Practical Dad

“Do I Hafta?”  Taking Kids Along

One of the common questions for parents with kids is do I hafta?, particularly regarding going along to another sibling's event or activity.  The answer is a no-brainer when the child is too young to be home alone but when they can be left alone for a short period, or longer, but then it does take greater thought.  When can, and should, kids be allowed to stay home alone instead of tagging along for the sibling's activity?

Most kids are egocentric and this ramps up to a roaring crescendo in their early to mid teens.  If their sibling has something going on, the chronic refrain is the plaintive do I hafta?  It can be irritating since the question is repetitive and when there are more than one child involved, the decision may lead to discord as the budding jailhouse lawyers pick the answer apart.  She didn't have to go, why do I?  But he got to stay home and I have to go?  Where's the justice?  (Seriously, one of my kids lofted that comment and I simply laughed aloud in the child's face).  What are some considerations on whether the child stays or goes?

  • How long can the child reasonably be home alone?  Kids don't mature at the same rate and some elementary schoolers could be home while you run older sibling to a practice. 
  • Is there the possibility of intervening stops?  With cellphones, the prospect of plan changes rises as you're called with a request to stop somewhere and pick something up.  How far out of the way does that take you and can the child manage that (with a phone call letting him know)?  There have been instances when I've refused the request because it didn't seem right to leave the child home any longer than was already the case.
  • Is the sibling's activity a practice or an actual event, such as a game or a concert?  If there's only a practice, then the questions are whether you need to stay for the practice and it's duration.  If it's just a drop-off, then perhaps the other can stay home but if it's far enough away that it's better to just stay, then toting the sibling makes more sense.  Our school district is geographically large and rec league soccer practices could be far enough away that it was impractical and expensive to come home and on those instances, I made it a point of bringing the others along and they could bring their books or games.  If it's an actual game or concert, then only a sibling's competing activity or schoolwork could keep the child home and in those instances of schoolwork, it's been understood that we'll check homework or quiz.
  • Do you actually trust the kid to be home, either alone or with siblings?  If you don't, then you can anticipate considerable blowback but the risk of something bad occurring outweighs that.  Some years ago, an acquaintance related that she went to the grocery store, figuring that she'd be gone only for an hour and that her 'tweener son could be alone with her teen daughter and friend.  She returned home to find the boy handcuffed to a chair with his hair full of bows.  He'd cuffed himself to the chair, not knowing that there was no key, and sister and friend decided to take the opportunity to do his hair for him.  As she stated at the time, so I won't be leaving him home alone with her for awhile.
  • This leads to the next question,are any of their peers going to be there?  Stupidity is contagious and the ability of 'tweeners and teens to assess risk ranks up there with the ability of Lindsay Lohan to make a community service date.  It's a very short list of kids with which I'm comfortable being at the house unmonitored.

So what do I say when the kids, of whatever age, find that they're coming along to sibling's game?  The language that we've used is that this is simply something that family does for one another, a visual way to show that we support each other in our chosen activities.  While I can say that other parents say the same, it's nice to find out that the kids talk with one another and find that the other parents really are saying the same thing as Middle noted during a chat with an acquaintance at school.  Yeah, my folks say that I've got to go my brother's ballgame because that's what a family does for one another.  A tack that I've taken with the older kids is this:  While a good part of your life was spent without Youngest in the picture, you've always been a part of his life and he's never known life without you.  You'll be going off to college - or wherever - and you simply won't be around to see all of the cool things that he's probably going to do as he grows, and while he's always been there for you, you won't be there for him.  This is a comment that I've only had to make once or twice and with each of the older kids and each time, it was met with a quiet look as each assessed its validity and acknowledged its truth.  It might not work with all kids, but I was gratified that neither Eldest nor Middle scoffed and derided it.

Like other parts of parenting, it can be frustrating to listen to the backtalk and griping.  But this is how the kids are learning that a family is more than just an accumulation of biologically related bodies within a household.

 

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