Letting the Kids Stay Home Alone. For a Week.

Hi yyyybfdhtd
Readers! You’ll love this! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  This isn’t so much a camp story as it is an “independence” story.  My son was by nature very timid and could have easily have been crippled by this nature had I allowed it.  Instead, I kicked my kids out of the house on every nice day and made them find something to do rather than sit inside.  Many a summer night saw my backyard filled with up to a dozen neighborhood kids in sleeping bags under the stars and unsupervised.  Shockingly, they were never once kidnapped or molested.  In spite of this, my son never wanted to go to camp and rarely stayed at a friend or relative’s house overnight.

When he was fourteen and his sister sixteen, my husband had to go to New Orleans for work and I decided to tag along.  We chose to leave the kids home alone to fend for themselves; we had many neighbors they could call on in an emergency and they were trustworthy kids.

The week before, we took them to the grocery store and let them shop for the meals they wanted to eat while we were gone.  Did you know there are seven different brands of frozen pizza, so they wouldn’t have to once eat the same thing during the week?  Neither did I until after that shopping trip.  Though I was not terribly happy with their choices, this was their independence week and I was determined to let them be in charge.

Armed with pizza, a $100 bill and my daughter’s driver’s license, they faced the week alone.  As my husband and I said our goodbyes, I could see the concern in my son’s eyes, but we knew they could take care of each other.  During the week, they checked in before school, when they got home, and to say goodnight.  We heard tales of burnt pizzas, trips to the market for milk and getting along and taking care of each other.  That alone made the trip a success. But never did I expect what my son did when we got home.

He thanked us.

Always one to worry, he had apparently been thinking about college and had been concerned he would not be able to go because he had a fear of being away from us.  He said his experience during the week had made him realize he could take care of himself.

I could have very easily made him a mama’s boy, but instead I constantly pushed him to do something scary.  Our trust in him gave him trust in himself. – Janelle Cawley Kennedy.

What happens to teens taking care of themselves for a week?

P.S. Today, my son Stan is 24 and sharing a house with some of those same friends he played with as a boy.  My daughter is 26 and has moved to St Louis where she lives with her husband and my grandson.


70 Responses to Letting the Kids Stay Home Alone. For a Week.

  1. dmd March 15, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    What a lovely story! My son is totally like this. It’s not the same thing at all, but my husband and I just went away for a weekend ourselves. Our 9-year-old son was not left in our house on his own, but was farmed out to various friends for different spells of time. He was a little anxious but did just fine! He did have people to “take care of him” but being in someone else’s home is different than being in your own home and the reports are that he rose to the occasion.

  2. Marie March 15, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    I love this story! My son is also very timid by nature, and I love helping him push his limits. He’s only 5, so still way too young to do something like this, but we’re making progress.

    Bit of a battle at times, not with my son, but with my husband. His parents were rather protective and still are, just now with my kids, and my husband tends to take after them. But he’s slowly accepting that it’s normal for me to tell our son that he can walk on his own to a friend’s house to see if they can play, and that he’ll come right back if the friend can’t play. My husband didn’t think he was ready for that until I told him I’d had our son doing that for months.

  3. Teri March 15, 2011 at 4:48 am #

    My parents did the same when my sister and I were about the same age. I was old enough to drive, but I do not believe that she was so it had to be when we were 14,15 & 16 range. I may have only been driving on a permit, though – my parents allowed me to drive in town during daylight hours with just a permit. We, too, were left with money for groceries and had to get ourselves up and to school. The only rule was no boys, no overnight guests, and we had to be in by dark. Aside from one argument over my sister wanting to sneak her boyfriend in overnight one night, we had no major arguments and actually got along fairly well that weekend.

    When I was in my 2nd year of college (living at home) and my sister was a senior in highschool, my parents took another week-long, out of town trip. My boyfriend’s parents at the time were in the process of getting divorced and he was away at school. So, on his weekends “home,” he typically stayed at our house because he didn’t want to get pulled into the middle of his parent’s divorce and didn’t even really want them to know he was in town. The week my parents were gone just so happened to be his spring break week and was a week that he had already planned to come stay with us. To my surprise, they allowed him to stay at the house even though they weren’t there (we had been dating for 2 years already anyway, so I guess they figured this wouldn’t temp us into doing anything we probably hadn’t already done.) We played house that week – I cooked dinner and did the laundry for everybody. He cut the grass and washed cars. Looking back on it, it’s kind of funny how we fell into the stereotypical roles for that week. Two years later when I finished school, we ended up getting married. Ten years after that, we got divorced.

    It’s amazing how mature and responsible kids will act when given the opportunities to do so.

  4. Jen Connelly March 15, 2011 at 4:50 am #

    What a great story. Me and my brother could have easily survived at those ages, minus the car because I didn’t drive at 16 (we would have walked or taken the bus to get to places).

