The now classic holiday blockbuster movie, “Home Alone“, starring McCauley Caulkin, gave us laughs aplenty, as it was meant to do. On the other hand, for some parents with young children, the film and its premise also gave us pause. Not too far-fetched or too remotely removed from reality, this type of accidental forgetfulness has occurred. Honestly, it has and still does!
I ask myself, ‘How can a parent forget their children, any of them, at home?’ Don’t they do head-counts? Last-minute walk-throughs of the home? You know, making sure lights are off, irons unplugged, burglar alarm set, the fish are fed, and,…. that the children are all present and accounted for before exiting the home?
Now, if that seems unlikely to occur in real life, then, it must be an intentional act, right? At what age does a parent decide that it is safe or appropriate to leave children at home alone and unsupervised? How about ages 9 and 4? Or both! That is considered, by many, myself included, as being much too young, unsafe and an absolute absurdity. This type of ‘home alone’ is distinct from homes with children who are identified as ‘latchkey’.
Latchkey kids have parents who work outside of the home, usually single female-headed households. But, their parents or adult caregivers aren’t present in the home during certain hours during the day-not weeks. More than likely, these children come home from school each day, without an adult there to greet or supervise them. These kids have their own set of keys let themselves in, and if there are younger siblings, the oldest assumes an adult-like role. They are ‘chief cook and bottle-washer’, the designated babysitter, and are in charge of their safety in the absence of the parent[s].
Latchkey children are not perceived to be representative of ‘suburban’ living. Mainly due to economics, not family structure, that characterizes such households. Parents are hard-pressed to find reliable and affordable childcare, and children are ‘adultified’ at young ages. It is a fact of life, and by no means should we determine that, in these circumstances, their parents are being neglectful. What are parents to do, if babysitters are unavailable, unaffordable or unreliable, and they also MUST work to provide for their family?
Judge ye not, lest ye be judged!!
In a recent news article, a ‘home alone’ story surrounds a middle class family, not going to work everyday, but taking a vacation. This vacation does not include their 9 and 4 year old children… for nine days. Now is the time for judgements! When such decisions are consciously made by parents, how is one to understand the rationale? Abuse, neglect, neither or both? Is this an example of positive parenting? Perhaps Mary Poppins was expected to supervise, cook, clean, and otherwise parent these kids while their biological parents enjoyed themselves miles away in Mexico.
Well, that story happened 25 years ago, and this case changed laws and policies in Illinois. What do we say today, particularly when we acknowledge the disproportionate numbers of families of color facing abuse and neglect charges in the family courts? There are quite horrific stories told, and kids are being placed in otherwise avoidable circumstances, but this one…??? So, is abuse or neglect by parents ‘of means’ determined by using a separate set of criteria?
Lots of families don’t have to worry about facing such charges or being ‘court-involved’, in large part due to economics. When there are no financial constraints, or minimal concerns about affordability, there will always be a babysitter or a nanny service. Parents, in these situations can always vacation in Europe and anywhere else, if so desired, almost worry-free. We can’t say the same for parents with limited options. Accompanied by an undeniable need for gainful employment and a paycheck at the end of each week, parents are often faced with difficult choices.Their answers usually reflect the same as the family in the article, except through obligatory tasks dictate that they either prepare their kids for increased responsibilities, thus adultification, or risk unemployment and dependence upon welfare agencies for family survival. That is fine, but most want to thrive, not just survive. So, they go to work.
That is not necessarily a racial issue, as much as it is a financial one. However, statistically, there is a heavy correlation between race, income, crime and court involvement. Does that imply that there is a systemic- an embedded bias inherent in policy or perspective and perception? Is it the former or the latter or is it both? I have so many questions, to which the answers seem apparent, but if there are do-able, actionable solutions, why does the issue surrounding leaving children at ‘home alone’ persist as an adjudicated argument in family courts?
To me, it’s a no-brainer. There is a vast difference between necessity and choice when families are being assessed and/or judged to determine whether their situation constitutes the abuse or neglect of any child. Yes, there is a difference between intent and impact, as well. But, again necessity, choice and cultural background should be criteria examined prior to any determination. Now, 25 years later, there is an entirely different type of latchkey child…the modern day latchkey growing up in a digital world. Visit the policy changing family where parents vacation without their kids detailed in the following article: