Here it comes: Another week-long vacation for the kids; another week of stress for working parents. Yes, I know. There are good reasons for school vacations. Those weeks off tend to break the cycle of contagion of colds and flu in the classrooms. Teachers get a week to regroup from one of the world’s most stressful jobs. Some kids really do need a break from academics. There’s a vacation industry that counts on family dollars to maintain historic and entertainment sites and the jobs that go with them. All true.
But for many working parents, any day or week off from school for their kids, whether a snow day, a teacher conference day, a Monday holiday or those periodic week-long vacations is something to dread. With no parallel adult vacation from work, there is nothing at all vacation-y about it. The planning involved for keeping kids safe and occupied is yet another task and another stress.
The only bright side is that most of the days off (minus those that are weather or illness-related) are scheduled way in advance. We know they are coming. It’s up to us to plan ahead so we’re not crunched or in a panic when we know that the next school vacation is a week away.
When can kids be left alone?
To be safely left alone, kids need to be older than you might think. The part of kids’ brains that governs making good decisions doesn’t mature until well into the teens. The same kid whose judgment, planning and decision-making may seem fine, even advanced, on a day-to-day basis may not respond well in an emergency, no matter how well you think you’ve prepared him.
A friend of mine shared this story as an example of too much responsibility too soon:
“As the oldest,” said Sherry, “I was my mother’s right-hand helper from the time my youngest sister was born. She relied on me to watch the baby while she did other chores or to entertain the younger kids when she was sewing. By the age of 8, she would leave me in charge if she had to run out for a few minutes to do some short errand. By 10, I was babysitting for real; especially if my folks wanted to go out after the younger kids were already asleep.
“I’m told I was responsible, capable and smart. But I was still only 10. One Saturday night when my folks were playing cards at a neighbor’s house, I noticed smoke coming from under the door that led to our basement. I panicked. I called my mom instead of just getting everyone out of the house. She snapped me into action by yelling instructions and then called the fire department. When my folks got home, fire trucks were in the driveway and we kids were all huddled together in tears in the front yard.”