    I remember my aunt threw a New Year’s Eve bash one year that was adults only. We lived in Chicago and the party was up in Michigan. Normally when we visited we stayed at this aunt’s house so if we went we’d have to be shuffled off to another relative’s house. I had just turned 14 and my brother was almost 12. Instead they chose to leave us for the weekend and go have fun with other adults. I’m pretty sure they asked if I was okay with it and I just shrugged. Yeah, sure, why not?

    Not only that but my brother’s 11yo friend (who was like a brother to me) stayed with us. Nothing happened. We hung out with our friends during the day and I warmed up leftovers and ordered pizza for dinner. We stayed up late watching movies and had way too much ice cream for dessert but otherwise things were pretty calm. I remember sitting on the phone with a friend while they ran crazy through the house playing “basketball” (with one of those over the door hoops).

    When my parents got back I said I was never babysitting them again, lol. Mostly because they were so rambunctious with the basketball, moving the dining room table and making a mess they didn’t want to clean up. But they mostly behaved. I didn’t even notice my parents missing.

    Now a days they’d probably be arrested for neglect if they had chose to do that even though we were perfectly safe and capable of being alone. We could have easily survived a whole week even at those ages. Our neighbors would have checked up on us (like they did that weekend or any time we were alone for extended amounts of time when we were younger) to make sure we didn’t need anything and were getting along. And we knew we could go to them if there was trouble.

  5. Heather Rose March 15, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    Great story! In 1976, when I was 13, I stayed alone at my family’s summer cabin for a week. It was actually supposed to be a few weeks (I was staying in the area to complete a recreational sports program) but my friend’s mother got busybodyish and called the police. My parents had to come back from the city to pick me up. She meant well, but my family and I have never really forgiven her!! Anyway that week alone was incredibly idyllic – my dog and I, all by ourselves. I cooked my own meals and rode my bike into town for groceries. It was a fantastic experience!

  6. pentamom March 15, 2011 at 5:02 am #

    Next time give them five 20’s. Some places are skittish about taking 100’s. 😉

  7. neener March 15, 2011 at 5:07 am #

    That brought tears to my eyes…what a great story.

  8. EricS March 15, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    Another satisfied customer of FR. lol Nice Janelle. Reminds me of when my parents left me and my siblings when they went back to the motherland for two weeks. I was 14, my sisters was 15 and my brother was 12. My aunt would come over every evening to make us dinner (she didn’t have to, but she did anyway, sometimes her whole family would come over for dinner, but would go home later that night. So we were alone then, unless my cousins stayed with us too (around the same age as us). Because we were so used to fending for ourselves (when need be) since I was 6, it wasn’t even an issue. Not one of us was afraid, insecure about staying home alone, and we were able to tackle all that we came across while my parents were away. No licenses, but if we needed a ride, my uncle or aunt picked us up. Most of the time, we either walked, rode our bikes or took public transit. No cellphones back then, but we did have a pocket full of coins for the pay phone.

  9. Sara March 15, 2011 at 5:52 am #

    No way would I let teenagers stay alone for a week. That’s a huge drunken party just waiting to happen. Even good kids can get mixed up in bad stuff when they don’t have parents to fall back on at 14 and 16.

  10. LeahGG March 15, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    my parents left me alone for a week when I was 15 and a year later when I was 16. No driver’s license, no friends in walking distance. No supermarket in walking distance. The first time, I stayed with another family for the weekend. The second time I spent the weekend alone. I’m a religious Jew, so no telephone or computer or tv either for 24 hours of it. I think it’s the only time in my life I looked forward to school…
    I think independence is great, but leaving a kid basically stranded sucks.

  11. LauraL March 15, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    this brought tears to my eyes.

    My mother is the scaredy-cat now, although I was doing things on my own at a younger age than my kids are now – including taking care of my sister, nearly five years younger than myself. This coming Monday my husband and I are going away overnight to celebrate our 19th anniversary. I notified my mother so she could be on hand if my kids need her – 15, almost 13, and 10. It’s only for overnight. It’s spring break. But NOOOO…they now must stay with her!

    I’m taking it as a chance for them to spend some time together, and that’s important. We spent our spring breaks with our grandparents. The sting is that she would think we’re so careless with our children that she must insist on ‘not allowing’ something. But I think this will have to be the last time. I can’t feel I can just give her a head’s up without being undermined.

  12. christy March 15, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    I LOVE this story. Thank you for sharing it.

  13. LauraL March 15, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    checking the box…

  14. Cindy March 15, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    @Sara – I am a parent of a boy and girl 18 & 20. They have been left alone multiple times with no incidents. I have found the best way to get teenagers to do untrustworthy things is to not trust them. Trust and respect is the key to raising great teenagers.

  15. Marty March 15, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    I like it.

  16. Julie March 15, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    This actually reminds me of a very free-range thing my parents did the summer I was 17 (1993). We were living in Romania at the time as missionaries and they decided to take a trip to Austria sans kiddos. My two brothers went to stay with a missionary family we knew, and two of my three sisters went to stay with another missionary family we knew. The youngest sister and I were left in our family’s apartment to fend for ourselves for the week (or rather I fended for myself and babysat my sis…who was two and a half)!!

