My Tween Has Never Stayed Home Alone

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and ljubaphoto/Getty

“Can I just stay home?” my tween growled at me. I was getting ready to take my second daughter to her drum lesson, which left the rest of us sitting in the minivan for a half-hour.

“No,” I replied, gathering the kids’ water bottles. It’s not that her request hadn’t crossed my mind several times in the past year. I just couldn’t bring myself to say yes. Not yet, anyway.

Most of my daughter’s friends have been allowed to stay home alone for short periods of time for a few years now. I remember running into an acquaintance at Target last summer. There I was, four kids in tow, frantically trying to pick up all the items on my list. And there she was, perusing nail polishes, no kids in sight.

I asked her how her daughters were doing, and she said they were constantly bickering, as siblings do in the summer. Her seven- and nine-year-old girls were at home, probably watching television and raiding the kitchen. She had a few errands to run, and it was so much easier to do them sans kids.

I was shocked. Probably because I’ve lived with my anxiety my entire life. And no matter how well-managed it is at any given time, the questions flood my mind.

What if there was a fire? What if my tween choked on cereal? What if a persistent and creepy salesperson came to the front door? What if someone hotlines me for leaving my not-legally-old-enough child home by herself?

It’s possible something happens to me. What if I’m in a car accident, and I cannot communicate that my daughter is home alone? What if I get a flat tire? What if I drop my cell phone in a puddle, and I cannot text or call my child? What if one of the kids who is with me needs emergency medical care, and I don’t have time to swing by and pick up my daughter who is at home?

Anxious? You bet.

I know. The likelihood that any of those worries will manifest into realities is pretty unlikely. But my ultimate job is to protect my kids. And I take that job pretty damn seriously.

It’s not that I don’t trust my tween. She’s the stereotypical oldest child–responsible, mature, reliable. Tell her to do something, and she’s committed and trustworthy. She knows not to answer the door and not to cook without supervision. She mothers her three younger siblings like a pro.

Not allowing her to stay home alone is like when a crappy boyfriend breaks up with you, feeding you the line, “It’s not you. It’s me.” The truth is, my tween doesn’t stay home alone because I have hang-ups and worries that I just can’t shake. It really isn’t her.

I’m that mom who has never left my kids in the car, not even for a minute, to dash into the gas station or pick up another child from school. I take horror stories to heart–of leaving kids in a hot car, of a carjacking, or a kidnapping. I’ve convinced myself that the minuscule risk is never worth the probable reward.

I live in a family-friendly, safe community—one of those places that could be in a cheesy family sitcom. The likelihood of tragedy striking is close to zero. There are for more do-gooders here than criminals.

I’ve rationalized that it does little good to leave my oldest at home, anyway. I still have to cart three younger kids to the store, to the music lesson, to sports practice. What’s one more kid in tow? Suck it up, buttercup, because you’re coming with mom and crew.

A lot of my friends leave their tweens at home. After all, with cell phones, door and window alarms, and cameras inside and out, aren’t kids as safe as they can possibly be? Of course, these tools are helpful and reassuring, but they aren’t the same as having an adult present.

Yes, I know. Many of us were working part-time jobs, free from adult supervision, when we were in our late tween and early teen years. I was babysitting full-time every summer when I was thirteen years old. There were no cell phones or cameras. I would even take the kids swimming. And somehow, the middle-schooler and grade-schooler I babysat made it through every summer just fine.

We live in a different time now, one with more security than ever before. But there’s also seemingly more danger like child sex trafficking and cyber-bullying. Yikes.

At some point, I know I have to let my girl take the big step of staying home alone. I’m 100% confident she won’t channel her inner Kevin McCallister and demolish the house with a pair of criminals trailing behind. And trust me, I don’t want any of my kids growing up to be too fearful or dependent upon me to leave the nest.

When is the time right to take what feels like a big step? I don’t know. I’ll get there eventually, taking a leap of faith. And I hope that with each little “yes,” it gets a little easier. After all, I have three more children coming up behind my oldest.

I know one thing for certain. Being a mom is mentally exhausting. Mothering takes immense courage. And watching our kids grow up is the most terrifying and beautiful journey.

This article was originally published on