnie. It’s not as much about the choice, the age of the child or the length of time. It’s about the thought process and the decision-making of the parent. It’s one thing to leave a young child at home for any amount of time to say, go to the store and buy cigarettes without giving it a second thought. It’s entirely another to carefully consider the risks vs. benefits of leaving a sick child at home to go pick up another or dragging the child out in the rain and cold.

    And what Leah said really hit home. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left my children alone in the car, house, etc. (And BTW, going to get the mail or doing yard work while a baby naps is NOT leaving them alone in my opinion.) Each time I was CONVINCED there’d be a police car waiting for me – even when I was at the ATM and I never left sight of the car!

    Is it not enough to constantly worry about whether or not we’re good (or good enough) mothers? It’s seems that not only are we supposed to practically kill ourselves to do it perfectly, but must also worry constantly that we might do something publicly to make someone think they have a right to intervene.

    And, of course, I am ALL for protecting the children that need it. Children with truly inadequate parents. Parents who are truly hurtful and have no regard for their child’s happiness or safety. But really. We’ve come to a point where GOOD, loving, decent parents doing their best they can are constantly looking over their shoulder.

    kootnygirl January 23, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I think we all accept the risks we are comfortable with.

    Back when I used to be on mama chat boards, I saw the full range parenting styles. The one thing that stuck with me, though, was that it wasn’t so much about what might happen to the children, and more about what might happen to ME while I was gone. What would happen if I got hit by a car on my way to the mailbox at the end of the street?

    I usually include that in my risk calculation, but I do lean toward the free-range end of the spectrum.
    .-= kootnygirl´s last blog ..sometimes it’s hard to breathe =-.

    red pen mama January 23, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    My husband hates when I leave the children unattended DOWNSTAIRS. They are 3 and 5, and can entertain themselves for 5-10 minutes. But it drives him bonkers.

    Still, I have left them to their own devices (usually with the TV on) to shower and even to make love with my husband. (He doesn’t complain then.) I have run next door when they are asleep if I needed something from my in-laws. (If they are awake, I send one of them across the yard.) I haven’t let them roam the neighborhood on their own, although I have let them out in the yard (with me watching through a window) for short amounts of time. I am not a hovering parent; I’m just not. I wasn’t raised that way, either.

    I have no judgements to pass on anyone.
    .-= red pen mama´s last blog ..Road to Recovery =-.

    Alicia January 23, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    I think it is so very dependent on the child, and there is no better person to determine the child’s readiness than her parent.

    We have four children. We occasionally leave our oldest alone (he’ll be nine in April), sometimes with his sister (5 1/2). We never leave him alone to do anything nonessential, and we never leave him for longer than an hour or two.

    I think we’re doing this earlier than most of the people I know with kids, though, and there are a couple reasons for this. First, we have four kids. Even if I wanted to be a helicopter parent (and I don’t), I couldn’t. And honestly, having four kids under nine makes this kind of parenting even less appealing. I realize how different my kids are from each other, and I want to give them space. Space to grow and develop into their own people, grounded in a family that loves them, but separate too.

    The other reason is my oldest son. He’s 8, and he’s one of the most responsible, safety-preoccupied people I’ve ever met. He’s a total rule follower and enforcer. I actually remarked this morning that our youngest (8 months, and a recent crawler) is apparently NOT the Kieran-style child who won’t even crawl NEAR the edge of the bed because he’s apprehensive about falling at 8 months, but the other-three-style child who would leap to their deaths at the first opportunity.

    This maternal expertise and intuition is not something you can explain to someone else, though. So I don’t.

    Of course something bad could happen, but those things can happen when I’m home. The sense of independence and maturity he feels when he stays by himself is of greater benefit than the risks of him – this particular wonderful child – staying alone.
    .-= Alicia´s last blog ..Don’t You Forget About Me. And After This Photo, I Think You Won’t. =-.