    It was fun…I got to stay up late watching what I wanted to watch on the satellite TV, took my little sis out to the playground to play and to get ice cream cones at the corner shop every day, and the rest of the time we just hung out around the apartment. The only big incident I remember from that whole time was when baby sis got too quiet one afternoon and when I went searching for her I found her in the kitchen…quietly eating her way through a jar of Nutella!! We had fun and I felt like I’d been entrusted with great responsibility…with my parents two countries away and no internet or cell phones for them to check up on us!!

  17. Skyfire March 15, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    I was about 19 when my then-boyfriend’s parents went away for the weekend, leaving him and his 16 year old sister alone. We had a huge party, pizza, beer, a ton of people of a range of ages. No one was allowed to drive drunk (I was not a drinker, so I took custody of keys), and many stayed over for most of Saturday. I made pancakes for breakfast! On Sunday, the three of us, and a few of our close friends, spent the day cleaning the house until it SPARKLED.

    I wonder, were we a bad influence on those younger kids we allowed to drink? Or did we show a good example by keeping an eye on things and making sure no one drove? Some might say we were lucky nothing bad happened. I think that we made our own luck by having a good plan in place and sticking to it.

  18. Jackie March 15, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    @Cindy-you are totally correct. I teach high school kids and while this isn’t even on the spectrum of trusting kids to be left home alone, it does illustrate your point. I sell pencils in my classroom for 10 cents. The pencils are in a basket on my desk, as is the money. Kids will simply come in, drop a dime (or 10 pennies-ugh) or whatever and take a pencil. A colleague asked me-why would you leave the money out? Won’t they take it? I replied that it never crossed my mind to assume someone would steal it and that I’d told my students it was the honor system. As a matter of fact, most kids will throw in a quarter and if they don’t want change, take one pencil (sometimes two). While I don’t make money on what the pencils actually cost me, I’ve never been “robbed” of what I do make. I even have kids who are no longer my students stop by to get pencils. Some kids I don’t even know-they just know I’ve got them.

  19. pentamom March 15, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    @Sara — why would my kids, who are of the opinion that doing stuff like that is really dumb and undesirable, do it just because they could?

    If you’re concerned that your kids really secretly would love to have a drunken bash at your house if left to their own devices, then it’s better not to give them that chance. But if you know your kids honestly have no desire to behave in that way because they have genuinely internalized the opinion that it’s dumb behavior, then why would you worry about it? People should be able to judge their kids for themselves, and if they have any doubts as to whether they can trust them, then they shouldn’t. But if you don’t have those doubts, not because your kids are “perfect angels” but because you know they have their heads on straight with regard to certain kinds of stupid behavior, why not?

  20. Cindy March 15, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    @ Jackie – exactly!

  21. BeQui March 15, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    I was thinking how 16 seems pretty young to stay home alone for a week, when I remembered that’s how old my sister was the first time she house-sat for my husband and I when we went 2 states away for a week.

    I remember, because she was still in high school, and used our car to get to and from school about 15 miles away.

    We even told her to have friends over if she wanted, but she decided entertaining people just wasn’t worth the hassle.

  22. Amy - Parenting Gone Mad March 15, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    Fantastic! Particularly in this day and age when children are absorbing so much more and understand a great deal more than we did when we were kids, its a wonderful way to teach independence and encouraging them to live outside the square.

    Well done!

  23. Whoops March 15, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    The parents of 5 kids (1 at college) left them alone in the care of their 18 yo sister while they went on a cruise. The college brother came home, bro and sis threw a party, bro and sis and boyfriend all got arrested. 3 younger sibs had to be picked up by a set of grandparents for the rest of the week.

    Not that I am against independence, but I teach high school and I hear way too much about what some of these kids are up to when their parents aren’t around.

  24. Rich Wilson March 15, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    What’s noteworthy, IMO, is that we consider this noteworthy.

  25. madmothermusings March 15, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Awesome story. my parents did that several times, they felt we needed to gain independance, and learn to care for ourselves. To this day I thank them for it. Some of our earliest jobs upon earning a drivers license were housesitting gigs. My parents felt this would prepare us for college. It was a wonderful gift they gave us. Independence is the best gift you can give your children.

  26. Janelle March 15, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Wow, Thank you all for your comments. I just wanted to respond to a couple of them.

    @Rick: I totally agree, though my hope is that this story will inspire another parent to do the same.

    @Whoops and Sara: I knew and trusted my kids and their friends. As adults, they have conveyed to me how special this trust was to them and they behaved in part because they did not want to lose that. As adults, they have both admitted their “teenage infractions” to me and I have to laugh at what they considered “subversive.” Stan’s version of showing his displeasure with our decisions was to go to his room and blast the song “F*** Authority” as loud as he could. Of course, we never knew about this until he was an adult and admitted it to us because he always put his headphones on so as not to disturb us.

