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Go Play. Away From Me.  Please.

I was a "latch key" kid.

Do people even use that term anymore?

Back then, there was a lot of discussion about kids coming home to empty houses and having to fend for themselves while horribly selfish, career driven mothers were off making money.

There was even a club for us at school.

They taught us the highly useful things in this club: don’t open the door for strangers, don’t tell people on the phone that you’re by yourself, don’t use the stove to make yourself something to eat, and, good God, you poor, miserable children, look how you brave you’re being by making peace with the fact that your mother is not at home like she’s supposed to be.

We did learn a few things on our own.  For example, this situation unequivocally taught me that wrapping a barbeque sauce laden hot dog in aluminum foil and sticking it the microwave in order to emulate a barbeque flavor is an extremely ill conceived plan.

Our system at home was unique.  Mom’s office was right next door to the house... she would walk over at random times to make sure we were okay or not blowing up the house with radioactive aluminum hot dog bombs.  We were instructed to call if we needed anything.

But, mostly? We were on our own.  Two kids, making their way through the hours of 3pm and 6pm with the world at our feet and all the television we wanted.  I learned a lot about the value of diversity and cultural negotiations between American rural values and the opulent wealth driven mores of Beverly Hills from Jed, Ellie May and their concrete swimming hole.

(That sounded obscene, didn't it?  Unplanned.  But too good to edit.)

I’m not sure if  being a latch key kid played into my decision to be the kind of mom who is always going to be home with her kids.  When I became a mother, something just made me decide that my kids were not going to learn about aluminum in the microwave on their own.

It sounds good on paper.  Be home when the kids are home... be there for them when they need you.  Be there for them... every... second... of... every... day.


Kids need space, man.

This clicked for me the other day when, after we’d had a snack together, played on the computer together, watched TV together, did an art project together and, then, went on a bike ride together, both of my kids said something to the effect of, “What are WE going to do now...”


Not “I”.


Everything has become “we.”

“Go play on your own for a while,” I said trying to sound NOT irate.

“No.  That’s boring....” my daughter said.

"NOOO... DATS BO-WING," my son echoed.

Huh.  Imagine.  Being bored.  With YOURSELF.

Being extremely interesting myself, I have a hard time understanding this at all.

If my children were a food, I would eat them every day, three times a day, snack on them in between meals, nibble on them right before bed, and then keep them in the nightstand in case I woke up hungry.

I want to be here for them, and I crave their attention when I don't have it.

This isn’t about me, though, it really is about them.

Because you know what?

They really do need to figure out that sometimes the best company you can keep?

Is yourself.


Did you know that it's Ramadan?  Did you know I explained stuff about Ramadan in one of the episodes of the podcast that I host with my token Jewish friend Mike?  Go here to listen, it's like getting a degree in religious studies in thirty five minutes or less.

Credits may or may not transfer to actual universities.  You get what you pay for, people.

Photo Credit

Reader Comments (39)

I was wondering when you'd get to the point where you lock them in a bedroom alone and leave them there for hours.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

I am with you 100%! I love my alone time now and I loved it as a kid. I was a latchkey kid, too, and while I wouldn't let my kids come home alone at the age I did back then, I don't think I turned out all bad. :)

I want my kids to be able to do things on their own (I almost said with themselves, but geez, that'll happen soon enough - EW). I try to encourage them. With my boys, it's a fine line between playing alone and being a little jerk and ignoring the other one. ;)

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpgoodness

Does this mean you are back? If yes, YAY. If no, BOO! Either way: Eid Mubarak! I had a convo with said token. He likes Canada. This is phenomenal, and makes HTMH all the better for me. Shalom!

