“There is no way in hell I’d let a nine-year-old walk alone to school?”
“She has to be kidding. A nine-year-old”
“Who even is this woman? What kind of mother would let a NINE-YEAR-OLD walk home alone?”
The kind of mother who might allow a nine-year-old to walk home alone from school is me.
I’m that woman.
What else makes you a ‘bad mother’. Mia Freedman addresses one concern in her ‘Hey Mia’ series.
It hasn’t happened yet – he still only eight, but it is something I am thinking about letting happen when he turns nine near the end of the year.
My musings about the subject became public last week in a post for Mamamia – little did I realise that even considering such a thing was taboo.
There was instant castigation.
The reaction I got you would have thought I was considering letting him pack up his PlayStation and his soccer ball and move out of home.
Here is what I learnt:
- Only bad mothers let their children roam the streets unsupervised.
- Only bad mothers let their children play outside without a grown-up hovering.
- A “good” parent is there watching, wary. Just in case.
- Good mothers worry. Bad mothers don’t care.
We’ve all heard the debate about helicopter parenting. We all know how times have changed, about how in the last 40 years there has been a marked shift in the manner in which children are transported to and from school.
Through the 80’s, when I grew up, the majority of children from the ages of eight walked to school, contrast that to today when the majority of children are driven to school by their parents who drop them right at the school gate and then hover staring down the traffic warden, daring him to move them on before their child is safely through the gate.
In my area hordes of parents and children walk the two blocks that run between my home and our local public school.
There are two crossings and a wide footpath that runs the whole way. Some of the local children by years three or four walk alone, but only some. There is a mentality from many parents I know that they want their children to have that independence, but they would probably prefer others test the water first.
So what do we fear?
Road safety, strangers, abductions, your child getting lost or it is the judgment of others?
It is a fear the media buys into we read newspapers reports of children being escorted home after police found them 400m away from home alone to fetch a carton of milk for their parents, when we read of child snatching attempts and kidnaps.
We head to Facebook to debate whether we can leave our kids in the car when we pay for petrol and we google whether we can send our six-year-olds to parties alone.
We hear it and debate it again and again each time rubbing down our confidence in our parenting abilities, each time leaving us all questioning whether we, as parents, are even fit to make these vital decisions for our children ourselves.
Maybe someone else should decide for us?
In one American state, Rhode Island, that is exactly what is happening. There is a bill being debated in Congress on enshrining a law on what age children can be left at home. The bill stating quite clearly that under the age of 10 it would be illegal to leave a child unsupervised, and that "Children at least ten (10) years of age and not more than twelve (12) years of age shall be allowed to stay home alone for brief periods of time, but not after 9:00 pm."
Is that what we want here? Something clear cut, written as law?
I wonder whether there is any sense in it. Aren't decisions about your own child’s ability and safety subjective?
According to the “experts” around the age of nine is actually a good time to start letting the reins slip a little and let them walk to school alone. But no one ever quite qualifies how exactly the “experts” work this out.
For different children nine might not be appropriate. They might be more mature and able to do it earlier, or less responsible and need more time under your wing and then there is the safety of your suburb and distance to school that obviously plays into it.
What I have come to realise is that we are never going to feel completely comfortable allowing our kids out of our sight, but we are never meant to be, that’s what parenting is. Even when they are teenagers surely we will still hold that tiny spark of fear for their safety. We need to as parents trust out own instincts and be prepared to take chances.
We need to consciously change our thought process from what-if-x-happens to what-if-x-doesn’t-happen.
Later this year when my son turns nine I’m going to embrace that spark of fear. I am going to hold onto it each afternoon when my little boy navigates those two streets without me, watch it intensify as the minutes pass by when he isn’t yet home then extinguish as he walks through our gate.
I’m going to keep my fears and anxieties as proof that I am not a bad mother just one who wants to allow my little boy to grow up.
What age do you think it is okay to give your child some independence?