    @Jackie: Your kids are lucky to have you in the classroom. Have you seen this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuBmSbiVXo0&feature=player_embedded#at=165

    @Laura, Nina, etal: It still brings tears to my eyes.

    @DMD, Marie, etal: Keep pushing those limits. Stan used to pass out from stress, avoid anything that hurt him physically, and fret for the whole world. Today he is a strong, able, intelligent young man who is capable and strong, who rides his bike in situations that make me tremble and has dozens of amazing friends. He is still sensitive and compassionate and needs his mommy to give him a hug or just check in to see if he is okay when my mommy-sense tingles. I am proud of him and the way my husband (now ex-husband) and I raised him. I wouldn’t change a thing.

    @All: I can’t sing all these praises about my son and not mention the amazing daughter, woman and mother that his sister is. I am so fortunate to have two amazing children.

  27. Kimberly March 15, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    My Sister and her DH went out of town for a weekend. They left the 6 yo and 3 yo with their paternal grandmother. They left the 17 yo at home with her car.

    Saturday night grandmother gets a knock on the door. It is the 17 yo and her boyfriend they want to watch a DVD. His parents are out for the evening, Her Dad and Step-mom (Sis) are gone – can they watch it in the game room. Which they did. I don’t know if they just felt uncomfortable, felt they might b be breaking a rule, or what.

    Not all teenagers are looking to break every rule, get high and drunk, and have sex.

  28. Amber March 15, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    @ Sara- I am the teen age daughter in this story and I can assure you there was no drunken party.

    Great story mom, I miss having such a care free life! Oh to be a teenager again:) But I wouldnt trade my life for the world. You taught us well:) Job well done!! I only hope Im half the mom you always were and are<3

  29. Smalltown Mom March 15, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    My husband and I took our first parents-only trip 2 years ago, leaving the 18 year old and 12.5 year old home alone with the cat for 10 days. They were fine. They are quiet kids, not party animals, and I would trust them any time. (That being said, there was a support system in place — other adult family members who checked in with them on a regular basis, and I talked to them every morning.)

  30. Eika March 15, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    When I was twelve, I talked my parents into letting my 14-year-old sister and I stay home alone for a weekend. We ordered pizza. The total of our crimes: playing video games on the upstairs TV where the ‘don’t belong’ because then our parents can’t watch their shows; eating four slices of pizza instead of the normal two; ignoring our bedtimes; and not taking our vitamins. (In fact, I most clearly remember Dad standing over us sternly the Monday after, glaring at us as we took them. Those things taste nasty!)

    I was the younger and more responsible; I was the one who got up to put the dogs out in the morning and remembered to feed them. She was assertive and in-charge enough to keep neighbors out of the pool without a buddy system and an adult. That was in 2002.

    Know your kids. I’ve never been the sort to like parties, so why would I throw one?

  31. Kay Wyma March 15, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    So great to share these stories and remind people that kids can step up to the plate … always with the result she shared: Confidence.

    Think for a minute how much money people spend every year on coaches, tutors, personal trainers, etc in an effort to “build up” their kids and usher them into excellence. While all along, the greatest confidence builders face us each and every day … in our homes. Whether its cooking dinner, doing laundry, taking care of a younger sibling, mowing an elderly neighbor’s yard … whatever. Starting and completing tasks jazzes a kid – especially when they have to do it all by themselves.

    Thanks for faithfully sharing your stories, Lenore.

  32. Drew March 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Back in the early 80s, when my brother and I were in high school, probably 14 and 16 like the kids in the story, our parents left us home alone for at least a week while they took a vacation. I recall that they did it a few times during our high school days.

    We survived. We thrived.

  33. MommyMitzi March 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Wow, here I thought I was the only one who was enough of a nerd in highschool to be trusted to stay at home alone for 2 weeks! I was a junior and 17 years old and my brother was 15 and a freshman and my parents went on a trip to their ancestral home.

    We lived in a farming community in a rural part of the country. I had to drive to get groceries and of course, we had to get ourselves up, fed and on the school bus in the morning, but overall, our lives weren’t all that different than what they were when my parents were home. I thought it would be great, not having a curfew, but all my friends did, so I really didn’t stay out any later than normal. I do remember getting invited to some homes for dinner–I think some people felt sorry for us having to cook for ourselves every day. But one of my friend’s mom, having just prepared a nice dinner for us, asked what we’d been eating. Turns out I had just made ham and scalloped potatoes the night before and so I told her that. She looked a bit taken aback–I think she expected me to say Captain Crunch and luncheon meat!

  34. gramomster March 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    This is awesome. When my husband and I went out of state for a weekend for our 20th anniversary, we left our grandson, 2 at the time, at home with his then-16-year-old uncle and uncle’s wonderful girlfriend. They took great care of boyo and themselves, everybody had a good time (little dude with favorite teenagers doting on him, teenagers with a really good excuse to go to the playground and watch their childhood favorite movies), and lo and behold, no one got injured, kidnapped or dead!
    The following year, we left the two kids, then 17 and 19 at home for almost a month. Grandboy went with us on that trek. The older kid, the daughter, mostly wasn’t around, and our son did amazingly well on his own. I’d left money for food and money for discretionary spending. When we got back, he told us he had money left from both accounts. We were completely stunned, and told him to keep it. The house was spotless, and a couple broken little annoyances had been repaired. There was food in the fridge, and all the animals were alive and well.

    Kids are freakin’ awesome if given the opportunity to be so.

  35. molly March 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    I’ve had the opposite experience – no chores, no cooking, no responsibility at all – and it’s been difficult teaching myself to take care of a household as an adult. I’m making sure my kids are prepared for when they’re independent of me someday!

  36. Tuppence March 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    These stories are great. I admire the parents that left their children home alone for pedagogical reasons: want child to learn some independence. But those parents who did so with the (apparent) reason of — they simply wanted a vacation alone — have a special place in my heart.

    I think one of the major differences in how we were raised, and children nowadays are raised is — in ways both big and small, in some families harshly, in some kindly, an important message our parents wanted us to learn is: You are not the center of the universe. It was considered good for the child’s character to acknowledge that fact. (We weren’t yet “enlightened” that the most important thing in a child’s life is its self esteem, and that good self esteem comes from being told how great and important you are all the time.)

    One of the various ways parents back then proved that statement was doing things like consider their own pleasure — maybe even before the child’s – gasp. Today, it seems that parents do everything they can to insure that their children KNOW, at least in the parents’ universe, the opposite is true.

    Now, I talk a good game, but also struggle with this.
    Are we raising a generation of narcissists? Maybe it’s time to plan that romantic weekend for two.

  37. BMS March 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    When I was in high school, I worked weekends at a museum. My friends and I who worked the late night omnimax shift would sometimes go to the house of one girl who lived a couple of blocks away after the late Saturday shift. We would spend the night, and go back to work the next day. This was a coed group of about 4-8 people, in their mid to late teens. Somehow we walked (horrors!) in the dark (eek!) in the city (aiee!) to her house. Her parents were sometimes there, sometimes not. We had sleepovers where no one drank, no one got molested or pregnant, no drugs were taken. We stayed up watching stupid movies or playing semi-obscene games of pictionary. Then we got our rear ends out of bed and got to work by 8 the next day. As long as my parents were informed where I was, they were fine. Even though my boyfriend was there. Somehow, I still managed to escape high school a virgin, despite unsupervised co-ed sleepovers.

    As others have said – not all teens are out for trouble. Just the ones who are bored from lack of challenge and responsibility.

  38. Sean March 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    My daughters are only 9 and 6, but I am already able to look back and realize that some of the ‘big’ things at points in their life (shapesorters, exersaucers, preschool, learning this and that) were pretty inconsequential while other ‘background’ things like my relationship to them is of utmost importance. I include in this the trust similar to what you showed your children by leaving them home.

  39. coffeegod March 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    My nine year old is a fraidy-cat as well. He recently learned to ride a bike (finally!) and is testing boundaries every single day.

    We have a test night coming up. I’m going to see Jackson Browne with a friend and my kid is going to get himself to bed that night. I foresee several telephone calls and my bed filled with boy and dog when I get home but overall, he’ll be just fine.

  40. LeighB March 15, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    What a great story! I hope to feel this same sense of security in a few years when mine are older. As some have said, it brought a tear to my eye to think of this young boy overcoming a very real fear and realizing the freedom of independence and the achievement of facing that fear and conquering it.

    and @Tuppence, well said! I couldn’t agree more. Parents are behaving as if the children’s needs are the end all be all and it sends a wrong message in so many ways. We need time with our friends and lovers/spouses, to act like adults and remember that we are not just put here to wipe noses and taxi children from soccer practice to piano lessons. Parenthood is truly a gift, but we need our adulthood, too.

  41. Jynet March 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    A couple of years ago my friends (bth single moms) left thier daughters together for 5 days while they went to NY for a vacation. The girls (18,15 and 15) missed more school than they went to and had boys sleeping in the house etc. etc.

    Then next month I (also a single mom) left my daughter (15) alone for 10 days. She made every single class, did not have boys over, didn’t drink my wine or beer, and gave me the change from the grocery money back.

    You have to know your kids, and know what they are capable of, at what age. Some kids are ready, some are not.

  42. Hels March 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    I had been left alone for three-day weekends on a regular basis (about six-eight times a year) since I was 11 years old, and that was before cell phones so I was literally without any contact with my parents from Friday morning until late Sunday night. I did have some money, a fridge full of food, and some friends and neighbors nearby. Staying home for the weekend got much nicer the year after that, when we got two new-fangled inventions: a computer and a microwave.

