Hubby and I tried something new tonight. We left our boys, ages 11 and 9, home alone while we went to a wine dinner nearby. Admittedly, Wine Group (when we’re sober we’re not clever enough to come up with a better name and when we’re drunk we forget we need one), was just a block away from home tonight. Still, we knew we would be trusting our boys to stay at home for three to four hours, including a couple hours after dark, without us. It was a big deal. We talked about it with them for weeks beforehand to make sure they were up to the task. We lined up a back-up sitter in case they decided they wanted to have someone here with them. But, in the end, they said it was no big deal. So after too many cautious instructions (“text if you need us” was mine, “don’t stand on the counters” was Steve’s), we walked out the door and up the street.
When we were growing up, both Steve and I were given great freedom and responsibility. We wanted to share that kind of upbringing with our own boys. Over this past summer, I tried at small intervals to leave them home alone. Thirty minutes here and there during broad daylight, just to let them know we have faith and confidence in them and to let them see that they are capable. Colorado law does not specify an age at which it is legal to leave your kids home alone and unattended. I checked. The suggested guideline is 12, but the law also notes that some 15 year olds might not be safe alone while some 9 year olds would do perfectly well. Our boys, while a bit young, are responsible kids. Joe, following in his father’s footsteps, is the King of Safety. We know, therefore, that he won’t let his brother do anything stupid. On the flip side, Luke is our level-headed, problem solver when things go wrong. We’ve lived with them long enough to know that we could leave them tonight and return home to a clean, cared-for, not-burned-down house.
We left them at 6. At 9, Joe texted that he wanted us to come home because he was scared. Joe often makes claims like this when we know he’s fine. We had just started dessert, so we asked him to FaceTime my sister, who was our back-up babysitter. After a while, another text arrived. Joe said he had talked to his aunt and was fine but that he still wanted us to come home. We stalled as long as we could, wanting both to savor the wonderful dessert our friends made and to let our sons remember that they were fine. We left Wine Group at 9:33 and walked home. When we arrived at 9:38, both boys were fine. They were in the process of cleaning up the mess we specifically told them we expected not to find. The house was in tact. The dog wasn’t covered in anything sticky. They weren’t even finished watching the movies we’d rented for them. Joe had simply been a bit lonely. When it was all said and done, we’d spent 3.5 hours up the street, and they had done a pretty great job of taking care of themselves and being brave. We were proud.
I am certain there are people who will chide me for leaving our boys alone, but I don’t care. I know my kids. They’re well-behaved, smart, and competent. I know that about them, and I want them to know that about themselves. I don’t think there was anything wrong with leaving them alone for a few hours while we were three-tenths of a mile up the street. These are the things that teach a child that they’re not helpless. These are the things that give them self-confidence. These are the things that help them to know we trust and believe in them. These are the things that will ensure they are not living in my basement and delivering pizzas for a living when they’re 28. Knowing how much to trust your kids is a delicate thing. You don’t want to shield them too much, but you don’t want to expose them to too much too soon either. In the end, tonight’s experiment was a success. We expect these situations to be few and far between because we spend far more time with our children than without them. It’s nice to have proof, though, that they’re strong, smart, and independent boys. We’re making small deposits in their self-esteem banks. I’m sure they will pay off greatly with interest down the road.