Week 30: Can Kids (Ever) Be Alone?

April 14, 2017 — This is spring break and I take my three kids to Florida. At the airport, we luck out and find friends headed to Florida on the same flight. #singlemomtravelwin When we get to Orlando, Mario picks us up. He’s traded-in his sleek silver BMW for a large truck that can fit all of the kids. This is the first time our kids are meeting (although they’ve been on Facetime for weeks). Let’s see how our parenting styles mesh, shall we?

We test drive our blended family and take all the kids to the beach. In spite of loading my kids down with sunscreen, they get burned. #babylobsters. Mario’s kids have collagen and they are immune to the sun. Mario reads up on home-remedies. He blends some raw potato into a paste-like concoction and has my 9-year-old lay with it coating his back. Yeah, that didn’t work. But my 9-year-old (along with the rest of us) found it hilarious because the paste looked like puke.

We celebrate Easter with my parents and the Easter Bunny delivers the goods. Mario’s kids don’t believe in any strange over-sized woodland creature bringing eggs and toys. “I can’t believe how much work goes into this,” he says. “I’m so impressed at what you do for your kids.”

Yet, his kids are much more mature than mine. Normally, he’d let them walk around the neighborhood and down to the community playground without him. It is barely a city-block from my parent’s house and their community is gated. “I can’t let my kids roam without supervision,” I say. They are growing up in New York City — there are millions of people on the sidewalk, how could I let them out of my sight? “That’s insane,” says Mario. “How will they learn to be self-sufficient and responsible if you are always hovering?”

I have no idea. My house in Queens is a block from the playground. It would be amazing if my kids could walk there alone (ok, not the 2.5-year-old obviously). I know that they need to learn to walk by themselves. Um. I sort of know that. I’m not ready; I mean, they aren’t ready for that. I’m actually less concerned about someone kidnapping them than I am about some nosy neighbor calling the police because I’ve allowed them to walk to the playground alone. “No wonder New Yorkers are neurotic,” Mario says, half-joking.

I do want my kids to be independent and level-headed and responsible. I talk to my ex-husband Jake. “They aren’t ready,” he says. “I’m not ready.” Jake lives two-blocks from our kids’ school. We talk about letting them walk there alone. Jake points out that all the kids on the sidewalk to school seem to be accompanied by a parent. “No way,” Jake concludes. “No way. I’m never letting them out of my sight.” He jokes that he’d still take baths with them if he could.

But, perhaps our holding them so close is creating a sense inside the kids that they can’t do things by themselves? Admittedly, my kids are afraid to be downstairs or upstairs alone at my house (yeah, that’s annoying). They are afraid to close the bathroom door all the way. (I mean, dudes, close the f-ing door already). “Do you ever just leave them home alone?” Mario asks. “Uh, no.” I reply. “Even just so you can run to the grocery store?” He asks. This has never been a thought that crossed my mind.

Of course I consult the Internet. First hit: Psychology Today has an article from earlier this year about “The Effects of Helicopter Parenting“:

A new study suggests that helicopter parenting can trigger anxiety in certain kids, adding to a small pile of data suggesting that helicopter parenting stunts kids’ emotional and cognitive development.

The article explains that the study suggests that parents of socially anxious children may perceive challenges as more threatening than the child perceives them. “Over time, this can erode a child’s ability to succeed on their own, and potentially even increase anxiety.” Great. But the article also doesn’t say to send my kids to the park alone.

Mario’s kids appear to relish alone-time. He let’s them “go outside to play.” I don’t even know what that means anymore. I remember going out to play when I was a kid. Are we headed for a parenting train-wreck? Will my kids be neurotic New Yorkers? Yet, my kids seem inspired by his kids to be more independent.

At the end of the week, we have a large family dinner that includes all of our kids, my parents, Mario’s parents and his sister. “Maybe we don’t need to have any sort of wedding thing — everyone is here together now,” I say hopefully. “You know I’d be ok with that,” says Mario. “But what about them,” he says, pointing to the kids.


Stock image kids pretending to walk to school alone, but they aren’t alone because there’s an adult taking their picture.

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