    My crimes in many years of staying alone like this:
    – skipping a meal – or two – because I was too lazy to reheat it (especially in the pre-microwave days) and lying to my mother that I did eat (to this day I don’t know if she believed me or just pretended to)
    – eating an entire one pound tin of chocolate-coated raspberry candy in a weekend
    – staying up until 3am
    – forgetting to water a houseplant
    – once, bringing home a fledgling crow chick that my best friend rescued from a stray cat and trying to figure out a) what to feed it and b) how to make it fly away

  43. Dave March 15, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    What a great story. I know to many people who in their 20 can’t break the apron strings. I hope this story inspires others to let their children become adults.

  44. Hels March 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    PS And speaking of drunken parties… I am almost 30 and I still have never thrown a party with the purpose of getting drunk. And attended such parties only a couple times and did NOT get drunk at them, either. That was after the legal drinking age, too.

    And while my father has always kept a fully-stocked, unlocked bar I have never gone in there except to get a bottle he asked for when setting the table. Now I keep a fairly decently stocked bar at my own home, and I have one or two drinks a week on average. It’s all about how you raise your kids.

  45. renee miller March 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Thank you for this. I have 3 kids, all with personalities similar to your son. The original reason I started visiting this blog was to get idea to keep them from becoming mammas boys! I too have been leaving mine alone whenever possible, making them pay at the grocery store, do their own banking, ebay transactions and have started making them fill out their own doctor forms. The only way they will learn to be independent is to practice, because none of mine seem to want to leave the nest on their own LOL.

  46. Lola March 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm #

    I completely agree with you: some people are ready at 10, some at 14 and some never seem to be ready for responsibility…
    But this raises the eternal question: should we, or are we even able to prevent our kids making their own mistakes? IMHO, it largely depends on the kids’ abilities, their willingness to listen to their elders’ advice, and that unavoidable suicidal instinct every teenager has to deal with. But all in all, there’s really only so much we can do. They have to learn to make their own decisions, and the only way to teach them is to stuff the “every action has its consequence” motto in their brains, help them plan things in advance, and trust them, trust them, trust them every single time.

  47. Donna March 15, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    I was left home alone for weekends and weeks starting at 14. My parents were artists who had to travel, sometimes long distances, for art shows. I didn’t always want to go and often couldn’t go without missing necessary days of school. When I was 17 and 18, my baby brother was occasionally left as well. He was a toddler at the time.

    I did occasionally do teenage things. I skipped school once or twice – something I did occasionally when my parents were home. I did throw a kickass party my senior year. I didn’t drink and I made sure that everyone who was drinking spent the night. My parents found out about it afterwards and, while not encouraging, were not crazy over it. They viewed it as a rite of passage. They were also tolerant of the once or twice I went to parties with alcohol. They were not prohibitive of me drinking as long as I didn’t drive. As a result, I’ve never had much interest in getting drunk.

  48. Anna March 15, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    Unrelated to this post, I just wanted to thank you. On Saturday I misplaced my 6yo son for half an hour, long enough that we had the museum staff and state park ranger looking with us–long enough for most people to completely panic themselves and everyone around them. But I reminded myself that he loves being independent and was likely not freaked out, and most importantly, I remembered the point you make over and over: People are kind and caring. I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t help a misplaced child, including people I know who’ve gone to jail. That thought was a mantra for me to keep calm, so that when we did locate him (after walking to the nearby park that was not the park we were planning to go to, he went back to the car, figuring we’d show up there eventually) I wasn’t out of my mind. If I’d started freaking out, I would have traumatized him and made him think the world is a scary place when really, nothing bad had happened. Thank you!

  49. AlanaM March 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

    Exactly what my parents did in 1986. Except they went to Florida and it was for two weeks. I was 14 and my brother was 16. It was fun.

    We’ll see when the time comes for my boys. If I trust them not to throw a party, we’re doing it!

  50. JB March 16, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    Depends entirely on the kid. I was left home alone at 17 for 2 weeks! I was house sitting for my parents, working, going over to grandma’s apartment every day for dinner, and feeling like an adult. However, I was an entirely color-within-the-lines kid. Kids who are more subject to peer pressure should certainly have theri independence fostered and there are plenty of ways to do that other than leaving them home alone in HS. A favorite sister in law of mine was once told, by another sister in law, that a particular nephew was going to be going camping with just his brother. Her response: “Are you brain dead?” Sure enough, poor judgement, some of it with lasting consequences, was much in evidence that week end.

  51. Emily March 16, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    The first thing I thought of was the Daniel Pinkwater novel ‘Lizard Music.’ Kids about that age are left alone for a couple of weeks, and while the older sister is irresponsible and bunks off for a trip with some friends, the younger brother takes care of himself with no trouble. (Well, there’s a side trip to a magical land of musical lizards who worship a chicken, but he gets back home safely.)

