Is my eldest old enough to stay on her own?
Parenting is basically all about navigating your way from one set of firsts to the next, always wondering whether you’re getting it right, asking a million questions, experimenting as you go, and hoping for the best.
It’s largely a process of trial and error, where most of the trialing and errors happen on the first child, because by the time you’ve got it wrong on them, you’re ready to get it right on the next few.
Our latest ‘first’ actually comprises three firsts. The first one is that we are going away on our family holiday without our eldest child. The second is we are going to be away from her for two weeks and that’s the longest we’ve ever been apart. And the third, which is a real biggie, is she is going to stay on her own for one of those weeks house sitting for a friend.
I have so many questions and concerns running through my mind, I’m not really sure how to detangle the threads. I’m going to miss her, I wasn’t prepared for this, I’m excited for her that she’s embarking on a new phase in her life, I didn’t realise that our previous holiday may be our last holiday all together. Is she old enough to be on her own? Can I trust her not to throw reckless parties at my friend’s house? Will she be safe?
She is a confident and independant young woman, however, she’s ony 17. I started to doubt our decision when a friend pointed out that she’s young to be staying on her own.
According to the Irish Citizen’s Information website, children can leave home at the age of 16 with their parent’s consent. There is no actual law in Ireland about when it’s safe to leave children alone at home, but the guidelines on the NSPCC site state that no child under the age of 16 should be left on their own overnight.
How do we know what age is appropriate for each momentous life stage? Each decision is so different from one child to the next. I had just turned 18 when I left home, I didn’t feel too young to leave, in fact I was more than eager to go and carve out my own life. My husband was just 17 when he went off to the army to fight a war.
Living with a teenaged daughter has its challenges – plenty of personality conflict, hormonal swings (teen vs perimenopausal!) the struggle to gain control (hers) vs relinquish control (mine), the struggle to carve out identity (hers as a fledgeling adult, and also mine as a mother of a grown child).
Although this stage of our children’s development is painful, it is good and even necessary, as it naturally brings us all to the point where they are cast out of the nest. In fact, some days we are more than happy to kick them out just as much as they are to leave.
When she was a vulnerable newborn lying in her crib I would lie awake listening for her breathing, hardly breathing myself, so that I could hear her tiny newborn sounds. Suddenly I was responsible for a human life and I felt as though I was being crushed by a mountain of fear as I became aware of the enormous number of risks that this child could potentially become exposed to.
After a couple of weeks of sleepless nights I realised that I couldn’t continue to live the rest of my life afraid of what might happen to my child. I had to get the point where I acknowledged that my children do not belong to me, I am merely their custodian for the days that are allotted and I can only do my best in training them up while they are young in the ways they should go.
Accepting that was the first step in being released from the fear and need to control – although I still have to be constantly reminded that it’s not my job to keep them on the path I may have chosen for them.
Maybe one of the reasons I fear letting go is I fear more that they won’t come back.
Whatever happens over these next two weeks, it will undoubtedly be a huge learning experience for all of us. Once again I have to trust that the parenting we have done up until this point has been enough.
Now I have to allow her to make her mistakes, carve out her own path and love her through all and any choices that may not be what I would have made for her.
I know I’m going to miss her sharp sense of humour like mad over these next couple of weeks but on the other hand I’m delighted for her that she’s able to take these steps by herself in her journey to adulthood (even if I do have a couple of back up Mum friends lined up to pop in with the odd dinner – because what teenager can ever say no to a good meal?).