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I too was a latchkey kid. The difference is that I'm an only child. My mom worked a 30 minute drive from home. But she knew what time I should be home if I caught the right bus. I had a 15 minute window of time to call her once I got home from school. I could leave and do other stuff but I had to call first. Bottom line is that as an only child I learned a lot about being just me on my own. Strange thing I noticed when I got to college was that we only children were vehement that if we had children, we would not have an only. Too much time spent being "I" as opposed to "we." Then again my best friend lived two houses away. She was one of five. Whenever I wanted to be a part of "we," I headed over there with the comfort in knowing I could go home and be "I" once more.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

Neat. I wasn't latchkey, but I had friends who were, and me & my sibs still played without mom...especially V & I! Safer back then and all. ;p

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAl_Pal

I totally agree. I was a latchkey kid, too--and an only child. I am very happy it was like that--I learned responsibility, self-reliance, imagination, and how not to be bored. Space is very integral. I'm sure as N and Y grow up, you'll give them more and more "alone time"--they are still super-young. You're awesome! Good luck with the move and Eid Mubarak!!!!!

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

My mom didn't start working until I was 10, but it was pretty much the perfect age for me to be a latchkey kid. Once MTV started, though - it became my babysitter.
Also, we had two dogs. Don't know if my parents thought of that when I was home alone or not, but it made ME feel safer.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

Don't worry too much, they'll eventually get it. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but at some point I did realize that it was really fun to play with myself. I still do it to this day! I say give them a few years at least.

Erm. Of course I meant to write *by* myself.

(Hey, you're the one who used "obscene" first!)

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeSombre

Our children playing without one of us is next to impossible in our small house, but it does happen every once in a while. This is one of few reasons we're looking for a much larger home.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthe muskrat

I once screwed a stove fuse into a lightbulb socket that we had on the end of an electrical cord (for a portable light), although I can't blame that on being a latchkey kid because my parents were home at the time.

But, I feel you. Kids need time to themselves, which is why when my wife and kids were away I reorganized the house to make their bedrooms self-contained playrooms as well as sleeping quarters.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSFD

As an only child I have always treasured my alone time. Sure there were times growing up when I wished I had brothers or sisters to entertain me (like long, rainy hurricane-filled summers in Florida, when going outside was impossible) but mostly I am grateful for the experience. To this day I am perfectly content to be alone and can do things on my own that some people find paralyzing, like going out to eat or to the movies. I definitely think kids need to learn to not only play and be happy on their own without an adult around, but completely alone, by themselves.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElita

i think there is a huge difference between being a latchkey kid (yes, i think people still use the term) and being a child able to entertain yourself for a period of a time. my dad was a cop who worked nights, but it wasn't like he was the kind of guy to PLAY with anyone anyhow. my mom decided to go back to school to be a nurse, which meant she had to study in the evenings a lot longer than my homework had me studying. her example to always better one's self also provided lots of time when she simply was unable to play with me. sometimes she would come into the dining room to find tiny becky playing with monopoly and several stuffed animals, telling her how henry the dog would never put hotels on park place because he wanted to help the less fortunate. sometimes she would come into the kitchen to find me "helping" clean up (think bucket of soapy water and a mop, but bucket now empty and a half an inch of water on the floor). sometimes i was in the yard with the dog. sometimes i was making up card games. but i never felt alone because she was always there in the house. if i needed mom she was there.

your kids have each other. you are there. nothing wrong with teaching them how to entertain themselves without electronic devices. nothing wrong with them knowing that it is perfectly acceptable for adults to need adult time. you are a terrific mom. they will know that.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhello haha narf

Luisa and I were talking about this very thing while we were on vacation. Both of us spent quite a bit of time when we were the age of our eldest. We have actually started to worry that we're not fostering independence because he really should learn about the hot dog/foil issue.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVikki

Did I tell you about the "go play orphan" story someone told me recently?

I tried telling my kids that and they wanted me to explain the rules. *sigh*

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

Being able to entertain myself may be the single greatest gift my mother ever gave me.

Teaching your kids to entertain themselves will be the single greatest gift you give yourself. :)

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I was a latch-key kid too.

I think it taught me responsibility, independence and self assurance. I think that once kids are old enough to be home alone, even if you are a SAHM it's good to schedule time out of the house and let them learn how to forge for themselves.

I know as it helped you to decide to be that mom who is always there, it taught me to be okay with being the mom that won't always be there and have (some degree) of confidence that it will be ok.