  52. Marybeth March 16, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    My brother and I are 5 years apart and my parents left us alone so they could go on a couple trips when we were kids. I will do the same for my kids in a few years. Between neighbors and family friends, I never worried that I could not ask for help if we needed it – but we never did need it. Those are still some of the most memorable weeks from my childhood.

  53. Kara March 16, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    I’m a new mom and I just started reading this blog. It’s a great inspiration for me as I’m starting to learn to raise a child.

    In the not too distant past (100 years or so ago) 16 year olds were considered to be adults and were often on their way to careers, marriage, etc. There is nothing fundamentally different about people now, and certainly teenagers are capable of taking on far more responsibility than they typically do. It’s time we trust teens more and raise our expectations of them. It is my goal that by the time my daughter is 16 she will know how to cook a weeks worth of recipes (from scratch), be doing her own laundry, and know how to manage her money. I will expect her to behave like a young lady (not a big kid). She will want more independence at that time and I want her to be prepared to have it.

  54. Erica March 16, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    The staying alone post reminded me of my own staying alone dilemma as a teenager. My parents often wanted to go away without me, but were afraid to leave me, notably at night, so they’d have family friends come stay with me. This made sense when I was 12, but it got a bit silly by the time I was 17. I don’t think parties were a worry, as I was not the type to do that. I suppose being essentially an only child it was a bit different, as I would be completely and utterly alone; if I had had siblings who lived at home perhaps it would have been different. Thankfully the woman they paid to live with me when I was 16/17 was a friend of my half brother’s, about 10 years older than me, so she was pretty relaxed. I remember still having babysitters in high school though, ugh.

    I do remember when I came home for the summer after my first year of university in a city 6hrs away my parents wanted to have the same woman back to stay with me while they were away. I put my foot down and said that was stupid!

  55. Alexicographer March 16, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    Fabulous story. Sure, it depends on the kids, but by 16, I had housesitting jobs; I also remember a time that 3 friends and I (probably ages 14-16 though I forget exactly) were farm sitting — responsible for perhaps 20 horses. I think that was supposed to be for about 2 nights but it turned into 5 or so — the farm owner (the mom of 2 of us girls) got snowed out, and we and the horses got snowed in, but of course we did fine.

  56. Dreamer March 16, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    When I was 15, my dad got a new job 650 miles away. He moved a few months before the rest of the family joined him. One Friday morning, my mom said, “I wonder how your father’s doing?” She took off in the car, leaving me in charge of my 9- and 11-year-old brothers for the weekend.

    It was no problem. I had been babysitting my younger siblings since I was eight and had all necessary skills to take care of them and the house for the weekend. My brothers respected the fact that I was in charge and trusted me to take care of the three of us. We also knew that we would be accountable to our parents for anything we did while they were gone.

    Nothing special happened that weekend, but we did manage to eat well, tidy the house, get along better than usual, and even walked ourselves the 1 1/2 miles to church on Sunday morning. (It didn’t even cross my mind to sleep in.)

  57. Jen Connelly March 16, 2011 at 3:37 am #

    Just thought of another independence story of the past. This one is my brother’s story. Him and his buddies decided to go on a camping trip up in Wisconsin (we lived in Chicago). They planned the whole thing out and the trip was during the summer before their senior year so it was 3 17yo s and my brother who was already 18. They decided where they would camp, gathered up the equipment (one boy camped in the area with is family so had the tent and knew the park they were going to) and drove to Wisconsin.

    3 or 4 days later my brother staggered through the door…earlier than expected and not looking too good. My dad took a look at him and decided he needed to see a doctor. Apparently the guys forgot the sunblock and my brother got horribly burned and was suffering from sun poisoning. The guys, realizing he was pretty bad off, didn’t panic. They treated his burns (2nd degree on his arms and shoulders) and hauled him out of the forest (mostly carrying him because he was so sick) and then one of them had to hike back like 10 miles on the road to get to where they parked the car, all while the other 2 helped my brother walk as far as he could. Then they drove him home after my brother refused to go to the hospital.

    Obviously the trip didn’t go that well and could have ended very badly but the point was the boys knew what to do. They had no cell phones to call for help or advice. They knew my brother was very sick even if they didn’t know why and, if my brother had gotten worse on the ride home, they would would have taken him to the ER. They all came out of it stronger, more experienced and with a better understanding of risks and friendships.

    My parents just sighed and were glad he survived his ordeal but never once thought of stopping him from planning another trip or going off to college on the other side of the country (where he still is 13 years later). It’s an adventure he’ll probably never forget.

    Today’s kids are so coddled and babied they would freak out if anything close to that happened. God forbid they even go somewhere they wouldn’t get a cell signal. And…their parents could be hit with neglect charges if their child is injured at 17while on a trip like that.

  58. Catspaw March 16, 2011 at 5:03 am #

    I remember the long weekend my mum left me home alone at age 17, no parties, no other kids around, in fact I had deliberately not told any of my class that mum was away. I ate well, did the laundry and dishes. Walked to my volunteer commitment and caught the bus home, and didn’t even think about missing school.
    I think mum was almost disappointed that I hadn’t had a party lol
    Its amazing what teenagers are capable of if you trust them.

