My Kids Stay Home Alone Often Because They Can Follow Our 5 'House Rules'

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
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Pre-pandemic, I didn’t blink at leaving my 10 year-old home alone by himself for up to an hour at a time. Or I theoretically wouldn’t have; I don’t think I ever left him for more than forty-five minutes. I’d leave him for longer, but he gets lonely and that’s around his comfort level. My husband and I did actually leave all of three of them for about half an hour once to go for a walk around the block alone. I think that was June. We tend to be free range parents, and we trust our kids’ independence.

By the time I was ten, my parents left me at home alone all the time. Especially now that my mother lives within an easy drive, giving my son one more person to call in an emergency, I don’t see the problem.

Like This Time I Left My Kid Home Alone

Here’s an example. I have a doctor I must see every three months to refill prescriptions. She’s notoriously hard to get afternoon appointments with, and she’s not the type of doctor you can haul your kids to see. But she’s located only half a mile from my husband’s work. So I have to race across town for one of her last two appointments, three kids in tow, switch cars in the parking lot with my husband, and he has to take the kids home again.

Not fun for the kids, who end up in the car for at least forty-five minutes with zero destination in mind.

So the last time I looked at my watch and said, screw this. My 6 year-old was happy watching TV. My 8 year-old was busy playing LEGOs. My 10 year-old was reading. I gathered the kids up and gave them a choice: they could ride to the doctor’s office, or they could wait for their father to come home. Unanimously, they chose to stay home alone.

I turned on the second LEGO movie, which would keep everyone parked in one spot. We went over the Rules. I told my 10 year-old that he was in charge, and my other two that they needed to listen to him. My oldest recited our phone numbers and his grandmothers’; he had a phone to use in case of emergencies.

I said goodbye, good luck, and left them all home alone.

My husband arrived half an hour later. They were still watching the LEGO movie. Everyone and everything was just fine.

Rules For Staying Home Alone

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I don’t just ditch my kids with no warning. They have rules for staying home alone, and they know they need to follow them. It’s because we can trust them to follow these rules that they are allowed to stay home.

  1. They are not allowed to eat. Sounds weird, right? But my 10 year-old doesn’t know the Heimlich maneuver. According to EmedicineHealth, irreversible brain death can set it at 4-6 minutes without oxygen. I don’t trust that the ambulance can make it to my house in four minutes. So no eating, and no putting things in your mouth that isn’t liquid. Do I honestly think my kids will choke? No. They’re 6, 8, and 10 years old. But I’m not taking the chance. They can go 30 minutes without a snack.
  2. They are not allowed to answer the door. I don’t care if it’s Amazon. It might not be. They aren’t allowed to open it.
  3. They are not allowed to play outside. We have a trampoline. The risk of injury is too high. I also don’t want them in the front yard, where people can ask, “Where’s your mom?” and notice there’s no cars in the driveway.
  4. All other household rules apply. They are not allowed to fight, call each other names, etc.
  5. My kids are aware of a fire safety plan and able to call 911 in case of emergency. There are also nearby family friends they can call. We have practiced and rehearsed these things many times over.

What’s The Judgment Call?

I am careful about when I leave them home alone. I would never leave my kids at night; I would never leave them right now, during a pandemic (if I wasn’t literally a block away). I would never leave if a child were sick. I also wouldn’t leave early in the morning, before one of them had woken up. They have to be fed before I go.

I also wouldn’t leave them home alone if one of them was having a bad day. Sound strange? It shouldn’t. They’re less likely to listen to rules if they’re having an off day, and more likely to fight with their brothers. That could lead to injury (probably of the “I fell and hit my head” kind), and I don’t want that to happen while they’re home alone. So if someone’s grumpy or out of sorts, I’m staying home or they’re coming with me.

I wouldn’t leave my kids if storms were predicted. I don’t want them alone if the electricity goes out, or, god forbid, we go under a tornado warning they’re unaware of because they’re, well, 10, 8, and 6 years old. It’s not like their cell phone pings to inform them about it, and we no longer have the National Weather Service popping up on our TVs.

But Most of the Time? I’ll Leave Them Home Alone

If I have to run to the bank up the road, if I have to stop in at the grocery store for ten minutes, if I need to run to the doctor in the twenty-minute window before my husband comes home from work, and all the above conditions are met, I’m going to leave my kids home alone for an hour (or less). I’m neither stupid nor reckless about it. I trust my children. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t leave them. They can always contact me, their father, their grandmother, and any kind of needed emergency services. They’re safe.

So when I’m gone, I don’t worry about them.

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