I was probably about nine.
I had two younger brothers and a little sister and my mum (who didn’t work when we were small) would sometimes pop out to the shops and leave me and my sister, just 16 months older, ‘in charge’. Nothing happened.
Sometimes she’d go next door for a cup of tea and a chat with our neighbour Gail and if we were happily playing or watching TV at home, she’d leave us there, saying, “Yell out if anything happens.” Nothing happened.
I loved being home alone. When mum went back to work and I was sick, but not too sick for her to stay home with me, those days were gold. I’d watch Beauty and The Beast, then Days Of Our Lives and eat Milo from the can (for medicinal purposes). And nothing happened.
Was that luck or was it just life?
Another parenting dilemma: what age would you let your kids’ ears be pierced? (Post continues after audio.)
There has been a lot of talk for years about how young is too young to be left without adult supervision. Cases like the Madeleine McCann abduction fuel the fear, and parents look for an age, a fixed point in time their children will be safe. They’re also, I think, looking for the point they will be immune from blame.
When I was at school in the late 70s, I read a shocking story in the paper about two girls, aged maybe 9 and 10 who’d been murdered in north Queensland. I can picture their faces and I remember the story, but I can’t recall questions about why they were walking home without an adult. There was nothing but sympathy for their families.
The same with the disappearance of the three Beaumont children in Adelaide in 1966. People who remember the case talk of an outpouring of grief for their parents. No one questioned (publicly), why such young kids were off to the beach on their own.
Contrast that with the questions that swirl around the McCanns: what were they thinking, leaving small children asleep in their apartment while they went out for dinner? How can they ever forgive themselves? I imagine they’ve torn themselves apart asking that question.
When I heard what happened to the McCanns, and listened to the ‘who would leave their children like that’ comments, I thought of the camping trips we enjoy with other families a few times a year.
The last known photo of Madeleine McCann. Image via Facebook.
After the kids have been fed and (maybe) bathed, they’d be zipped into their sleeping bags in their respective family tents and the adults would spend the night around the fire, drinking red wine, eating Tim Tams and sorting out the world’s problems. Every once in a while we’d scoot to the tents, never more than a dozen or so metres away, but hard to see in a dark campground, and check on the kids. Nothing happened – to us or the dozens of other groups doing exactly the same thing. Which wasn’t much different to the McCanns going out for tapas.
It’s different, though, leaving kids asleep and away from home than leaving school-aged kids at home without an adult around.