This summer, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: something I’m both nervous and excited about. I had to find out if it was legal first, but now I know it is, I’m all for it.
I’ll be leaving my soon-to-be-15-year-old daughter in sole charge of my six-year-old daughter. Not for the whole summer, you understand. But for a couple of hours here and there, No 1 child will oversee No 4.
Being a control-freak working mum, I have researched the hell out of this decision. According to the NSPCC, you are not committing a crime by leaving a 14-year-old in charge of a six-year-old as long as both children are not “at risk” of harm. They don’t recommend leaving under-12s home alone and advise caution around under-16s babysitting. But my eldest is 15 in two weeks’ time and I am, as the NSPCC advises, comfortable she is mature enough to do this.
I’ve spoken to several mums who hand over the reins regularly and taken on board their observations, which include keeping any activities within walking distance, leaving a selection of ready meals and hiding the biscuit tin. Our eldest is the only member of the family who can work the new TV remote, which will be exciting for the six-year-old, who will finally get to watch age-appropriate telly. We’ve scheduled a trip to the cinema and an outing to the nearby zoo.
- 13 The age that the average Briton says it’s OK to leave a child at home for a few hours
(YouGov/The Sunday Times 2012)
I’m confident this experiment will work because the preparation started some weeks ago, when I realised I was “over-parenting” my teen. How could I expect her to be capable and grown-up if I wasn’t treating her as such? I was clinging on to her as she pulled away from me in that predictable bid for independence. She asked if she could take on these new babysitting duties and I agreed.
So I stopped doing everything for her. She began to cook her own tea, to sort out her own washing and to fill in all her school forms herself. No doubt some of you are rolling your eyes as you read this, assured your kids could pilot a round-the-world yacht race while brokering peace in the Middle East, but not all of us are so convinced. I’ve worked full-time through all of my children’s early years and suspect I do more than I should for my two eldest to ensure I still feel useful.
These small day-to-day changes seem to have boosted my teen’s confidence, and both she and her little sister are looking forward to their time together. But all this new independence is a bittersweet maternal victory because I’d still be brushing my 14-year-old’s hair and tucking her in at night if she’d let me. The speed at which childhood passes is unbearable, every joyful rite of passage like this is tinged with the heartbreak of letting go. When I see my girls together, I realise I don’t want either of them to grow up.