  59. JP March 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Maybe it’s a case of too many Hollywood movies that made all their money advertising how good red-blooded teens were supposed to act out in the name of the National cause.
    (reality is often something different)
    I don’t know how many 16 year old friends I had when I was 16…………who not only had to figure out how to not burn down the house when the elders are away….but had to pay the bills and keep the old homestead going – because they just didn’t live at home anymore. Quite a common thing back in that day.
    Great accompanying photo to the story! Wow – real throwback…..looks almost like an album cover.

  60. sonya March 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    When I was 17 and my brother 16 we spent a month in Vienna, at a language school run by the university. We stayed in a dorm room, but there was no supervision and no meal plan or anything like that – we had to budget for the month’s worth of meals, find out the cheap places to eat, and also plan ahead for Sundays when all the cafeterias were closed. We made it to class every day, visited all the museums our parents hoped we’d visit, and went to some nightclubs too, and ended the month with enough money over to buy gifts for the parents. It was a great month of independence!

  61. Jynet March 17, 2011 at 12:18 am #


    I totally agree that we can’t stop kids from making mistakes. I preach that constantly: make the little mistakes, so you learn before you make big ones!

    That said, *I* knew those kids weren’t going to go to school, and were going to party and have thier boyfriends sleep over. I wouldn’t have left these specific girls alone because it was setting them up to fail. And I don’t believe in doing that.

  62. Steph March 17, 2011 at 2:44 am #

    Ditto, my brother and I were left alone for 3, 4 nights at a time while my mom traveled for her work in the early 80’s, well before cell phones! It’s funny to me that so many parents wouldn’t imagine doing this today, when you can pretty much reach your kids 24/7. Heck, I don’t think we even had an answering machine back then. My mom felt that my having a drivers license was the only necessity.

  63. Sky March 21, 2011 at 4:47 am #

    Our CPS guidelines say that before age 15, children should not be left alone overnight. At 15, they may be left alone for one night. At 17, for “up to two nights.” Up to two nights. At 17. So…I’ll be moving into my son’s college dorm room with him then?

  64. Karla March 22, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    Speaking of leaving kids alone…

    Recently in Calgary there have been two home break ins where there were children present, but not parents. The first time it was two 12-year-olds, the second time it was a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old. In both instances the kids hid in a closet and called 911. None of the kids were hurt, none were even detected by the burglars though in both cases the culprits actually entered the rooms where the kids were hiding.

    I’m not sure about the first case (the 12-year-olds), but in the second case the intruders knocked several times, I guess to see if anyone was home, before kicking the door down.

    What are kids taught to do when they are home alone and someone knocks on the door? Just not open it, or actually hide and pretend they’re not there? What is the right thing to do?

    I can’t help but feel that, at least in the second case, if one of them had gone to the door, not even opened it, and indicated that there were people in the home – called out a window or something, to ask what they wanted – the intruders would have gone away. It looks like they were looking for empty homes.

    Or am I wrong? Wouldn’t it have actually been safer if they had indicated their presence in the first place?

  65. Jeff Wu March 29, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    I read this story and smiled. I was a pretty shy kid myself, but this story brought back memories on how free and adventurous my own childhood was compared to these days, and I’m only 32 now. I especially remember the time when both of my parents were working in Japan, when I was 12-14 years old. During the summer while my parents worked, my sister and I would cook meals together, or take the train to some place in Tokyo we’ve never seen and just explore the whole day and stuff ourselves with snacks. Even when I was in 7th grade, our school took us to Miyake Island, and we kids had a day where we just hiked up the main volcano on the island, basically unsupervised. I think there was just something about being expected to take public transportation yourself that opened up more freedom and adventure for all of the ex-pat kids living in Japan.

  66. Trisha Smith April 8, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    This is a great story. Leaving you kids at home alone could be risky, however letting them stay at home alone could also give them confidence. We have a 12 year old son, my husband and I are confident leaving him at home alone because he is mature and responsible enough to handle himself in any unexpected situations. For his protection, we registered him to SafeKidZone. It’s a panic button installed on his cellphone that in case he encounters an emergency he will just press it and it will simultaneously alert his select group of friends and family members that he is in danger. If needed, the incident will be routed to the nearest 911. This has helped a lot in building up his self-confidence. If you want to find out, this is their site http://Safekidzone.com/

  67. LauraL April 8, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    gotta love the spammers who hide it like a comment.

  68. neltherian June 12, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Hmm where did the chick in the pic get the epic jacket lol

  69. Nuna June 18, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    Woow!!! Thnx that gave me confidence in myself I’m 14 and staying alone at home for a week I don’t have sisters or brothers though I was a bit worried (actually scared) but thnx to u I feel better now. I feel like I’m going to build some independence..


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