How can you tell that your kids are ready to stay home alone?
We’ve all seen the movie. The kid is accidentally left behind as his family leaves for a Christmas vacation. Craziness and hilarity ensue as one thing after another goes wrong. The boy wasn’t old enough to stay home alone– or a least, not for a whole family trip. He was pretty inventive at getting out of the sticky situations with the burglars, but who wants their kid to have to do that?
In our family, leaving a child home alone is always a decision based on readiness.
Many months of preparation go into that first 10 minute trip to the store–sans child– and the cell phone ringer’s set on high.
Or am I alone in this?
Our two older kids did fine around the age of 11, staying home alone for a little while. Even allowing a 13-year-old to baby sit a younger sibling was (nervousness, but) fine. Then the girls came along. We had done the 10-minute store trips without them. It was 2002. P was 11 and J was 9, and they knew not to answer the phone or the door. They knew not to cook or play in the front yard. They were fine at home.
Then I took the little ones to D1’s speech therapy appointment.
The girls would be fine at home. I was only going to be gone an hour, total. My phone was about to die, so I left it charging in the car during the appointment. That was my first mistake.
When we returned to the car 45 minutes later, there were 17 missed calls on my phone and 6 messages, the first of which was my husband shouting, “What the H*ll are you doing without your phone!!!” and hanging up. The next two were him also, and the rest were variations of my girls crying and screaming.
I didn’t listen to them all. It was horrifying and besides, I was already calling home. My mother in law answered, explaining that the girls had called 911, and would I like to talk to the paramedic?
A strange woman took the phone and explained that she was actually an animal control officer, and they had received a 911 call about an injured animal.
A baby guinea pig, to be exact. Apparently, the girls were playing with our baby guinea pigs, and J had tripped, fallen, and landed on one of the babies, squishing it. The little week-old baby didn’t stand a chance against my 9-year old’s knee.
“Do you want me to tell her it’s gone, or should I just take it away?” asked the lady. “No, I’ll tell her. You can take it.”
The story pieced together from my husband, my girls, and my mother in law is that when they couldn’t reach me, they called Dad. The girls were in hysterics, he was over 2 hours away in another state, and the connection was choppy.
He heard “blood”, “baby” and “Mom’s not home!” and he told them to call 911 because he thought that I had left the girls home alone with D2, who was around 8 months old at the time… and still a foster child, so there’s no way I would ever have even considered that, not even had they been 16! But he was reacting to the urgency and made a judgment call.
They called 911, the operator was able to sort out what they were talking about, and sent animal control. Animal control came and had them call their grandma, who had just arrived when I called the house.
Needless to say, the girls didn’t stay home alone for quite a long time after that. We had a lot more preparation to do before we felt comfortable leaving them again, even for a quick trip to the store. We went over and over what an emergency IS and what it is NOT. And how to call for help without totally losing it.
And I always, always carry my cell phone with me.
If you’re on the fence about when the right time is, Mique at 30 Handmade Days created a free printable with guidelines for age appropriate home alone situations. It’s not gospel, but it’s a good guideline to help you decide when the time is right for your kids.