Missed your words. Eid Mubarak!

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterannabelle

Eid Mubarak!
great post - i was a latchkey-babysitter-by-default ... my sibs were almost a decade younger so i was the insta sitter at 12 years old for a few hours after school each day.
I think it made me more confident - my 'poor' little sibs have been with someone for-ever...and now in their mid 20's they have difficulty being by themselves...and yes, they still say ..."I'm boooooo-red!" in that same voice.

i was talking to a friend who is a middle school counsellor who mentioned talking to a boy in early jr high who's mother had always had all these games and activities for them to do together, always entertaining him thinking she was doing a fantastic job of making sure he was never 'without' some sort of activity. ....and now he didnt know how to deal with being on his own. he didnt know how to 'play' and imagine things.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertk

@Avitable, No duct tape was involved in the making of this post.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@pgoodness, I think the biggest thing that bothers me is the moderation between siblings; it may be selective memory, but I don't remember my parents runninh as much interference as I seem to.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Kate, I'm back. And, really, who doesn't like Canada?

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Kailyn, Best of both worlds!

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Al_Pal, I often wonder if it really was safer back then or that we all knew so much less, if that makes sense.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Nancy, They are pretty young, and I do have to say that seem to do fine when *forced* to play alone, imaginative and fun stuff. I caught them making a beach with all of our blankets the other day. Very creative.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Sybil Law, I watched a lot of MTV from the ages to 12-20. That contributed greatly to the intellectual giant I am today.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@LeSombre, Nice. NICE. TRES NICE.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@the muskrat, I feel like this comment was a passive aggressive way of saying, "Hey stupid, nice going with the moving to a 1300 sq ft house... let's see how THAT works out."

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@SFD, I tried that. It just ended up taking twice as long to clean their rooms. Or get the older one to clean her room.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Elita, I *dream* about going to a movie by myself. I totally will one day.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@hello haha narf, This was a great comment... yes, I am noticing that simply having me in the house is starting to be enough for them.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Vikki, The hot dog/foil issue is a lesson that every child should learn at some point.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Miss Britt, Hahahaha... you're kids are awesome & were obviously messing with you.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@Megan, Word.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@annabelle, This is a great idea.... leaving them on their own. You're very right.. and thanks!

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

@tk, Yes, I think leaving space for imagination to develop is something that people can easily lose sight of.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I just realized that I don't have a single memory of my mom playing with me until I was older and could play board games. Weird. I may have learned independence a little too well since "doesn't play well with others" has followed me long after it first appeared on my 1st grade report card.

I wasn't a latch key kid since my mom was a teacher and I went to her classroom after school, but oh how I wished I was! I played "school" a LOT!

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

@Lisa, Haha. I play well with others -- to an extent. My issue has always been authority figures. "How dare you tell me what I should be doing. I've been doing pretty well on my own thus far." My family has come now to think that perhaps they've made me a little too independent.

Oh and I used to get endless board games as gifts. As an adult, I asked my mom about it. As an only child most of the time I had no one else to play them with me. You should have seen her face when I told her my Paddington Brown bear did ok at Sorry but he really kicked butt playing a hand of Rummy.

August 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

@Faiqa, I'm 5 years younger than my brother, so I played alone a lot, or with friends, so there definitely wasn't much moderation by my parents, either.

I understand what you're saying though! I had 3 brothers have a sleepover here the other night - all 5 of them were great together, no moderation needed really. As soon as they left, my two were whining and I was back to playing ref. I suggested they do their own things and they refused! hehe

August 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpgoodness

@Faiqa, I think you might be right. Bad things did happen when we were kids, but with only local news channels and no social media, we were none the wiser.

August 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpgoodness

My grandma always said something to the effect of "A really smart (interesting? superior?) person is never bored with their own company." Which I repeated to my own children ad nauseum, but what worked even better was to have chores available for bored children who needed entertaining! I also had a long list of things they could do without me, and we would read through it till one sounded appealing ...

September 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusie

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