Yesterday I cemented my identity as “uncool mom” when I refused to leave my 9.5-year-old at a friend’s house for an unsupervised playdate. In hindsight, I should have asked if a grown up would be there when the invite was extended, but to be perfectly honest, it did not even occur to me that BB#1’s friends were being left home alone. (Actually, he wasn’t alone: he already had another friend over, also 10 years old, and his sister was there too. His younger sister.)
I don’t live under a rock, so I’ve been reading and thinking a lot lately about the “McDonald’s mom”, who was arrested after letting her own 9-year-old play in the park while she was at work. Parents across the blogosphere are waving “free range” or “helicopter” parenting flags—though some, like me, question why we need to have these silly labels at all. But of course, as one blogger so eloquently explains, this particular case is not even about parenting style.
I don’t live in a low income area, but I know from experience that doesn’t mean people here don’t struggle with astronomical housing and child care costs. So I am not even going to begin to guess whether my son’s friend and his sister were home alone due to financial reasons–or because “parenting style”. I can’t judge, particularly without all the facts, and I’m certainly not making any phone calls. But that doesn’t mean I am down with leaving my child there. We are not yet comfortable leaving him on his own in our home. And even when we do decide he’s old enough, we probably won’t ask him to be responsible for his younger brother, at least not right away. Nor will he be allowed to have guests.
The irony of this is we’ve recently started giving BB#1 what we thought was some “free range”: going ahead of us to the park, or returning on his own to retrieve a forgotten item; getting the mail; going to the corner store. We give both boys lots of space to play at the park; let them push their physical limits despite the stink eye we sometimes get from other parents; wait for them to come to us if they fall; rarely interfere in their interactions with other kids. While we are perfectly comfortable with what we’re doing—we’re the parents here, and we know our sons and what they can handle pretty well, thanks—there’s still that fear of being judged. Or worse, reported!
So imagine my surprise to learn we’re still on the helicopter after all.