    Debby Carroll January 23, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    If you never, ever leave your kid alone, even for a moment, how will they learn to live without you? And, more importantly, whatever will they tell their psychiatrist when they grow up and need to blame you for everything that ever went wrong in their lives? If you’re perfect, how can they go on?
    Seriously, I think judgment is queen here. In the backyard, Fine. Next door for sugar while your house is locked. Also fine. Running to the store for milk? Probably not a good idea. Like much of life, it’s all about balance. And, I suspect, for most parents, going with their gut instinct is likely the best choice. Unless you’re the Octomom. Her gut’s way off.
    .-= Debby Carroll´s last blog ..Family Game Night is a Myth, like Unicorns =-.

    Laural January 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    This is a tough question. We live across the street from a grocery store, and I’m tempted to leave my 5 year old home and run over.
    I mentioned this once to my parents. My dad who is a principal told me I’d be crazy to.
    His reasoning – my son tells everyone everything – and a simple run to the grocery store could easily be exaggerated to “mommy leaves me home alone to go shopping” and CAS could easily become involved.
    Knowing my child as I do, I took that advice. (he has told his teacher what colour underwear I prefer – the child has no filter).
    He often doesn’t want to go, and I usually end up bribing him with some sort of sugary treat which I’m not sure is the best choice also.
    However, I don’t think the act of it is necessarily wrong. I think it’s very much the child.
    But, I’ll also admit I’m hesitant to leave my kids alone ever. I won’t lock them in the car and run in for a coffee or to the bank.
    I also struggle with letting Matt play with the neighbourhood kids if I’m not watching.
    Also, I’ve gotta say my son is way more like Jasper than Emilia. I’m not sure I’ll ever be leaving him alone.

    verybadcat January 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    My perspective on this is a little skewed- I babysat my two year old sister for hours at at time when I was eight. Diapers and all, baby. I was the queen of the latchkey kids. The fourteenth time I “missed” the latchkey bus in fourth or fifth grade and walked home instead, my parents quit fighting me on it.

    Emilia is young and vulnerable, yes. But when you’re making a decision like that, to me you consider how likely something bad is to happen (not likely), and what you’re risking if something bad does happen (depends on what happens).

    The truth is that she could have just as easily had Something Bad Happen while you were in the shower, and I think it’s good for kids to be comfortable being alone, and I think her age is an appropriate one for occasional small periods.

    My parents gave me as much freedom as they felt I could handle responsibly, regardless of what the norm was for my age. I learned to be a (mostly) good steward of that freedom, because it was so incredibly precious. There were times, when I was very young and when I was a teenager, that I got in over my head. I navigated them all fairly well and adjusted my bravery level accordingly.

    You are undoubtedly her bad mother, in the truest form of the concept, and I happen to believe that’s what makes you a damn good Mom.

    Yeah, I said it. You’re a damn good Mom.
    .-= verybadcat´s last blog ..A Trip Around the Sun =-.

    Carrie January 24, 2010 at 12:52 am

    I’ve done it. Once it was for about 10 min and a few other times it’s been for less. My daughter was sound asleep one morning (a rare thing) and I had to drive my husband to the train. The train is tops 10 min from our house round trip and I’d be dropping him off on the road. So I took him and drove home super fast and guess what? She was STILL sleeping. No harm no foul.

    I wouldn’t leave my girls alone for significant times but as long as I know they are safe I don’t see the issue. As you mentioned, you can leave them alone for longer while you are in the shower. They are still “alone” and can still get into trouble. The main difference being you might be albel to stop or fix the “trouble” a bit sooner than if you ran out to the corner to pick up the mail.
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..Sleep, baby, sleep =-.

    6512 and growing January 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    You are so great at “topics.”

    There are so many judgment calls parents have to constantly make, aren’t there?

    My son once fell asleep in the bike trailer on our way to do some food shopping. I really didn’t want to wake him up and deliberated for awhile. I ended up leaving him in the trailer, attached to my bike, leaned up against the small food Co-op, in our small town. Besides the runaway-imagination “what ifs?” I really felt fine about it. I checked on him several times during the ten minutes I was shopping. I made a judgment call; there was risk. This is part of being a parent.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking topic.
    .-= 6512 and growing´s last blog ..Digging Out =-.

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